By Asad Ali
The International Day of Democracy is celebrated around the world on 15 September each year. It was established through a resolution passed by the UN General Assembly in 2007, encouraging governments to strengthen and consolidate democracy. This day provides an opportunity to review the state of democracy in the world. Democracy is as much a process as a goal, and only with the full participation of and support by the international community, national governing bodies, civil society and individuals, can the ideal of democracy be made into a reality to be enjoyed by everyone, everywhere.
The values of freedom, respect for human rights and the principle of holding periodic and genuine elections by universal suffrage are essential elements of democracy. In turn, democracy provides the natural environment for the protection and effective realization of human rights. Free, independent and pluralistic media, able to keep the public informed on matters of public interest, is a key ingredient to democracy. It enables the public to make informed decisions and hold governments to account. When media freedoms are under threat – the flow of information can be stifled, skewed or cut off entirely. Increasingly, journalists around the world face limits to their ability to operate freely – with a grave impact on human rights, democracy and development.
Likewise, democracy is under severe threat in some countries due to the nationalistic approach of some politicians. It can be under threat for a variety of reasons, and these threats can vary from one country to another. High levels of economic inequality can erode the foundations of democracy. When a significant portion of the population feels excluded from economic opportunities and benefits, they may become disillusioned with the democratic system and seek alternative solutions. Similarly, extreme political polarization can make it difficult for elected officials to compromise and govern effectively. This can lead to gridlock, instability, and a loss of faith in the democratic process.
Governments that restrict civil liberties, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly, can undermine the foundations of democracy. When citizens are unable to express their views and organize peacefully, the democratic process is compromised. Corruption within government institutions can erode trust in the democratic system. When citizens believe that politicians are serving their own interests rather than the public’s, it can lead to a loss of confidence in democracy.
Threats to the independence and effectiveness of institutions like the judiciary, election commissions, and law enforcement agencies can weaken democratic checks and balances. The spread of false information and the manipulation of public opinion through disinformation campaigns can undermine the integrity of elections and public discourse, making it difficult for citizens to make informed choices.
The rise of authoritarian leaders who use populist rhetoric and tactics to concentrate power can pose a significant threat to democracy. These leaders may undermine democratic norms and institutions in the name of preserving order and national unity. Likewise, foreign actors can interfere in the democratic processes of other countries through hacking, disinformation campaigns, and other means, which can undermine the legitimacy of elections and governments.
When citizens disengage from the political process and become apathetic, it can weaken the functioning of democracy. Apathy can lead to lower voter turnout, less accountability, and decreased pressure on politicians to represent the public’s interests. Global economic and social changes, such as the displacement of traditional industries, migration, and cultural shifts, can create challenges for democracies in adapting to new realities.
Promoting democratic processes worldwide and supporting developing countries in establishing democratic governance is an important goal that many developed nations have pursued for several reasons. Democracy, which typically includes elements such as free and fair elections, protection of human rights, and the rule of law, is seen as a system that can lead to greater political stability, economic development, and social progress.
Democracies are generally less prone to conflict and violence, both internally and externally. By encouraging democratic governance in other nations, developed countries can contribute to global peace and stability. Democratic systems often include mechanisms to protect and uphold human rights, such as freedom of speech, religion, and assembly. Supporting these principles can help safeguard individuals’ rights in developing nations.
Democracies tend to support international organizations and norms that promote peace, development, and human rights. Their active participation can strengthen these institutions. To effectively promote democratic processes and support developing countries in achieving democratic order, developed nations can undertake various actions such as diplomatic Engagement, provision of technical assistance, capacity building, and training to help strengthen democratic institutions, including electoral commissions, legal systems, and civil society organizations. It also includes support for free and fair elections by providing electoral monitoring and assistance to ensure the integrity of the electoral process. However, it is essential to respect the sovereignty and unique circumstances of each nation and avoid imposing democracy through force or coercion. Promoting democratic processes should be a collaborative and respectful endeavor that aligns with the aspirations of the people in each country.