The Twilight Years of Democracy
2019 was dubbed "The Year of the Protest." From Sudan to Hong Kong to Chile, people across the globe took to the streets to protest the political elites of their society. They protested against political, societal, and economic inequality that has become pervasive across the globe.
They achieved goals that seemed impossible the year before. The Sudanese protests ousted war criminal dictator Omar al-Bashir after 30 years of rule. The Hong Kong protestors successfully got the legislature to withdraw the 2019 Hong Kong extradition bill and pro-democracy candidates overwhelmingly won a majority of seats of the District Council in the 2019 elections. Both major and minor victories won by protestors in 2019 left many onlookers hopeful for the change that 2020 could bring.
The coronavirus has radically changed that.
In late March, as the coronavirus was ripping through Europe, the Hungarian ruling party used the pandemic to put democracy on hold. The parliament voted to give the government of Prime Minister Victor Orbán the ability to rule by decree and without any time limits. In Poland, a presidential election simply never happened. Instead of declaring a state of natural disaster and postponing the election to a specified future date, the ruling party elected to simply disregard it and is expecting the Supreme Court—which is filled with party loyalists—to declare the unheld election invalid and give the party leeway on when to reschedule. By early May, the NGO Freedom House reported that Hungary is no longer a democracy and that Poland is headed in the same direction.
Nowhere is the spreading of authoritarianism more apparent than in Hong Kong. On May 21, Beijing announced it would impose new security laws that would undermine the civil liberties and political opposition that is fervent in Hong Kong. The spirit of the 2019 protests further diminished as efforts to quell the spread of the coronavirus took precedence.
Today, however, the protestors have begun to hit the streets again. On Wednesday, Hong Kong police arrested more than 300 people on suspicion of “unauthorized assembly.” Beijing’s actions have provoked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to announce that the State Department will no longer consider Hong Kong to have significant autonomy from China, indicating that the Trump administration plans to drastically change the economic relationship between the U.S. and the former British colony.
Hong Kong has never been a true democracy because its citizens have never elected an executive leader. Nonetheless, the recent steps taken by China to abolish the “one country, two systems” doctrine are alarming.
Democracy is on the decline globally, from China to India to Hungary, and the United States may be next. As the president purges top watchdogs that guard against abuses of power, appoints political allies to top intelligence positions, and sows distrust in our elections, creeping authoritarianism has never felt so close.
While all of his actions that undermine transparency and accountability are concerning, his efforts to undermine the election worry me the most. After the debacle that was the Wisconsin elections in March of this year, many people began to support universal mail-in ballots in all 50 states for the November election. The president, despite the fact that he himself has voted by mail before, recently called absentee ballots "illegal," "substantially fraudulent," and a scam. Although slightly more fraud takes place through in-mail voting than in-person voting, hardly any substantial electoral fraud takes at all, let alone a noticeable effect on total vote counts.
Democracy is still alive in America, but the actions of the Trump administration are whittling it away.
Anna Hickey is a third-year C.L.E.G. major in the School of Public Affairs. She is a chief editorial columnist for the Agora.
Images courtesy U.S. State Department, The White House, European People's Party; Creative Commons