Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Down and Down it Goes

Democracy is a lot more than just casting a ballot.

This month elections have been held in Italy and Russia that have produced distressing results. In the Italian election so-called populists parties surged to the top of the polls. The right-wing coalition and the Five Star Movement combined together to have 69% of the votes. This means we should expect a far-right, anti-immigrant, Eurosceptic government to form in Italy sometime soon. That said, Italy's politics has never been particularly predictable.

In Russia I'm sure the result will surprise absolutely no one. Vladimir Putin was 're-elected' to the presidency with 75% of the votes cast. The election has been widely criticized as being unfair and corrupt. Comments I'm sure that will keep Putin awake at night as he settles in for six more years in the Kremlin.

I feel these elections represent two parts of a much larger problem that is infecting democracies. Italy has not exactly been a healthy looking democracy in the twentieth century, but their election was not that dissimilar to others. Radical populists who were determined to cast out others campaigned hard to split the population. It's hard to imagine how African or Middle Eastern Italians will sit comfortably in their country if someone who actively campaigned against them becomes the next prime minister.

One of the things I have a problem with is that some of these 'new' parties or types of leaders seem so entirely antithetical to democracy is hard to see how they fit within our modern understanding of what democracy should be like. Democracy isn't just getting elected. You can be democratically elected and still be anti-democracy. Democracy needs to include the freedom of the press, the respect for the rule of law, and I would suggest basic decency towards our fellow human beings. If people want to preserve their democratic societies then they need to reject these sorts of politics.

I don't say these things because the left-wing should have won. I say these things because I don't think democracies can survive if the winners of elections compare categories of people to vermin or animals.

The Russian example is the sad conclusion perhaps. The undemocratic parties have seized control and elections are merely performative. Little more than the exercise communist regimes would do. The dear leader is swept back into power with a super majority and we do not need to worry anymore. Far too often in the twenty-first century voters seem ready to trade liberal democracy for confirmation of their own biases, the mirage of security and promises of a better life. People seem far happier accepting the comfortable lie than confronting the unpleasant truth. This theme seems to return again, and again, and again.

And I'm getting awfully tired of it.

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