The politicians who captured the spirit of the early 1990s were inspirational democrats such as South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, Václav Havel in Czechoslovakia — and liberal reformers such as Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin in Russia. Today, the leaders that seem to embody the spirit of the age are autocrats with scant respect for democratic values, writes Financial Times analyst Gideon Rachman:
The figures confirm the general impression that this is a bad period for democrats. Freedom House, a think-tank that issues an annual report on the state of democracy, argues that political freedom has been in global retreat for the past decade. It reported earlier this year that in 2015, “the number of countries showing a decline in freedom for the year — 72 — was the largest since the 10-year slide began”.
But amid all this bleak news it is important to remember that not all the trends are pointing in the wrong direction, he adds:
In Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi ….and the country’s first civilian-led government for more than half a century took power earlier this year. Democracy seems well established in Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country. And Nigeria, Africa’s largest country, last year saw its first presidential election in which an incumbent lost — and then ceded power peacefully.
Most important of all, the evidence remains that, for all the cultural and economic differences between countries, ordinary people all over the world eventually get fed up of corruption, censorship, injustice and political violence.
Just this weekend, people were out on the streets of Ethiopia, demonstrating against a government that has delivered rapid economic growth but also sharply restricted political freedoms. ….. Last week the ANC, the party of Mandela, saw its support slump in local elections as voters reacted against the corruption and inefficiency of the government of President Jacob Zuma.
“The very nervousness of leaders like presidents Zuma, Putin and Erdogan is telling. Behind their swagger lurks a deep insecurity,” Rachman suggests. “Autocracy might be making advances across the world. But it always ultimately sparks resistance.” RTWT