We have all heard of dictators and the most oppressive of things they have carried out to stay in power. When we hear such stories, they strike us with a sense of fear and terror. In the time and age where democracy seems to be flourishing, we need to recognize that democracy is not the dominant political norm. More than the number of democracies, we have more flawed democracies and dictatorships. From Latin America to Asia and Africa, there are 50 dictatorships in the world according to recent estimates. We have seen a surge of people’s dissent in some of these regimes which have led to the overthrowing of some dictators. The Arab Springs had challenged dictatorships in the Arab world beginning with Tunisia. The question that comes up is what is next.
Now that the dictator has been toppled, what happens to these countries? Do they end up as democracies? Even nations that have been democracies for a long period of time seem to be having problems with their democratic values. What are the prospects of democracy in nations that have not seen democracy? These questions are very difficult to address because dictatorships get toppled in multiple ways. Some of them fall because of the death of the dictator or due to another military coup or due to a people’s movement. The cause for their downfall to some extent would explain the kind of future that democracy will have in that nation. The Arab Springs was one of the recent movements that resulted in the toppling of authoritarian regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.
Violent protests and civil wars forced these leaders out of power mostly in violent ways which resulted in several casualties. The state of democracy in these nations is fragile except for Tunisia. Egypt is back under the rule of a military dictatorship and Yemen is in a state of a humanitarian crisis. In case of Tunisia, they were able to build a peaceful and pluralistic political order with the help of the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, a coalition of 4 civil society organizations. A contrasting case is that of Myanmar which has managed to make a swift transition to democracy but this transition like the other nations has not gone in the path intended. Today, Myanmar is becoming an example of what democracy should not be.
The ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslims by the military is a big black spot on the nation’s democracy. The civilian state is also becoming more and more centralized with time. So is the case of many other dictatorships that have managed to make a transition to democracy. There may be various reasons for the failure of these new democracies. The main problem is the lack of opposition and pluralism. There is a lack of opposition to maintain a system of checks and balances that are crucial for the health of democracy in the future. The lack of challenge to existing leadership is one of the reasons why dictatorships emerge. Tunisia was able to emerge as a democracy because of the operation of a coalition of civil society organizations.
Another reason why they do not survive is lack of leadership. In a military coup, just another dictator takes the predecessor’s place. Though there is a change of the people in power, nothing really changes for the citizens of the country. In case the leader resigns or dies, the new leader may not be efficient or necessarily democratic. In North Korea, the rule was passed from Kim II Sung to Kim Jong-il to Kim Jong-un. One of the most important reasons for the failure of democracies in these nations is the lack of a strong political framework. The political systems adopted may have been diluted, meaning that it becomes easy for the system to break down sooner or later. Finally, if the establishment of democracy was brought about by foreign powers, there is a likelihood of the democracy failing with the exit of those foreign forces.
Democracy is a cherished ideal across the world. However, democracies do not always exist in the way they are intended to. We have many flawed democracies as of now where the democratic ideals have been limited. But more than viewing these as problems of nations, we need to begin seeing them as the problem of millions who live under such governments. People from democratic countries should stand up for those with whom they share the planet with and who have been forced to give up their rights and liberties because of the nation that they belong to. Challenging dictators has been a very difficult process and experiences of many countries have been violent and brutal. People need to come up with ways in which we can challenge dictatorships effectively.
Picture Courtesy- Chile Today