Friday, 20 January 2017

Beware lest populism > displaces democracy

>    By Bayo Ogunmupe
>        Populism is gaining ground
> around the world, due to economic hardship, unease with
> globalization and unending immigration from the war ravaged
> Arab world. Moreover, the establishment elite have
> propelled  populist movements to power by lending a
> welter of public support for parties and leaders viewed as
> capable of holding cultural and social change at bay. But
> populism is a pathway to dictatorship.
>        In Europe, populist parties
> control parliaments in Greece, Hungary, Italy and Poland.
> Populists are part of the growing coalitions in Finland,
> Norway and Lithuania. In Asia, the Philippine strongman
> Rodrigo Duterte is pursuing a populist agenda and in the
> USA, Donald Trump has just been elected president.
>        The objectives of populists
> are not knew. Like their predecessors in Europe and Latin
> America, populist parties extol strong and decisive
> leadership. They share a disdain for established
> institutions, deeply distrust experts, the media and the
> elite. But the tactics today's populists employ to implement
> their vision of iron rule have evolved.
>        Rather than orchestrating
> decisive breaks with democracy, which elicit condemnation;
> they have imbibed new tactics from old populists such as
> Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, Russia's Vladimir Putin and
> Turkey's Recep Erdogan. These populists took a slow and
> steady approach to dismantling democracy. These leaders who
> first came to power democratically, subsequently harnessed
> widespread discontent to undermine institutional constraints
> on their power; they marginalized the opposition and eroded
> civil society groups.
>        Thus, populists deliberately
> install loyalists in key positions of power, particularly in
> the judiciary and the security services such as Nigeria's
> Muhammadu Buhari is doing at the moment. They neutralize the
> media by buying it; legislating against media and enforcing
> censorship. This strategy makes it hard to discern when the
> break with democracy actually occurs. Its insidiousness
> poses a significant threat to democracy in this 21st
> century.
>        The steady dismantling of
> democratic practices by democratically elected leaders,
> known as authoritarianism marks a significant change in the
> way democracies have historically fallen apart. Data on
> authoritarian regimes show that, until recently, coups have
> been the primary threats to democracy. From 1946 to 1999, 64
> percent of democracies failed through coups. In the last
> decade however, populist authoritarianism has been on the
> rise. It accounted for 40 percent of all democratic failures
> between 2000 and 2010. If this trend persists populist
> authoritarianism will soon become the common pathway to
> autocracy.
>        More disheartening is the
> slow populist fueled democratic backsliding. These are
> difficult to counter because it is subtle and incremental,
> creating no single moment that triggers widespread
> resistance. Piecemeal democratic erosion typically provokes
> only fragmented resistance.
>        However, because populists
> enjoy substantial popular support, they easily gain approval
> for their proposed changes. In Argentina for example, Juan
> Peron was elected president in 1946. He used his popularity
> to consolidate control over the nation. Recently, Turkey's
> Erdogan with his Justice Party claimed resounding victories
> in the 2002, 2007 and 2011 elections; providing Erdogan with
> the mandate for a lifetime rule.
>        Not only is populist
> authoritarianism difficult to defeat, it gives rise to
> dictatorships, a personality cultism in which power is
> concentrated in the hands of an individual or mafia. Data
> show that 44 percent of instances of authoritarianism from
> 1946 to 1999 led to the establishment of personalist
> dictatorships. From 2000 to 2010, however, that proportion
> increased to 75 percent.
>        As previously argued, the
> rise of personalist dictatorships is a great cause for
> concern. A robust body of research shows that dictatorships
> produce the worst political regimes. They pursue aggressive
> foreign policies, espouse racial hatred and mismanage
> economies. Today's populist movements may well be
> fueling  the proliferation of the worlds racist
> regimes.
>        Indeed, research reinforces
> that new democracies take 17 to 20 years to consolidate. But
> researches also avow that coups are a primary factor driving
> down a nation's risk of democratic failure. And the threat
> of authoritarianism does not diminish over time. Moreover,
> the forces fueling populism aren't going away soon too. Poor
> economic performance, disillusion with corruption and bad
> governance will continue to fan the flames of populism
> across the globe. Which is why populism's threat to poorly
> governed Nigeria cannot be underestimated.
>        In any case, the damage to
> democracy by populism will be more pronounced in less
> developed democracies. Already, Philippine's Duterte has
> sold his dictatorial tactics and fiery rhetoric as solution
> to crime, poverty and corruption in the Philippines.
> Mitigating populism's threat to democracy will require
> vigilance and circumspection. Recognizing the tactics
> populists use to expand their control is a necessary first
> step in developing strategies to counter populism. Fragile
> democracies are at risk but the established democracies are
> not exempt. Citizens should not assume they are invulnerable
> to a populist driven backslide. The tactics of today's
> populists are subtle, if left untamed, they will lead to
> grave consequences. The way Buhari is appointing his cronies
> into all the positions of power should be suspected as a
> ploy for dictatorship.

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