This is how Protests are helping Democracy.
A rise in public rallies and Covid-19 could stop the decline of democracy.
Democracy is declining around the world. Democratic systems are turning in a more authoritarian rule, a choice that seemed to answer better to the nowadays challenges. But, democracy is not yet over and, despite the pandemic, it might find new ways to represents and respect its citizens. A sign of future development for democracy is the increasing desire for people are taking part in public rallies to demand accountability, transparency, and more attendance at the executive’s choices.
Before the pandemic, the world was seeing an increase of autocracy, right-wing parties were winning the election in Europe and strong politicians were ruling countries refusing the democratic liberal institutions. An element of this process was the use of electoral slogans reaffirming the national supremacy over national minorities, international institutions, and, in general, against globalization. Indeed, two of the most powerful western countries are now ruled by presidents in favor of dismantling the international institutions built up after 1945.
The Coronavirus pandemic represented a unique opportunity for governments already in the path to undermine the democratic institutions. The constitutional system of most countries offers the chance to secure the power and silence the public opinion in a legal way. Indeed, governments declared the State of Emergency, advocating all the executive powers on the hand of presidents who can rule without any parliamentary or public debate.
In Europe, countries parts of the European Union like Poland and Hungary or countries like Serbia, Montenegro, and Turkey were already considered authoritarian with laws limiting the free debate, the freedom of the judiciary system. During the pandemic with the declaration of the State of Emergence, presidents could attract the power in their hands and reduce any public or parliamentary debate.
China is another example of how an autocratic administration has managed in a blurred way the pandemic. Only thanks to its well established propaganda and aggressive foreign policy it could recreate a positive image on its success over the pandemic. However, it could not forget that the delay in denouncing the first cases of Coronavirus, the slow response of the authorities in dealing with the health emergency are all typical problems of a centralised state.
A particular form of autocracy is taking ground, using constitutional powers, like the State of Emergency Law, to subvert and reduce the democratic institutions. In other countries, another legal remedy to secure the power is to change the constitution extending or deleting any limits in the presidential mandate.
Another recurring element in the public debate is to blame publicly an external enemy like the European Union, foreign countries, or in general the globalisation. Nonetheless, at this moment this critic could undermine any further collaboration in fighting Coronavirus and undermine the countries responses.
But, it is too early to write the world the end to the long history of democracy. Albeit, the impact of Coronavirus on democratic institutions could worsen the situation, and the rise of populist parties, the rise of public rallies shows a different reality. A new wave of public protest in different parts of the world to ask for more transparency and accountability in the government and public administration could block future autocratic reforms.
Empirically, it is possible to see that a nation with a highly developed democratic structure without inequalities in access to social services is less likely they can experience mass demonstrations.
Even in an authoritarian state people could have been brought to demonstrate by opaque management of the health emergency. Only to mention the lasts months, there were protests in Belgrade against the Serbian executive, protests in far-east Russia together with little participation at the constitutional referendum, mass rallies in Brazil, and the USA.
Other protests erupted in very different areas of the world like Paraguay, Hong Kong, Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Israel, and Lebanon. Diverse reasons bring people to take the streets in these countries still there are some common elements: the desire to have more space, to reaffirm their rights, to make their voice over the inequalities.
The desire to take part in a mass demonstration, amid an epidemic, shows the sign of popular resistance in preventing further authoritarian moves. It is difficult to foreseen if the public protest could achieve their goals, is already a clue for any executive trying to impose restrictions on the democratic constitutional system. A more transparent, accountable participation in the decision made by the government will be the path required for an effective fight for the emergence.
Democracy has always been a variable system, assuming different shapes with different constitutions and political systems for every country. If 2019 for the Economist Intelligence Unit was the worst year for democracy around the world, demonstrations around the world might be a sign of hope in fighting back the autocracy.