Democratic values a new terrain of strategic competition


The authoritarian resurgence has made values and rights into a new terrain of strategic competition, according to a leading democracy advocate.

The good news for democratic forces is that despite autocrats’ increasingly aggressive information warfare, global struggles from Hong Kong to Belarus affirm the robust demand for democratic rights, inclusion and freedom, said Carl Gershman (left), President of the National Endowment for Democracy, addressing today’s webinar on A Battle of Narratives: Building Public Support for Democratic Renewal.

Three factors explain democracy’s abiding appeal and resilience, said Kevin Casas-Zamora (right), Secretary-General of International IDEA:

  • democratic governance allows for self-correction through the free flow of information, the possibility of collective action and the alternation of power;
  • International IDEA reports confirm that development indicators, including gender inequality, only show sustainable improvement under democratic rule;
  • while democracy is not inevitable it is the only political system that guarantees human agency and dignity.

Young people in particular are articulating the demand for democratic rights through social media and culture, according to contributions from leading democracy activists, Ugandan politician and singer Bobi Wine, Annouchka Wijeshinghe of Sri Lanka’s Alliance Development Trust, Omaid Sharifi of Afghanistan’s ArtLords, and Nigeria’s Cynthia Mbamalu, Director of Programs, YIAGA Africa.

But we should be wary of basing democratic legitimacy on performance-based criteria, especially when many leading democracies have manifestly inadequate state capacity and incompetent leadership, Stanford University’s Larry Diamond told the forum, organised by the World Movement for Democracy to mark #InternationalDemocracyDay. 

Alarm bells ring for former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, Chairman of the Human Rights Foundation, whenever he sees an adjective before the word ‘democracy,’ he told the forum. Just as the Communist states claimed to be “people’s democracies,” such qualifiers as ‘managed’ or ‘sovereign’ democracy are a sure indication that autocrats are seeking democratic legitimacy for illegitimate power.

Democracy requires shared public space to generate political dialogue and consensus, said Anne Applebaum, but information technology and social media create radically different information spheres. Profound demographic and socio-economic changes are generating insecurity and anxiety, thereby creating a constituency and demand for the simplistic solutions and slogans of the populists.

To mark the International Day of Democracy on September 15, global leaders and activists, including Madeleine Albright, Vladimir Kara-Murza, Francis Fukuyama, and Natan Sharansky, are sharing messages on social media to defend democracy—after signing an open letter, “A Call to Defend Democracy,” initiated by the National Endowment for Democracy and Stockholm-based International IDEA. Watch the highlight video here, and add your own video message to the campaign using the hashtag #DefendDemocracy.

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