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Editorial: International community must stave off decline in democracy / Populism can undermine society

  • May 4, 2019
  • , The Japan News , 7:15 p.m.
  • English Press

The end of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, which occurred in 1989 when the Heisei era began, and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union were perceived as a victory for the system of liberal democracy.


Today, 30 years later, China and Russia have increased their authoritarianism, while a decline in democracy is evident in Europe and the United States. Amid growing uncertainty in the world, Japan has entered a new era.


Distrust of elites


In the past 30 years, there have been no wars between major countries. Countries such as South Korea, South Africa and the Czech Republic have seen progress in democratization. This is likely the “fruit” brought about by the end of the Cold War.


The movement of people, goods, money and information has greatly accelerated, and the global economy and spread of the internet have led to new industries and comfortable living. Nevertheless, questions have been raised over why a sense of stagnation cannot be dispelled.


In recent years, a trend has spread through Europe and the United States like a domino effect.


The trend involves distrust toward established political parties and the elite, policies placing top priority on domestic interests, and hostility toward immigrants. Populist politicians and far-right parties have incited a backlash from people who have been left behind by globalization and technological innovations, threatening the establishment.


As the economy has globalized, economic disparities have widened. The authority of governments has been limited as countries have participated in international organizations and agreements. These circumstances are behind the trend.


With confrontations between the elite in cities and working-class people in regional areas, as well as between supporters of international cooperation and nationalists, societies have become increasingly divided and polarized. The situation, in which extreme views have attracted support and centrist and moderate views have lost their presence, cannot be described as normal.


The current situation in Britain is appalling. Nearly three years have passed since the country decided to leave the European Union in a national referendum, but a specific path has not been set out. With the British government and Parliament falling into disarray, indecisive politics have continued.


The ruling Conservative Party and the largest opposition Labour Party have both seen their membership split between Brexiteers and anti-Brexiteers. The foundation of parliamentary politics, in which members of a party respect their party’s principles and policies and try to find common ground with other parties through discussions and concessions, has fallen apart. This is a serious matter.


A call by Brexiteers to recover Britain’s sovereignty from the EU and restrict immigration flared up as the referendum was held. Regardless of whether the country will leave or stay in the EU, there would not have been such a deep rift and confusion if the decision on Brexit had been made based on parliamentary discussions held in an expert manner.


This must be engraved in history as a lesson that shows the danger of a national referendum.


Overcome division


The United States also has a similar problem.


President Donald Trump has tried to realize his campaign pledge to tighten immigration control without going through legislative procedures in Congress but instead through a presidential directive or by declaring a state of emergency. By means of his unique method of tweeting, he has managed to firmly maintain his support base centering on white blue-collar workers.


U.S. society is divided between people who absolutely back Trump and those who oppose him. It seems that the U.S. media has also been dragged into this division. It can hardly be said that sound democracy is working in the United States.


Even in the opposition Democratic Party, left-wing populism taking a hostile view of the wealthy class and elite has been gaining strength. Both Trump and the Democratic Party are certain to ramp up populist assertions in preparation for the presidential election set for next year.


In connection with the 2016 presidential election, it has been revealed that Russia was committed to supporting Trump through information manipulation using social media and cyber-attacks.


It is essential to overcome division and prevent the permeation of populism so as not to allow any chance for foreign intervention. This is a challenge that must also be tackled by France, which has been hit by a series of riots.


In the Arab Spring popular uprisings aiming for democratization, which started in 2010, autocratic regimes were toppled one after another in such countries as Egypt and Libya. Thereafter, democratization progressed in no country other than Tunisia.


Civil wars and disturbances, which have continued in the Middle East and Africa, caused mass inflows of refugees into Europe, the advance of radical Islamic elements, and international terrorism. Unless these problems are resolved through the international community’s persistent engagement, the spread of xenophobic assertions prioritizing domestic interests cannot be halted.


No authoritarianism


China and Russia have suppressed dissenting opinions domestically through authoritarian politics and have expanded their spheres of international influence as turmoil prevailed in the United States and Europe.


Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin both revised their countries’ Constitutions in ways advantageous to themselves, enabling them to have long terms in office. Authoritarian governance has also prevailed in such countries as Hungary and Turkey.


Compared with democratic politics, in which internal confrontation is revealed easily and it takes time to reach an agreement, authoritarian politics has more of an advantage in carrying out policies promptly.


However, governance that controls information and speech, including in the realm of the internet, and infringes upon people’s fundamental human rights can never be accepted. It is imperative to rebuild the governance system into one capable of realizing stable politics and better reflecting the people’s will while recognizing the fragility of democracy.

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