Sunday May 28, 2023

The forever ideology

January 12, 2023

Calls for regime change in Iran, Lula’s presidential victory in Brazil, the latest democratic wave in Turkey, and huge pro-democracy protests in Mexico indicate the rise of the Left and people’s growing inclination towards liberal democracy in today’s international political arena.

The number of populist leaders around the globe has fallen to a 20-year low after a series of victories for progressives. The year 2023 will be equally important for the future of democratic governments, with critical elections from Pakistan to Poland. Despite its imperfections, liberal democracy and left-wing politics is making a heroic comeback in world politics.

Although we have seen frightening reversals to the progress made by liberal democracies in the past two decades, setbacks do not mean that this form of governance has become vulnerable, or less relevant. One of the core strengths of liberal democracy is its capacity to fail and be exposed to vulnerabilities and errors, but, at the same time, come out more resilient – a distinct advantage not seen in other systems when they face setbacks.

It is fair to say that the right-wing populist experiment appears to be short-lived. In thriving, stable democratic setups, conservative parties are fast losing popularity. In the UK, for example, the latest voting intention polls show a 30-point lead for Labour. Populist policies and the politics of resentment are not working for right-wing conservatives as such leaders ignore the actual macro-economic problems and instead launch a rigorous witch-hunt against their opponents.

Now that the Russia-Ukraine war has further exacerbated the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the world will soon slide into recession. An overwhelming majority of people have lost their life savings, and been forced to brace the effects of the rising inflation. It can be said that people are no longer living with dignity, which is why we see how people across the world are rejecting the existing right-wing conservative setups, which keep them distracted from real issues through propaganda and populist moves.

From 2018 to 2022, former prime minister Imran Khan focused much on putting political opponents behind bars instead of working towards political and economic healing. Similarly, in Turkey, President Recep Erdogan recently used state institutions to apprehend the opposition leader and mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, for insulting several public officials. These illiberal moves have now become counterproductive. Now, such decisions lead to people coming out in huge numbers to protest, and calls for early elections have also become a norm.

In the past, liberal notions inspired leaders of several liberation movements – from Muhammad Ali Jinnah in Pakistan and Kemal Ataturk in Turkey to Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia and Nelson Mandela in South Africa. What further attracted the people to follow these leaders was the clear message: liberal democracy distributes power from top to bottom and relies on the consent of the governed. Authoritarian or theocratic regimes do not care about people’s opinion.

Liberal democracy is one of the most powerful ideologies because it gifts individuals the notion of practising freewill – something which is rather invisible in other forms of government. Thriving economies have inclusivity in their societal setups, and they accept the most important aspect in life: diversity. In contrast, struggling societies host politics of hate and resentment, toxicity in state institutions and disregard of human dignity.

Fresh ideas, Twitter spaces, parliamentary debates, fancy conferences on critical issues such as the UN’s COP, are simply not enough. Meaningful democratic setups are those where principles are enshrined in law, protected by state institutions and advanced by civic participation.

Liberal democracy is not a product of recent times. Twenty-five centuries ago, in the rocky hills of Athens, a powerful idea emerged: Demokratia. The word ‘kratos’ means power or the right to rule and ‘demo’ means people. It establishes the notion that we as citizens are not servants, but stewards and leaders of our own society. Democracy calls for equality before the law for all, not just for the few.

Despite political turbulences all across the globe, liberal democracy is not only here to stay but will also remain the premier political ideology. It not only empowers the people with the idea of freewill but also promotes the notion of accepting difference, getting along with people who do not agree with you.

The wheels of history turn, civilizations and empires come and go, and yet the current international liberal order remains the most powerful ideology ever seen, and is here to stay.

The writer is a lecturer in foreign policy.