Global Challenges Facing Humanity

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4. How can genuine democracy emerge from authoritarian regimes?

Synergistically self-organized human rights movements for a sustainable global democratic system are taking place virtually all over the world. Regardless of the trigger—autocracy, political repression, economic system, or the price of bread—increasing numbers of more globally conscious, media-savvy advocates of self-determination are taking to the streets—exhibiting unprecedented power. Their commitment and courage is contagious via the news media and the Internet, inspiring others worldwide.

The 2013 Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the EU was seen by many as an important milestone supporting a democratic world federalist type of political structure. Obsolete ruling structures are having difficulty limiting new forms of freedom and ideological shifts. The acceleration of change is much different today, but if these movements do not mature into new more-effective systems to implement new strategies to address some of the Global Challenges in this chapter (water, organized crime, energy, financial inequities, food), then eventually they could atrophy, lose their democratic gains, and even turn to anarchy in many regions of the world.

Also, established democracies should not forget that democracy can be corroded or lost. There is no clear delimitation as to when a “democracy” becomes overtaken by “plutocracy,” but, arguably, this is happening or has happened, with no substantial reversal in sight. Some argue that increasingly, democracy is threatened by monetocracy, due to growing power of lobbying and money- rather than people-driven political decisions.

Although the perception and implementation of democracy differ globally, it is generally accepted that democracy is a relationship between a responsible citizenry and a responsive government that encourages participation in the political process and guarantees basic rights. Laws and institutions benefiting the majority, while ensuring individual rights, and a strong civil society to enforce accountability are critical to counter organized crime, corruption, the concentration of media ownership, corporate monopolies, increased lobbying, and impunity, which all threaten democracy.

According to Freedom House, world political and civil liberties declined in 2011 for the sixth consecutive year, the longest regress since 1972, when the yearly analysis began. Some authoritarian regimes may have tightened control in response to the Arab Spring/Awakening and its contagion. Declines were noted in 26 countries, while improvements occurred in only 12 countries. The share of people enjoying democratic values stood at 43%, living in 87 “free” countries, while 22% lives in 60 “partly free” countries and 35% (about 2.5 billion people) lives in 48 countries with “not free” stratus.

The number of electoral democracies increased to 117, with three countries (Niger, Thailand, and Tunisia) gaining status and one (Nicaragua) losing it. After eight consecutive years of decline, the average global situation of press freedom showed a slight improvement, due to an increase of the “partly free” category, which now includes 72 countries—45% of the world’s population—but 40.5% of the world lives in 59 countries with a “not free” press, while 14.5% living in 66 countries enjoys “free” media—its lowest level in over a decade. More than 100 journalists have been killed in 2012, making it the deadliest year for media since UNESCO began keeping records on the issue. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that 968 journalists were killed since 1992; 70 in 2012 with motive confirmed, and 3 in the first 2 weeks of 2013. A new UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists adopted in November 2012, outlines more than 100 areas of work that different UN agencies and civil society groups intend to contribute to securing the safety of journalists, operating at the national and global level.

Demographic shifts and improved education, compounded with economic volatility, increase demands for a more global democratic system. The relative instability between quasi-authoritarian and quasi-democratic regimes may be generating the beginnings of a new global regime. Yet too many people become refugees with little or no protection or have to risk their lives for democratic principles. Old ideological, political, ethnic, and nationalistic legacies have to be addressed and international statutes adjusted to protect their rights and the long-range trend toward democracy. New democracies must address previous abuses of power to earn citizens’ loyalties without increasing social discord and slowing the reconciliation process.

Some factors helping to evolve more global democratic systems are legitimate tamper-proof election systems with internationally accepted standards for election observers, a better educated world public, free press, a more efficient International Criminal Court, international regulations that are globally binding and enforced, democratic institutions, knowledge diplomacy, data sharing, and the growing number and influence of international NGOs. New political parties are forming, such as the Pirate Parties in 50 countries, including post-Arab-Spring Tunisia, that want to reform copyright and patent law and promote free sharing of knowledge, transparency, an open state, and better communication with the citizens. More participatory democracy may grow from e-government to we-government. Petitions circulating around the world are beginning to influence decisions and hold governments and large organizations accountable through public participation rather than just relying on national judiciary systems. News is independently reported or validated. The e-generation is more borderless that in the past and wants to design new worlds. Some argue that access to the Internet should become a human right as a tool for freedom of expression and association.

An educated and correctly informed public is critical to democracy; hence, it is important to learn how to counter and prevent various ideological disinformation campaigns, information warfare, politically motivated government censorship, reporters’ self-censorship, and interest-group control over the Internet and other media. Religious discriminatory laws, including against atheists and nonreligious should be abolished.

Since democracies tend not to fight each other and since humanitarian crises are far more likely under authoritarian than democratic regimes, expanding democracy is sine qua non for building a peaceful and just future for all. Meanwhile, international procedures are needed to assist failed states or regions within states, and intervention strategies need to be designed for when a state constitutes a significant threat to its citizens or others.

Challenge 4 will be addressed seriously when strategies to address threats to democracy are in place, when less than 10% of the world lives in nondemocratic countries, when Internet and media freedom protection is internationally enforced, when the critical enforcement institutions function without political or other interference, and when voter participation exceeds 60% in most democratic elections.

Regional Considerations

Africa: Freedom House notes that 51% of sub-Saharan Africa’s population live in the 21 countries rated “partially free,” 39% live in 19 countries “not free,” while only 12% live in the 9 countries with “free” status. The Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance adopted by the African Union in 2007 entered into force in March 2012, following the 15th ratification. The South Africa chapter of Human Rights Watch’s 2012 World Report states that the country “continues to grapple with corruption, growing social and economic inequalities, and the weakening of state institutions by partisan appointments and one-party dominance,” with Zimbabwe, Angola, Chad, and others still mired in authoritarian regimes but masking as democracies. Afrobarometer’s survey found 80% of Ghanaians being fairly or very satisfied with the way democracy works in Ghana, while 42% held that view in Nigeria. While democratic norms have opened up the civil society, Africa is yet to experience “strong and vibrant civil society,” especially in organizing to demand better government, issues, policies, and programs. Increasing numbers of educated, unemployed youth with Mobile phones and Internet access may change this.

Asia and Oceania: The Asia-Pacific region continues to make progress according to the indicators of democracy monitored by Freedom House. Nevertheless, only 16 countries of the region are rated as “free” and 15 as “partially free,” while 41% of the population lives in the 8 “not free” countries. Notable gains were made in Myanmar (Burma), Singapore, and Thailand. Since China is home to over half of the world population presently living in countries rated “not free,” a modification of its status would change the worldmap of democracy. The former Google Chairman believes that will happen after the “Great Firewall of China” is opened. In South Asia, repression of political and civil liberties is aggravated by increasing ethnic and sectarian conflicts, mainly in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Meanwhile, India—the world’s largest democracy—shows further improvement with the growth of the anticorruption movement. In the MENA region, Israel remains the only country ranked “free,” 4 countries are “partly free,” and 85% of the region’s population lives in the 13 “not free” countries. Some of the countries rated the lowest are in the Persian Arab Gulf region: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Yemen. However, the Arab Spring/Awakening opens new perspectives, despite the violent response of some countries’ authoritarian regimes.

Europe: All 27 EU countries are rated “free.” The EU Parliament is the largest transnational democratic electorate in the world. As of 2012, the European Citizens’ Initiative allows citizens to initiate legislative proposals if backed by 1 million citizens. Governments across the continent are increasingly involving citizens in local and legislative development. Some expect increased political and fiscal EU integration due to the Eurozone crises. A new code of conduct passed in December 2011 requires Members of the European Parliament to disclosure their financial statements and meetings with lobbyists. Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Russia 143 out of 181 countries (though improving from 154th place in 2010). The average bribe that Russian businessmen offer to civil servants is $9,000, although some estimates are higher. Russia adopted a new law to prevent aggressive behavior of demonstrators. Russia has proposed a Eurasian Union and Commission (modeled on the EC) be established by 2015. Controversy over Serbian politic crimes continues. Corruption, autocracy, and lack of progressive institutions also hinder the democratization process in most Central and East European (non-EU) countries.

Latin America: Freedom House rated 22 countries in the region “free,” 10 “partly free,” and only Cuba as “not free.” The “Mexican Spring” YoSoy132 movement led to open televised presidential debates and students monitoring the polling booths for the Presidential election. The big challenges for the region are an institutional weakness for addressing social and political demands of people, as well as the interlinkages of organized crime, businesses, and government corruption. The “war” against the drug cartels and their internal wars, mainly in Mexico, caused thousands of victims and internally displaced persons and reduced civil liberty, while only 2% of the crimes and human rights violations reported to the authorities end up in a conviction. However, a sense of solidarity of the people and increased influence of civil society organizations, constitutional reforms supported by the majority of the population in Bolivia and Ecuador for strengthening the rights of indigenous peoples, as well as examples of democratic governance set by Chile and Brazil are helping to strengthen democratic processes. All of the left-leaning governments in South America -- Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, Uruguay, and Venezuela -- have been re-elected (some repeatedly) -- because they have brought real improvements in living standards for the majority. The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States was initiated by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in 2010 to foster Latin American integration as an alternative to the OAS.

North America: The OPEN Act bill in the U.S. is inviting improvement through online inputs--a first in the U.S. for “e-citizenry.” The proposed Global Online Freedom Act of 2012 aims to improve corporate responsibility concerning human rights and the freedom of Internet. The U.S. State Department gave $5 million to the UN Democracy Fund, and USAID spent over $70 million, to support democracy and the rule of law programs around the world, but the legitimacy of U.S. military intervention to counter autocracy is questioned. The cost of America’s presidential race reached a record $2 billion. For the first time, Caucasian males no longer form the majority of the Democrats in the House of Representatives (they still account for around 85% of the Republicans). Canada is the most successful democratic multiethnic model; however, recent changes to regulations for charity organizations and fraud investigations concerning the last federal election raise concerns over a healthy future of Canadian democracy. Concerns also persist in Canada and the U.S. about electoral processes, the concentration of media ownership, powerful lobbying, and political corruption. The Occupy Wall Street movement, began as a protest to the increasing social injustice due to “greed and corruption of the 1%” expanded to most major U.S. cities and many others around the world, causing many to explore new concepts of political economy and democracy.

Graph: People exercising their democratic rights

Source: Graph using Trend Impact Analysis; it is part of the 2012 State of the Future Index computation (See Chapter 2, SOFI 2012)


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