Tuesday, October 1, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Democracy On Edge?

These days, representative democracy seems on the defensive  in
many parts of the world. So it is worth examining some recent 
free elections to see if there are any specific voter trends with
particular attention to right-center-left paradigms.

In North America, ita largest nation, the U.S. is heading into a
national election next year to test the conservative upset victory in
2016. The two major parties appear to be each going through
significant transformation --- the Republican Party increasingly
appealing to blue collar voters, and the Democratic Party becoming
more “progressive,” that is, appealing to voters on the left. In
Mexico, its new government is populist and leftist, having replaced
a more centrist regime. In Canada, a center-left prime minister
replaced a center-right one in 2015, but conservatives have won
notable provincial elections since then, and an imminent national
election is too close to call.

In South America, the two largest democracies, Brazil and Argentina,
seem to be going in opposite ideological directions. A new center-right
president replaced a leftist in Brazil, but the centrist president of
Argentina faces a very serious challenge from the (Peronist) populist
left.

In Europe, long (especially post-World War II) a continent of left of
center social welfare governments, traditional ideologies are being
challenged by nationalism, conservatism and populism. Traditional
socialist and labor parties on the left have shrunk. In western Europe,
non-traditional parties have arisen. In France and Italy these have
recently won, and could win soon in Germany. On the other hand, the
left has recently won in Spain, replacing a center-right government.
The United Kingdom, attempting to break its ties to the European
Union (“Brexit”), has had a series of Conservative governments, and
remains in crisis over the issue, but polls indicate that the opposition
Labour Party and its controversial leader would lose an election badly.
In east and central Europe, a clear pattern of nationalist and populist
governments has emerged in Austria, Hungary and Poland. The
northern Scandinavian countries, fabled for their social welfare
systems in the past, are moving now in a more centrist direction.

A recent major election (mayor of Istanbul) in Turkey rejected
the efforts of its authoritarian president. In Israel, its multi-party
parliamentary system has produced electoral stalemate, but a
large majority voted for conservative parties. The original leftist
and socialist party that once dominated Israeli politics has almost
disappeared.  

The appearance of controversial and charismatic political leaders
in many of these countries --- Donald Trump in the U.S., Lopez
Obrador in Mexico, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Emmanuel Macron
in France, Boris Johnson in the United Kingdom, Sebastion Kurz
in Austria, Recep Erdogan in Turkey. Viktor Orban in Hungary,
Justin Trudeau in Canada, Benjamin Neanyahu in Israel ---
complicates any traditional ideological analyses. Each of them
have gained power in the special and often local conditions in
their nation. Left, right and center not only means something
different in different countries, it is even changing internally
--- such as in the notable cases of the U.S. and the U.K. where
the major parties are undergoing such significant internal
transformations.

Like the global climate --- warming in one place and cooling in
another --- democratic voter trends have no valid single label.
But voters almost everywhere are changing their minds, when
they are free to do so, to meet local and global challenges of
new technology, massive migrations, scarcity of resources, and
natural disasters.

Years ago, but not that far back, there was a widespread belief
that authoritarian ideologies such as communism, fascism or
religious fundamentalism were the inevitable wave of
humanity’s future. Set against them was only a relatively
recent and (some said) fragile system known as representative
democracy.

Unlike its nemeses, representative democracy is not just one
implacable and monotonous form of tyranny, but instead,a great
variety of electoral expressions of civic liberty, personal freedom,
enabled commerce and trade, and community compassion.

It is also often messy, contradictory and confusing --- just like
the human beings who compose it and live in it day by day.

Representative democracy is so far mankind’s greatest
communal achievement. If here is any doubt about that, just
ask those who don’t have it.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.