Democracy, Elections And Global Order


Even as the quality of democracy continues to erode globally over the last two decades, the number of countries that claim to be democratic are still in majority in the world. The quality of democracy is gradually fading away not because of the constitution, system and institutions but owing to the behaviour and intention of the rulers and political actors. There are certain fundamental elements that are indispensable in a democratic polity. These elements include people’s active participation in the political process, periodic elections, rule of law, freedom of speech, equal rights and opportunities for people irrespective of their economic and social status, among others. 

It is said that democracy begins with the ballot box. Election is a fundamental element of democracy as it provides the forum for people to participate in the political and democratic process. An election is thus the heart and soul of a democratic system. There can be no democracy without the election. However, holding election alone does not guarantee democracy and its quality. Almost all countries hold their own type of elections but not all countries are democracies. The quality of democracy depends upon how the elections are conducted. Free and fair elections alone ensure genuine participation of the people in the political and political process and reflect the free will of the people. 

Democratic culture

However, modern democracies are in crisis not because they lack constitutional and institutional framework but because there is greater paucity of good intent and democratic culture on the part of those who are in the helms of affairs especially political parties and their leaders. Elections are rigged in some countries, votes are bought and election results are manipulated in some newly emerged democracies. Even in the established democracies, the propaganda machinery, money and technology are misused to influence the voters and alter the election results. This has raised the question about the sanctity of elections in several countries. 

This issue came forcefully to the fore in the 2020 US presidential election as critics suspected outsiders' role in Donald Trump’s favour through technology tampering. In developing countries including India, money, muscle and media play crucial role in which big business houses have a role to play to alter election mode. Although institutions have been created to ensure functioning of democracy and its sanctity, but the institutions have rarely worked. Such institutions, too, sometimes fall prey to the evil eyes of the rulers. As a result, the general opinion and perception of the people has been negative about politics. When people get disillusioned with politics and refrain from participating in the political process, how can the roots of democracy run deep down in the political culture? 

The situation can be exploited only by populist and fascist demagogues in the name of people. This is how Hitler rose in Germany and Mussolini captured power in Italy in the wake of the World War I. When people get disillusioned with leaders, they tend to look to demagogues and authoritarian rulers. American political scientist Larry Diamond is of the opinion that democracy is in recession globally, while American journalist and political commentator Fareed Zakaria often cautions about the possibility of the rise of illiberal democracy. The world is witnessing the rise of populist authoritarianism and rightist extremism in the name of democracy and popular will even in countries that boast to be the bastions of liberal democracy. 

Democracy is in danger not from outside tyrants but from the so-called custodians of democracy from within. The scenario as envisioned by Diomond and Zakaria is becoming more reality because of the manners and behaviours of the parties and politicians, who are seen as necessary evils. Against this background, elections are being held in more than 50 countries in the world in 2024. The Year 2024 is, thus, being dubbed as the global election year.  More than three billion or over 40 per cent global population is taking going to polls to elect their representatives and leaders to govern. Elections are being held this year either for president or parliament in countries from America to Austria, from India to Indonesia, from Canada to Cameron, from Russia to Romania, from Mexico and Moldova and from Sri Lanka to Solomon Island. 

These polls are crucial as the elections in some of the countries are likely to shape the global political order. The presidential election in the United States slated for November this year is seen as a global election because the US presidential election will have global impact. Similarly, the general election in India, too, is being viewed very closely and carefully by the global community as the election results and the nature of government in India will have greater impact in the regional balance of power in Asia and even in the make up of the global order, to some extent. Elections have already been held in some countries and more are on card. 

Strategic calculations

In South Asia, this is election year for almost all countries except Afghanistan.  Election were already held in Bangladesh, the Maldives, Pakistan and Bhutan. Nepal had election last year. India and Sri Lanka, too, are holding elections this year. In this global vote-fest, not much is expected to bring about in strengthening democracy and empowering people. Rightist trend is rising in the world and these elections are likely to reinforce this trend. Republican Donald Trump is likely to come back in the United States. Trump’s possible comeback has already sent jitters to Europe and other parts. Modi’s victory for the third time in India is destined to further embolden far-rightist trend under the façade of Hindutva. In Russia, Putin’s victory is almost certain, while Indonesia, too, will see not big and significant change in political trend after the election. 

The world is getting more dangerous with wars and conflicts breaking out in different parts of the world. Ukraine is already in war while Gaza is newer theatre of war. Tensions are ripe in the entire West Asia, Persian Gulf and Red Sea and Indo-Pacific region. The world is getting more polarised not on ideological ground but on the basis of strategic calculations as to who to dominate the world. This poses greater threat to world peace and security of the people. The elections are being reduced to mere façade for authoritarianism that will, instead of democratising the world, push further towards rightist trend and more conflict. 

(The author is former ambassador and former chief editor of this daily. 

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