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Democracy Notes
Published: 22/12/2022
Defining moments for democracy in Europe in 2022
War, nuclear threat, an energy crisis, inflation, mounting far-right populism and a pandemic—all issues Europe would be better off having left behind in the last century. Yet these challenges all converged on the continent in 2022, stirring discontent. With January around the corner, the month’s namesake, Janus, the Roman two-headed god capable of looking both backwards and forwards, can provide inspiration as old problems rise anew.   Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine The Russian war of aggression in Ukraine has shone a spotlight on the practice of democracy in the region and around the world. The Russian invasion, which has been marked by evidence of war crimes, is a clear attack on democracy as well as a sign of how democratization on Russian borders threatens the Putin regime. Deepening autocratization in Russia is widely evident, particularly through media censorship, the suppression of protests, forced conscription disproportionately affecting poorer regions and ethnic minorities, and deepening repression of the opposition, including pre-election pressure faced by opposition candidates in the September regional elections. Sham referenda were used to illegally annex Ukrainian territories. Many Russians have left the country as a result of the mobilisation, as discontent in Russia grows. Yet Ukraine’s democracy, which was already on a positive trajectory since the 2014 Revolution of Dignity, has shown remarkable resilience. The reliance on robust institutions and a government that brought the country together have yielded creative solutions in a time of extraordinary conditions. Apart from the government’s actions to protect institutions and democratic processes, civil society and the media have been powerful drivers of accountability and respect for human rights as vital factors in not only winning the war but in protecting democracy as well. The fight to preserve democracy is nevertheless set to continue and requires support from international partners. Freedom of expression under attack Reliable and impartial information becomes all the more essential in the context of armed conflict and looming economic crisis. The Media Freedom Rapid Response, which tracks press and media freedoms in EU Member States and candidate countries, reported cases of makeshift explosives targeting reporters in Greece and incidents of police brutality against journalists. In Turkey, journalists were arrested while covering protests, including the Istanbul Pride Parade and a Gezi Park memorial demonstration organized over the summer. There are hopes that the Media Freedom Act, an initiative meant to safeguard media independence and pluralism in the EU, will bolster free speech and press freedoms going forward. The EU Council has completed its first review of the Act amid calls for further improvement. Repression of gender equality undermines Europe’s common moral ground While 2022 was, in many ways, a period marked by the defence of shared values, countries across Europe—and debates within countries—pulled in starkly different directions over issues related to gender equality and sexual orientation. These issues may represent a chink in Europe’s moral armour. Hungary and Poland have further restricted abortion rights. In contrast, the Finnish Parliament has updated a legislation allowing women to obtain the opinion of only one doctor before getting access to an abortion (formerly two). Spain passed affirmative-consent legislation, a broad package which, among other things, offers income support to women affected by sexual violence and criminalises street harassment. At the same time, the passage of the law has led to sexist attacks by opposition parties against its main champion, equality minister Irene Montero. Threats against LGBTQIA+ rights have also afflicted both Europe’s high-performing democracies and non-democracies. Hate crimes were committed against LGBTQIA+ communities from Slovakia to Serbia, and discriminatory rhetoric has been heard from the new leadership in Italy.     Far-right populism gets boost in elections across Europe Many parties gaining ground display xenophobic, anti-immigrant, and nationalist tendencies. In Hungary’s elections in May, the Fidesz party won by a wide margin and the ethno-nationalist Mi Hazánk Mozgalom (Our Homeland Movement) party is represented in the Parliament for the first time. The Fratelli d’Italia won Italy’s elections and established the country’s farthest right government since Mussolini. Other far-right parties gained seats in legislatures in Portugal, France, and Bulgaria and Sweden. Finally, far-right political groups are becoming increasingly influential at the European Parliament level, making them more difficult for mainstream groups to ignore. Combined, they could become the third-biggest contingent in European Parliament, yet ideological differences—including approaches to issues from Russia to the politics of religion—have so far kept them apart. The support for these parties comes partially from their promise to radically transform outdated systems and from the convergence of the political centre with the far-right. Migration has proven to be a hot-button issue, sparking debate across the region (and the world). Since the migrant crisis in 2015, the far-right has been able to capitalise on unresolved concerns related to how migration impacts domestic economies, job opportunities, and social welfare systems. Russia has taken advantage of insecurities and concerns, actively attempting to manipulate public opinion on Ukrainian migrants in Europe through targeted misinformation campaigns. At the same time, the outpouring of support and welcome for Ukrainian refugees in early 2022 stood in sharp contrast to the resistance with which refugees from other parts of the world have been met over the years. The sharp contrasts have led to a serious questioning of long unresolved problems related to racism and discrimination in Europe and around the world. Slovenia halts democratic erosion Data from the Global State for Democracy Indices show that Slovenia saw declines in seven indicators in 2021 compared to five years ago. In 2022, however, the nation showed that recovery from democratic backsliding is possible: Since Janez Janša, three-time Premier and Viktor Orbán copy-cat, was voted out of office in April, Slovenia’s new centre-left government has moved to lift tight immigration restrictions, legalise same-sex marriage and adoption, and protect media freedoms. To watch in 2023 Polish parliamentary elections scheduled for autumn will be decisive in terms of whether a change in direction can be brought about electorally. It will be important to watch whether Slovenia can keep up the momentum. Recent referenda have affirmed public support for the government’s legislative agenda. At the supranational level, the status of the landmark European Media Freedom Act should be followed closely in 2023, as the law attempts to harmonise and support freedom of expression across the bloc. Finally, attention should be paid to safeguarding minority rights from the fallout of divisions related to gender equality, and the growing predominance of far-right ideologies in political decision-making. European democracy braces for whether these developments can insulate it from Europe’s grim déjà vu.
Democracy Notes
Published: 19/12/2022
The new model of coups d'état in Africa: Younger, less violent, more popular
There have been nine attempted or successful coups d’état in Africa since 2020. A stereotypical coup d'état involves the most senior members of the military (i.e., generals) overthrowing the government in a short, but potentially violent, incident that causes mass panic in the population. The most recent coups in Africa differ in some key aspects from the coups that were seen on the continent in the past, especially during the immediate post-independence period. What are these differences, and what do they mean for democracy? It seems that a new model of coup is being established, which differs in key ways compared to what has gone before. Coup leaders have been slightly younger, the coups have been less violent, and in some cases they have occurred (with popular support) against a background of political stagnation and intense security challenges. The type of foreign involvement in these coups also appear to be changing (but this is more difficult to confirm). Younger leaders Embed from Getty Imageswindow.gie=window.gie||function(c){(gie.q=gie.q||[]).push(c)};gie(function(){gie.widgets.load({id:'2K6RwuVvTFZMdWcvita8vw',sig:'WDg4FByox0RIjZHTsvL3TljJN35r6_N0xdJlTooDU0o=',w:'594px',h:'334px',items:'1243667734',caption: true ,tld:'com',is360: false })}); The age of the coup leaders has been a remarkably consistent element of these most recent coups. With the exception of Sudan, the coup leaders have ranged in age from 34 to 41. They have also been lower in rank than most coup leaders (and have come mostly from special forces units), including two colonels, a lieutenant-Colonel, and a captain. This growing dynamic is certainly not completely unprecedented: Jerry Rawlings was a 31-year old flight-lieutenant when he led his first coup attempt in Ghana, and Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo was a 37-year old lieutenant-colonel when he seized power in Equatorial Guinea. The latter example also highlights a potential negative implication of this element of the current wave of coups: the leaders may try to stay in power for a very long time.   Minimal violence, popular support Embed from Getty Imageswindow.gie=window.gie||function(c){(gie.q=gie.q||[]).push(c)};gie(function(){gie.widgets.load({id:'xcD5rWtOQEd4bWPSzQDVKg',sig:'NCClc3M4NVUPt1T4b3H87hB-B_Yjmh2os-IvBOUfQEk=',w:'594px',h:'396px',items:'1235089202',caption: true ,tld:'com',is360: false })}); The next two changed coup dynamics we highlighted are interrelated: their relatively non-violent nature, and the support (or at least lack of opposition) they have had among the general public. So called “bloodless coups” are a well established concept, but this is a notable commonality among the recent coups in Africa where, unlike before, incumbents have not been brutally assassinated and the ensuing death toll pales in comparison to previous coups (compare for example, the many people killed in the coups in Ghana in 1966, Equatorial Guinea in 1979, or Guinea-Bissau in 1998). Most of the recent coups have taken place in contexts where political violence (particularly in the form of long-running conflicts with jihadist insurgents) has been common. The non-violence of the coups thus stands in some contrast to the broader political context and may also relate to the level of popular support that some of these coups appear to have enjoyed. For example, some analysts have suggested that the coup in Mali in 2020 came as a relief to many people (82% according to Afrobarometer), who had lost faith in the leadership of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta. Others have argued that the sanctions imposed after the 2021 coup in Mali actually increased support for the coup leaders. Similarly, the January 2022 coup in Burkina Faso (the fifth in a decade) which saw the ousting of President Roch Kabore, was also hailed by large and mostly youthful crowds as “what we want.” Changing foreign connections At the same time, while many coups throughout history have involved foreign involvement (real or alleged), the complex relationships between governments, coup leaders, and foreign mercenaries give the foreign element in recent coups a different significance. The growing involvement of the Russian mercenary organization Wagner in North and West Africa has been well documented. The realignment of countries such as Burkina Faso and Mali, shifting from France to Russia as a source of military support, is certainly significant at least for the prospects of a return to civilian rule. While France could be expected to exert some pressure for democratic governance, Russia has no such interests. Near term outlook None of this suggests that coups are becoming more acceptable. The African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have both been firm in their responses to coups. International organizations have also condemned these anti-democratic interventions in the political system. For the first time in history, the AU had four countries simultaneously suspended for Unconstitutional Changes of Government (UCGs) and is currently reviewing its sanctions regime and enforcement mechanisms to deter UCGs. Furthermore, unlike before, the AU now has a more predictable post-coup transition pathway which often culminates in the conduct of democratic elections. However, the involvement of military leaders, in some cases (Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso etc.), as interim transition leaders, generates controversy regarding the AU/regional bodies’ firmly established “zero tolerance” policy for coup or military involvement in politics. While pragmatic, this type of transitional power can be seen to legitimize the actions of the coup leaders. Overall, the changing nature of the coups that we have identified here also suggests that the demonstration effects of “successful” coups in the region may increase the likelihood of further coups in the near term, unless coups are seen and addressed as part of a much deeper systemic crisis - leadership and governance deficit- that continues to plague the continent. Without a holistic approach, democratic performance will likely continue to plummet, with varying manifestations, as it has for the past four consecutive years. 
Democracy Notes
Published: 16/12/2022
Democracy in Asia and the Pacific 2023 Outlook Forum: Key Takeaways
Democracy is under pressure in Asia and the Pacific. Indeed, International IDEA’s GSoD report shows that democracy in the region is receding, with approximately 60 per cent of the 35 countries in the region suffering decreases in at least one component of democracy in the last five years. Challenges vary enormously due to the diversity and size of the region, yet some are common to most countries, including growing authoritarianism, the expanding role of the armed forces in civilian politics, China’s growing influence and power and the challenges of balancing freedom of speech and disinformation. Given these challenges, International IDEA and Perludem recently co-hosted the first Democracy in Asia and Pacific 2023 Outlook Forum, from 5-6 December 2022 in Bali, Indonesia. For two days, a diverse set of organizations and individuals from the region gathered to discuss common challenges and forecast democratic trends, with representatives from leading media outlets, academic institutions, civil society organizations, government and think tanks representing the region. Presentation on 5 December 2022 Breakout session on 5 December 2022  Participants agreed on the following key takeaways: The role of money in politics was cross-cutting across all sessions. Accessing power means accessing resources and the nexus between political power and personal enrichment appears to be a stable trend across both elected and non-elected officials. The power of money also plays an important role for the military – factoring into military interventionism in domestic affairs. Strengthening and enforcing the rule of law remains key to combatting the corruption embedded in institutions and campaign financing laws. The lack of effective regional cooperation mechanisms hinders democratic development in the region. There is space for stronger bodies to provide pressure to strengthen democratic institutions. ASEAN is a prime example of a regional body that has done relatively well in promoting economic growth and interstate peace in the region. It has, however, been plagued by ill-equipped formal structures that make it challenging to effectively respond to illegal regime changes such as in the case of Myanmar. Freedom of Expression and a healthy information environment for political campaigns, especially online, is integral to a functional democracy. The increasing number of laws that restrict freedom of expression and media integrity online is a concern requiring attention and action. In the same vein, the use of influence operations to manipulate public opinion, especially ahead of elections, is a growing phenomenon in the region. Fighting these attempts and protecting online freedoms is a must for democracy in Asia Pacific. Rising ethnonationalism in many countries has created violence and contaminated information environments. We can expect to see an increase in actors leveraging the power of social media to capture political discourse. The role of youth in politics will define the region in coming years, becoming a decisive electoral force and potentially challenging corrupt and rights abusing governments.   The main conclusions of the discussions will be captured in a short publication to be shared at the beginning of next year. We hope it will serve to set the agenda for stakeholders’ strategic planning and serve to inspire the prioritization of democracy in reforms related to Asia and the Pacific.