Is Democracy Worth Fighting For And Are Democractic Nations Willing To Fight?

In an op-ed based on an earlier speech, Larry Diamond outlines the reasons why the pursuit of democracy still matters, particularly in an age of pessimism and in an environment in which criticism, rather than praise, is the popular theme.

He points out the dismal state of democratic movements.

The rate of democratic breakdown in these last thirteen years has been 50 percent higher than in the preceding period. Since the third wave of global democratic expansion began forty years ago, one-third of all the democratic regimes have failed. And half of these failures have been just in the last thirteen years.

“Broadly, we know why democracy and freedom are slipping back. What Francis Fukuyama calls ‘neo-patrimonial’ tendencies are resurgent. Leaders who think they can get away with it are eroding democratic checks and balances, hollowing out accountability institutions, overriding term limits and normative restraints, and accumulating power and wealth for themselves and their families, cronies, clients, and parties,” contends Diamond.

While democracy as an institution may be in a precarious position, it is only weakened when democracies abandon its defense, such as in the case of the West’s approach to North Korea.

Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum notes that thanks to testimony from those who have escaped the continued brutality of the regime in North Korea, including forced imprisonment and torture, the international community is aware of their human rights violations.

But, she adds, some of their stories can be difficult for listeners to absorb and digest, which leads Applebaum to a glaring inconsistency in the use of sanctions against Pyongyang. While the U.S. is quick to impose sanctions for North Korea’s possible involvement in hacking Sony Pictures, it is less inclined to do so for violating the rights of its citizens.

“I don’t mean to play down the danger of hacking — the next target could be a nuclear power plant. But it’s still amazing that Sony Pictures’ troubles, and North Korea’s possible involvement, persuaded President Obama to impose more sanctions last week. Multiple reports of massive human rights abuses over many decades never had the same effect.

If democratic movements are to survive in the future, they must be led by individuals with a clarity of vision and a commitment to voice their opinions.

Mohamed Nasheed, a pro-democracy activist who also served as president of the Maldives, shares lessons he learned from his own experience.

“When Maldivians decided they’d had enough of their dictatorship, a number of activists, including myself, slipped out of the country and formed the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). In those days, back in 2004, political parties were banned in the Maldives, so operating in exile was our only option. We could have focused all our energy on fomenting street protests, but we recognized that there was no point overthrowing the regime if we weren’t in a position to win an election or govern properly,” he recalls.

When Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the nation’s dictator, allowed elections to be held in 2008, the MDP became an established political party and would win the presidential election with 54 percent of the vote.

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