OP-ED: Democracy: The rainforest in political climate change – Dhaka Tribune
A certain ferment has come into politics around the world
Not long ago, the army in Guinea seized power from President Alpha Conde. That was unfortunate, for Guinea was beginning to develop a reputation as a fledgling democracy. The military ought not to have interrupted the process, but then one also raises the question of whether Conde should at all have tried, as he did, to stay on through a change in the constitution. His ambitions ruined him.
In these parlous times, a certain ferment has come into politics around the world. Democracy is under assault, both from its beneficiaries and from those biding their time in the bushes to run it out of town. The instance of America’s Republicans is a hint of how political pluralism can often be sabotaged in societies that have long lectured the rest of the world on the beauty of representative government.
Donald Trump and his camp followers have done and are doing vicious things to the legacy of democracy Americans have adhered to since the time of the country’s founding fathers.
What we have now before us is a loaded question: Is democracy sometimes responsible for all the illiberal happenings nations are pelted with? Take France, where opinion polls show the far-right politician Marine Le Pen gaining on President Emmanuel Macron as the country approaches elections next year. Irony is here. In democracy, the voice of the people ought to matter. But when that voice is raised in support of men and women who pose a distinct threat to democracy, how does one tackle it?
Hungary’s Viktor Orban ascended to office through a fair election and then proceeded to give people a xenophobic government. How do people devise the means by which he or Jair Bolsonaro, his counterpart in Brazil, are eased out of power?
A hard question, certainly. And now consider that other problem, one which is beginning to tear Ethiopia apart. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has won the Nobel for peace and yet did not flinch from sending in his army against the people of the country’s Tigray region. The rebels arrayed against his government have humiliated him in Mekelle and have now seized a town in the Amhara region. Addis Ababa compelled UN aid officials to leave the country, to howls of protest. One thus has an image of democracy under assault from those who loudly proclaimed to be its symbols.
It all takes us to what the military has now done in Sudan. It has removed the transitional government and placed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok under house arrest. And it has promised new elections for July 2023, which pledge has been a worn-out cliché mouthed by gun-toting power hungry men for ages.
Of course, Sudanese men and women have been out on the streets in rejection of the coup, but it is unlikely that they will succeed in prevailing against the soldiers. Observe Myanmar, where the army, unhappy at losing the election to Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy — as in some other countries, the army is effectively a political party in Myanmar — simply threw the elected government out on the very day the new assembly was to meet in session.
Myanmar’s generals have once more taken the country to the laws of the jungle. People in Myanmar and around the world are gradually coming round to the idea that the soldiers mean to be all over the place. Suu Kyi’s politics is as good as finished. Democracy is always a difficult proposition, of course. In our times the assaults on it have been of a pretty disturbing nature. People around the globe have launched movements, the Arab Spring being an instance, forced grasping governments out of office, only to have new authoritarians barge their way into the corridors of power.
The election and then ouster, followed by death in a cage, of President Mohammad Morsi in Egypt remains a sordid tale of the brazen manner in which soldiers long used to exercising power are loath to part with it. Distressingly, even as the West clamours for Belarus’s Alexander Lukashenko to part with power, it looks upon Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as an ally.
There are politicians all around us whose illegitimate claim to power, a claim backed by their patrons abroad, has pushed democracy to the brink. The upstart Juan Guaido, loved by many in the West, once declared himself Venezuela’s president in opposition to the incumbent, Nicolas Maduro. You tend to ask the question: With the West always eager for democracy to dig deep roots in states whose rulers it has no love for, how is it that it really believed Guaido could force the elected Maduro from power? Guaido’s pretensions to power were a treasonous assault on democracy in the name of democracy.
In Turkey, democracy has been a vehicle for Recep Tayyep Erdogan to move the country away from secularism and into Islamist governance. It is one more sign of pluralism making things difficult for itself through rooting for politicians ready to change the fundamentals of modern statehood.
In Thailand, lese majeste is not the only impediment to the practice of democracy. In recent years, two elected governments led by the Shinawatra siblings have been put out to pasture. Today, General Prayuth Chan-ocha heads the government, albeit after storming to power on the strength of the army. No one in Washington or London or Brussels complains.
Democracy has mutated into a peculiar proposition in quite a few instances. Sri Lanka has the brothers Rajapaksa and others in the clan lording over it. Gotabaya is president and Mahinda is prime minister. And do not forget that democracy has over the years perfected the self-defeating means of kowtowing to political dynasties around the world.
It has also catapulted rogues to high office. Think here of Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines. It has raised actors and comedians to power, to the ultimate regret of those who voted for them.
Democracy regularly throws up an assortment of mediocre politicians, but whether it can engineer a revival of old-fashioned statesmanship remains open to question. In these uncertain times, democracy is the rainforest slowly being cut down by political climate change.
Syed Badrul Ahsan is a journalist and biographer.
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