2010: the Year Democracy is on its Way Out?

_DSC0660Down with the poor! Image by Stephen Kosloff via Flickr
We are nearing year end and the time to take stock of what has happened in 2010. A tough year with austerity programmes and belt-tightening promised everywhere!

Some newspapers have already started. For its "Person of the Year", Time Magazine has decided to go digital and after  reportedly discarding Julian Assange, responsible for the Wikileaks mess, it has gone for a safer choice: Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder. Quite frankly, I would not have chosen either, but I suppose Zuckerberg makes sense given the incredible success of The Social Network movie. This said, I think that Mr. Zuckerberg should start to worry: the implication of the Time selection is that he's fast becoming a "Man of the Past" (at least starting next year!). Facebook indeed has changed lately - much more publicity on it than before, leaving little space for the facebookers on their walls. And I'm not sure that many people appreciate having "their" social network highjacked by business...

I don't know what 2010 major events the media is going to go for (and the year isn't quite finished yet) but  - I'll stick my head out! - what really struck me are the repeated beatings Democracy has taken. Yes, I know you were expecting me to mention the sovereign debt crisis, the bailouts of Ireland and Greece and the threats to the Euro. There is that too, but the retreat of democracy is fundamental and visible everywhere! Think of it. In what developing country is democracy on the rise? When I say democracy I mean it in its broadest sense: government for the people and by the people. There are all sorts of democracies, some forms are better and more effective than others, but let's not quibble about it.

Just look at what happened after the recent elections that took place in the Ivory Coast: the president who's been in power for the past ten years, Laurent Gbagbo has no intentions of bowing to election results and letting his rival, Alassane Ouattara, take over. France and the United Nations' support for Mr. Ouattara notwithstanding. And the stale mate is on going, giving no signs of resolving itself, except probably at the expense of the United Nations and France and/or at the cost of a civil war. And Haiti? After protests in the streets, they're recounting the votes and we'll see what happens - not much good I'm afraid. Especially if you consider that the best liked candidate was - I mean is - a singer. What does he know about running a country? But of course, ever since Reagan and Berlusconi came into power, singers and actors are regarded as perfectly capable politicians and I should shut up and keep my doubts to myself. And Burma with its elections perennially rigged by the military? And Egypt with the Eternal Mubarak looking more and more like a Pharaoh? And Venezuela in the hands of wily Hugo Chavez?And Belarus in the hands of Lukashenko, the man who has never lost an election in 16 years and has just had 600 persons in the opposition arrested?

Perhaps not all is bleak and there are reports that Kirghystan may be moving towards a more democratic government, but for one Central Asian nation that has moved, the other four haven't.

And what about Iraq and Afghanistan, the countries where the United States has supposedly brought democracy? Afghanistan, awash in corruption, is a lost cause but even Iraq is not doing much better: we're still waiting for a government to be formed. We're holding our breath but the trouble is, we've been holding it now for ten months and I'm suffocating!

I'm sure there are more countries of the kind that I can't remember now, and please make comments and add them to the list! And of course I'm not mentioning the countries that do not try to be democracies like China, Cuba, Vietnam or North Korea. I'm not mentioning either the countries where corruption has become so widespread that the workings of democracy are threatened like India (the recent telecommunications scandal).

Actually there are lots of things I'm not mentioning: like the countries where democracy is falling in the hands of Big Government (Russia) or  Big Money (The United States). In the US, the power of the lobbies and the media in the hands of billionaires (starting with Rupert Murdoch) has managed to reverse in two years the results of the elections that brought Obama to the presidency (I'm referring to the mid-term elections here). The Republicans, and especially the Tea party, are determined to make sure that the poor and the emarginated  remain out in the cold, unattended by social security.

But it's not just democracy in the United States that is creaking, it's showing signs of fatigue in the United Kingdom too, the very the cradle of democracy! For a short moment after the elections this spring, it looked like the UK had managed to express a third party and was moving closer to a more balanced government - not always completely to the right (Tory) or the left (Labour) as in the past. But no, it didn't work out that way: contrary to his campaign claims, Clegg clung to Cameron (try to say that fast: it's a real tongue twister!) and whatever was left of the Welfare State is being dismantled, starting with education. The poor be damned (and the middle classes too)!

All this makes one wonder whether democracy is a realistic model of government, given human nature... 

Yes, 2011 promises to be a very cold year (notwithstanding Climate Warming)...

And before I forget, Happy New Year!

Post-scriptum: Good news: after 9 months, a new Iraqi government is seated in... For how long? How stable? Let's hope for the best...
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