Real democracy is still going strong, despite pandemic crisis and US election ugliness

Photo: Reuters

People gather at an opposition rally to reject the presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus, on October 4. The size and resilience of the protests suggest the people of Belarus are no longer satisfied with their managed democracy under President Alexander Lukashenko.

 Opinion: Peter G. de Krassel, Published: 1:30am, 31 Oct, 2020

  • The much-discussed collapse of liberal democracy has raised questions in some quarters about whether managed democracy or authoritarian rule is superior
  • However, evidence from the US, Belarus and Kyrgyzstan suggest real democracy is alive and well as people turn out in force to support the rule of law

The global Covid-19 pandemic is dominating and dictating daily life in all countries, regardless of wealth, geography or political system. Thus, the crucial concern for many today is which system has dealt with the pandemic efficiently – real democracy, managed democracy or one-party authoritarian rule?

The answer seems clouded. Both US President Donald Trump, the commander-in-chief of the land of the free, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the totalitarian master of the world’s first communist society, have mismanaged the pandemic.

The frequently asked follow-up question, since the death toll from the pandemic continues to rise, is whether liberal democracy is losing its grip and crumbling, giving way to managed democracies modelled on Putin’s Russia. More specifically, have the ideals of democracy envisioned by America’s founding fathers lost their allure to Putin’s style of government?

These questions have been raised in recent weeks because of the ugly, hate-driven US presidential election campaign. In particular, over the possibility that if Trump does not win re-election, he would refuse to vacate the White House, much like President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, sparking a constitutional crisis and street violence.

More than 80 million Americans have already cast their ballots through early voting in person or mail-in ballots. It speaks to the level of passion that this election has unleashed – a measure of people polarised in favour of or against letting Trump remain in command for four more years.

Much has been written about the demise of real democracy since Trump assumed power, and much more since the Covid-19 pandemic infected millions of Americans and killed more than 225,000. Both the traditional press and social media have trumpeted the failure of democratic governments in America, Europe, India and elsewhere in dealing with the crisis.

However, we must not overlook the fact that the country where the pandemic has been best managed and controlled – New Zealand – is also a democratic nation.

“Do you reckon democracy is dead because it assumes an informed electorate?” retired Professor Mark Tigan asked me earlier this month. Democracy, I told him, has never been livelier.

Belarus is an example of real democracy trumping managed democracy. When the country’s managed democracy declared Alexander Lukashenko the winner in the recent elections, the people took to the streets to challenge the result and went on strike, disregarding a potential military crackdown.

Lukashenko has met the opposition leaders he jailed in the hope of coming up with mutually acceptable constitutional changes and possibly holding fresh elections. Real democracy is winning out in Belarus.

Real democracy is winning in another former Soviet Union state, Kyrgyzstan, modelled after Putin’s managed democracy. There, President Sooronbai Jeenbekov resigned last week after days of unrest following a disputed election. He wanted to prevent clashes between protesters and security forces.

“I do not want to go down in Kyrgyzstan’s history as a president who shed blood and shot at his own citizens,” Jeenbekov said as he stepped down. He thus reaffirmed that the rule of law is the cornerstone of real democracy.

Putin’s model of managed democracy is a dismal failure in former Soviet states trying to adhere to the Russian model. The war between Armenia and Azerbaijan Cover Nagorno-Karabakh is the latest example.

Recently, I discussed how democracy and the rule of law are faring in Hong Kong with Nelson Wong, vice-chairman of the Shanghai Centre for RimPac and International Studies.

In August, Wong wrote an article, “Collateral Damage or Self-Offering: The Case of Hong Kong”, for Russia’s Valdai Discussion Club. It claims that democracy is being sacrificed by naive social media junkies misled by foreign forces on social media chat groups.

Managed democracies like the ones Putin’s Russia panders to hijack the rule of law and free press. These are the pillars that make real democracies strong in the long run, so they mix them with their “pink slime” misinformation, propaganda and fake news.

Discussing the significance of a free press as a strong pillar of real democracy, Eric Wishart, a veteran journalist and first vice-president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong, said: “The best defence of press freedom is to expose abuses and threats, engage with the relevant authorities when necessary … Silence is not an option.”

Democracies do have to manage and regulate the hateful, false and fake information disseminated by social media technology giants such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple. Fake news allows managed democracies like Russia to flood online news and traditional media outlets and manipulate voters at the expense of real democracies.

That is when the rule of law kicks in and comes to the defence of democratic principles and a free press. Anti-monopoly and antitrust laws that were put to the test last week as the US Justice Department sued Google are among the most potent tools to keep in check forces that attempt to undermine democracy.

Real democracy with a free press and the rule of law as its pillars, once tasted, is addictive and hard to give up – unlike managed democracy.

Link to article.

Peter G. de Krassel is a strategic analyst, contemporary social commentator and author of the Custom Maid books and blogs.

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