Why Democracy is Still Winning

Written on March 6, 2012 by Ángeles Figueroa-Alcorta in Asia, Culture & Society, Democracy & Human Rights, Middle East

Don’t despair of democracy

No matter how debt-ridden and dysfunctional they look, the world’s democracies are still winning the global beauty contest

By Gideon Rachman

This weekend offered a rogues’ gallery of phoney democracy in action. In Russia it was announced that Vladimir Putin had been swept back to the Kremlin, after a suspiciously smashing first-round victory in the presidential election. Iran staged its first parliamentary elections since the rigged presidential poll of 2009 and the violent suppression of the Green movement. And in China, the National People’s Congress – the country’s rubber-stamp parliament – assembled for its annual meeting. It is a coincidence – but perhaps no accident – that these are the three nations that have emerged as the closest protectors of Syria’s murderous one-party state.

The combined spectacle should give pause to those who like to believe that an irresistible wave of democracy is sweeping the globe. But events in Russia, Iran and China should also give a perverse form of encouragement to democrats. For even as they decry the flaws and hypocrisies of western democracies, the world’s autocrats feel compelled to ape their practices.

The Russians insist with a straight face they have done everything in their power to prevent ballot-rigging. The Iranians trumpet the size of the turnout in their poll. Even in China, where the authorities would not dare to risk a national election (even one with Iranian characteristics), the opening speeches to the National People’s Congress made frequent references to the “democratic” nature of Chinese politics.

The authoritarian urge to cross-dress in democratic clothes is an implied compliment to the democratic nations. That matters, because western democracies are going through a crisis of confidence that is being closely watched.

I am now in China and have been surprised by the degree of interest in the political and economic crisis in Europe. One liberal academic, a strong proponent of democratic reform in China, told me she was now often confronted by the view that Europe’s crisis demonstrates the inherent flaws of democracy. The argument is that Europe’s politicians have bought power by bribing voters with unsustainable welfare benefits. Now, faced with the resulting economic crisis, they are unable to make the necessary reforms. What, I was asked, was the best answer to this critique, for somebody trying to argue for democracy in China? Read more…

Gideon Rachman is chief foreign affairs columnist for the Financial Times.

As published in www.ft.com on March 5, 2012.


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