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Erosion of democracy

Moises Naim is a Venezuelan journalist. His book ‘The end of power’ placed him among the top 100 influential global thought leaders by the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute. He also served as editor in chief of ‘Foreign Policy’ magazine for 14 years.

Naim has a very interesting analysis of various so-called democratic countries which are gradually transforming into autocracies because of democratically elected populist leaders who consider themselves above the law. He is of the view that in democratic republics power is harder to acquire, very difficult to use, but easier to lose. The author points at fundamental flaws which in his opinion are responsible for this gradual erosion of democracy.

The first, in his opinion, is populism which more often than not creates wrong notions in the mind of a leader who becomes self-righteous, egoistic and disdainful of law and constitution. Such leaders discard collective wisdom, look down upon political opponents and present themselves as indispensable. Their hate speeches are full of venom, show disrespect for democratic norms and use foul language which gives birth to toxic environments. This according to the author, creates extreme polarization, damaging society.

The other factor which flouts democratic norms, disregards parliamentary values and ignores traditional parliamentary ethics is the dependence of a populist leader on blatant lies. This includes giving false hope to people, and making promises to achieve unattainable objectives. This confuses the general public which is unable to differentiate between the truth and a lie. This is how democracy starts sleepwalking towards autocracy, especially when populism of a leader transforms into a cult. The leader then starts thinking that s/he perhaps is the only politician on the domestic political landscape who can solve all issues without creating a national consensus. The author rightly concludes that populism is not at all an ideology. It only is a tactic to grab power.

Naim writes: “They propagate lies that become articles of faith among their followers. They sell themselves as noble and pure champions of the people, fighting against corrupt and greedy elite .They defy any constraint on their power and launch frontal attacks on the institutions that sustain constitutional democracy, stacking the judiciary and the legislature and declaring war on the press.”

We in Pakistan are facing such a situation in which credibility of democratic institutions is fast eroding, parliament has lost its significance and political issues are being negotiated. Political battles are being regarded as a jihad. It is true that many countries like the UK, Israel, Spain, Russia and even the US are in the grip of internal political polarization but in Pakistan, it has really shaken the fabric of our civil society and is putting the democratic dispensation in real danger. If you mislead people with attractive slogans, gate crash into the corridors of power, miserably fail to deliver, try to use state power target your political opponents, resultantly lose the majority and are finally ousted from government through a constitutional procedure, no one else except the leader is to be blamed.

Bloody fights in elections and refusal to accept results will in no way help the country. Blatant lies, fake news and poisonous propaganda on social media has further compounded the situation. As a result, unfortunately democracy is losing the fight.

There are of course many lessons for our political leadership both in and out of power. History is replete with examples when democratically elected leaders turned autocratic like Hitler.

Today we need to make our institutions more potent and strong based on the trichotomy of power principle to strengthen parliamentary democracy. Parties which take the law into their own hands, destroy property, block roads and fight the police instead of sitting in parliament do no service to the country and the democracy.

Lt-Gen (r) Abdul Qayyum, "Erosion of democracy," The News. 2022-07-04.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political opponents , Political battles , Parliament , Democracy , Leadership , Moises Naim , Israel , Spain , Russia