PEOPLE POWER

Governments in power a threat to democracy

The incompetence and hubris of the political and intellectual elite are staggering.

In Summary
  • Populist politicians such as Trump, Bolsonaro, Duterte and Modi merely serve to exacerbate the deterioration of trust in government.
  • The architecture of democracy must be reimagined in its original Athenian tradition of engaged citizenship.
US President Donald Trump.
US President Donald Trump.
Image: REUTERS

Democracy is really about citizens exercising power directly or through elected representatives as a vital mechanism for holding government accountable to the people. But is this most powerful ideal now facing a crisis of confidence?

While the 2020 US election is over, President Donald Trump won’t concede and believes that his challenger’s victory could be overturned. According to Trump, the November 3 presidential election was the most corrupt in American history. Trump believes that the voting system systematically deleted 2.7 million votes and caused him to lose the election.

Trump also alleges that the voting machines flipped votes in key battleground states from Trump to Biden. Moreover, dead Americans also voted. The Trump campaign published a series of posts on social media identifying dead Americans whose names, the campaign claims, were used to cast votes for President-elect Joe Biden. Trump also complained about the surge of votes favouring Biden coming in on the morning after the election day. Suspicious indeed.

Trump discrediting the election and declaring it a fraud was expected. He set the stage for it. His adherents were primed not to believe the election results. In fact, four in every five republican voters believe the election was stolen. Trust in the election, for nearly 74 million Americans, is dangerously frayed.

Corporations, the wealthy, lobbyists and political acolytes cash the cheque while citizens pick up the tab.

Decades ago, military coups were the biggest threat to democracy. Not anymore. Today, governments in power pose the most potent threat to democracy. The ability of the opposition to organise has severely deteriorated in neighbouring Tanzania. In Uganda, singer and opposition politician Bobi Wine and his supporters have encountered staggering police brutality ahead of Uganda’s next general election.

Under Narendra Modi, the world’s largest democracy is going down a path that is less freer. Modi is subverting and bending vital institutions like the justice system and the police to do his bidding. Venezuela held credible elections but not so under President Nicolas Maduro. Under Rodrigo Duterte, Filipino journalists and media networks have been censured and prosecuted.

Globally, the incompetence and hubris of the political and intellectual elite are staggering. Voters everywhere feel there governments just do not care about them. Promises made on the campaign trail are never delivered. Only 47 percent of citizens globally trust the government. Corporations, the wealthy, lobbyists and political acolytes cash the cheque while citizens pick up the tab.

The hubris of tone-deaf coastal elites created the MAGA movement. The Brexit momentum was fuelled by anger against a political class ready to listen to Brussels rather than the people. Here in Kenya, the “hustler nation” is borne of disdain for political royalty. The yellow vest movement sprang out of the perception that the French government policies were in favour of the elite and well-to-do city dwellers.

Populist politicians such as Trump, Bolsonaro, Duterte and Modi merely serve to exacerbate the deterioration of trust in government. The architecture of democracy must be reimagined in its original Athenian tradition of engaged citizenship, where vital institutions such as parliament and the courts are fiercely independent.