13 March 2010

Article: How Democracy Dies

The US magazine "Newsweek" runs an article in this week's issue titled "How Democracy Dies". Written by Joshua Kurlantzick, the subtitle or lead reads "A global decline in political freedom is partly the fault of the middle class".

The full text of the article (in the browser window alternatively titled "The Global Decline in Democracy") can be read free of charge here:


Excerpts: "Many of the same middle-class men and women who once helped push dictators out of power are now seeing just how difficult it can be to establish democracy, and are pining for the days of autocracy. [...] The global economic crisis has also damaged democracy's appeal. To many middle-class men and women in the developing world, the spread of democracy was linked to the spread of capitalism, since many of these countries opened their economies at the same time as they embraced political freedom. As the crisis cuts into people's incomes, many blame democracy, in part, for the economic downturn. [...] The result is that on nearly every continent, democracy is sputtering out. [...]

"[I]n many of the countries where democracy has recently been rolled back, the middle class that once promoted political freedom is now also resorting to extralegal, undemocratic tactics – supposedly to save democracy itself. Middle-class Thai urbanites, for instance, bitterly disappointed by Thaksin's abuses and worried he was empowering the poor at their expense, have rebelled. Rather than challenging Thaksin through the democratic process, such as by bolstering opposition parties or starting their own newspapers, they tore down democracy by shutting down institutions of government and calling for a military coup, even while claiming to support democracy. [...] Many called for a military intervention or some other kind of benign despotism to restore the rule of law and fight corruption, which they claimed had worsened under Thaksin. 'We had to save democracy, even if it meant [ignoring] elections,' said one Thai diplomat sympathetic to the protesters. The Thai elites got what they hoped for: Thaksin is in exile, his opponents are in power, and Thailand's democracy is shattered. [...]

"In Africa, recent coups in Mauritania and Niger were welcomed by the urban middle class, while data from the Asian Barometer surveys, regular polls that examine Asian attitudes toward democracy, show that many respondents have become dissatisfied with their democratic systems. [...] Such is the case in Russia as well, where Putin, even as he wipes out most of the democratic institutions, enjoys staggeringly high poll numbers from the middle class and other segments of the population. [...] Even in China, where it is the poor in rural areas who now take the lead in protests, the urban middle class appears comfortable with the ruling regime. [...]

"The middle class's push back against democracy, by way of coups and other antidemocratic means, has disenfranchised the poor, sparking still more protests. In Thailand, crowds of protesters, most of them poor, have launched their own violent demonstrations that target the middle classes who tried to push Thaksin out of office. Similarly in Bolivia, the middle-class anti-Morales protesters now have been met with angry pro-Morales protesters mostly drawn from the ranks of the poor. In the Philippines, poor men and women furious that their hero Estrada had been forced out by the middle class launched their own counter-protests. Now, with the nation heading to another election, Estrada, out of jail and running again, is picking up support from the poor for his presidential bid."

Joshua Kurlantzick is a journalist and author, a Fellow at the University of Southern California's Center on Public Diplomacy, and a Fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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