Event ReportsPublished on Aug 22, 2018
Liberal democracies are becoming less liberal worldwide

The much vaunted Liberal Democratic Order is facing serious crisis today. Across both sides of Atlantic, we see an increasing trend of democratic recession and the simultaneous rise of populism, nationalism, and radicalism globally -- from Athens to Ankara, Brussels to Brasilia.  Larry Diamond, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University and one of the foremost thinkers of liberal democracy was invited to talk and discuss some of the trends of the democratic order at Observer Research Foundation on 8 August, 2018.

While doubting the notion of “free fall” of liberal democracy, Larry Diamond said he is more comfortable with the phrase of “democratic deconsolidation”. Liberal democracy is growing through huge disruption. This stands true not just for India but globally. He further said that it is important to understand that this disruption is due to the rise of populism and populist regimes. The thought which arises is that the liberal order is declining due to the rise of strong men in the United States, Russia, China, and Turkey.

On the future of liberal democracy, Diamond said the prospects are getting darker each year. He pointed out six trends that highlight the democratic recession -- declining global levels of freedom and democracy, deteriorating rule of law, a wave of illiberal populism, increasing polarisation and intolerance which is further magnified by social media, authoritarian resurgence and finally the decay of democratic values and self-confidence in the United States and Europe.

He further elaborated that while tracking the rise of democracy, we can see that the major rise in democratic nations was after the fall of the Soviet Union. As per the data from Freedom House, many countries gained their freedom during the period between the end of the cold war and 2005, positioning the rise of democracy at its peak in 2006. However, for around 11 years from 2006, the rate has fallen. 2006 to 2007 was the point when the expansion of democracy fell and this period has been defined as “the Democratic Recession”.

Diamond pointed out that we have often heard that democracy cannot work in poor countries. However, this notion is countered by India and many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. When we look at the percentage of people living in democracies, around 51% of the global population is living in a democracy while 21% are living in a liberal democracy. India being a democratic country, the percentage of the global population living in democracies is highly dependent on India. This number will fall extremely if there is a fall in democracy in India. Therefore, India is extremely important to the democracy project globally.

It is further important to note that liberal democracies are becoming less liberal worldwide, including in countries such as the United States and in parts of Europe. While electoral democracies are at risk in countries like Brazil, Philippines, and Peru; Hungary, Turkey, Thailand, Bangladesh and Zambia are facing a break-down. “Competitive authoritarian regimes” are stifling any opposition in countries like Uganda and Cambodia. The rate of democratic breakdown has exponentially risen in the period between 2007 to 2017.The causes of this democratic breakdown as laid down by Larry Diamond are: weak rule of law, the executive aggrandisement of power, severe polarisation, weak political institutions, poor economic performance, low trust in institutions and an unfavorable international environment in countries like Russia, China and the stresses of globalisation.

Larry Diamond further elaborated on the key elements of illiberal populism as being anti-elitist, anti-pluralist, anti-institutionalist, Illiberal, nationalist and intolerant of ethnic and religious minorities.

He elucidated on how China is increasing its influence in the world by its global expansion of state-run media, and by funding think tanks in Western countries, promoting their propaganda as well as providing opaque grants to US institutions and individuals for pro-China studies and infiltrating and monitoring overseas Chinese communities, media and students.

Diamond’s talk was followed by an engaging question and answer session. An interesting question regarding the democracy involved in Brexit was raised by the chair, Gautam Chikermane. Furthermore, questions inquiring about the fall of democracy in 2006 due to the interventions by the United States in Iraq were also raised.

Diamond, giving his concluding remarks, said  “I think that the basic structure of democracies -- constitution, rule of law, elections -- will survive. What we need are new means of dialogue and inclusion”.

This report was prepared by Suchet Singh and Anushka Shah, Research Interns, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi

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