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‘Global democracy under attack’

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‘Global democracy under attack’

Washington: US President Joe Biden has vowed a major push to promote democracy worldwide. But since he took office, democracy has faced repeated setbacks.

Among three nations whose democratic transitions had inspired the most hope, Myanmar and Sudan have seen generals roar back, sacking civilian leaders and suppressing street protests, while in Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring a decade ago, the president seized wide-ranging powers.

Military juntas have also grabbed power in the West African nations of Guinea, Mali and Chad, while in Afghanistan, Taliban insurgents seized power after a US troop withdrawal brought the quick collapse of the Western-backed government.

While local factors are at play in each country, experts see common trends including economic insecurities exacerbated by Covid-19 and climate change, ruling elites who failed to meet aspirations and the growing role of China, which can support nations shunned by the West.

“There is an increase in attacks on democracy around the world — and not in the demand for democracy,” said Derek Mitchell, the first US ambassador to Myanmar after its transition a decade ago.

“It’s a matter of old mindsets dying hard, particularly in militaries where people don’t give up power and privilege easily,” said Mitchell, now president of the National Democratic Institute, which promotes democracy worldwide.

Fulfilling a campaign promise, Biden has announced a two-part summit of democracies starting in December. He is drawing a sharp contrast with his predecessor Donald Trump, who openly embraced authoritarian leaders seen as useful and who inspired a violent mob that on January 6 attacked the US Capitol as it certified Biden’s victory.

With the possible exception of Afghanistan, where Biden’s decision to end the two-decade US war has been hotly debated, few link democracy’s woes to the current occupant of the White House.

“Democracy takes literally decades to consolidate and it takes years to erode. So I think there’s very little that any administration could do in the first nine months tangibly moving the needle on global democracy,” said Frances Z. Brown, who worked on supporting democracies in Barack Obama’s White House. Crucially, Biden responded quickly to the coups in Myanmar and Sudan including suspending aid, said Brown, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.


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