How does a democracy die?

Source: Indian Express 

Relevance: This article highlights few examples that can turn a country in a failed democracy.


Democracies die when democratically elected governments cease to be held accountable by a society weakened by poor health, low morale, and joblessness. In such a scenario, political leaders are prone to blindness and incompetence, they pay minor regard towards the promise of a dignified life for every citizen. 

  • Global surveys are everywhere reporting dipping confidence in democracy and marked jumps in citizens’ frustrations with government corruption and incompetence.
  • Most worrying are the survey findings for India, which is fast developing a reputation as the world’s largest failing democracy. 
    • In its Democracy Report 2020, Sweden’s V-Dem Institute noted that India “has almost lost its status as a democracy”. 
    • It ranked India below Sierra Leone, Guatemala, and Hungary.
Understanding Democracy:
  • Democracy is much more than pressing a button or marking a box on a ballot paper. It is a whole way of life and involves freedom from hunger, humiliation, and violence
  • Democracy is saying no to every form of human and non-human indignity. In a healthy democracy, citizens are not forced to travel in buses and trains like livestock, wade through dirty water from overrunning sewers or breathe poisonous air. 
  • Democracy is public and private respect for different ways of living. It is a willingness to admit that impermanence renders all life vulnerable, that in the end nobody is invincible, and that ordinary lives are never ordinary.

Political scientists have often pointed out that democracies fade in two connected ways. Some have suffered sudden death. But death by cuts is more common.

Two Ways in which Democracy dies:
  1. Military Coup: Democide or military coup is usually a slow-motion and messy process. Wild rumours and talk of conspiracies flourish. Street protests and outbreaks of uncontrolled violence happen. Fears of civil unrest spread. 
    • The armed forces take control. The emergency rule is declared, but things eventually come to a boil. 
    • As the government weakens, the army moves from its barracks onto the streets to quell unrest and take control. Democracy is finally buried in a grave it slowly dug for itself. 
    • During the past generation, around three-quarters of democracies met their end in these ways. These include military coups against the elected governments of Egypt (2013), Thailand (2014), Myanmar, and Tunisia (2021).
  2. Destruction by Social Emergencies: The judiciary becomes vulnerable to cynicism, political meddling, and state capture. Massive imbalances of wealth, chronic violence, famine, etc. destroy people’s dignity
    • The victims stop believing themselves worthy of rights, or capable as citizens of fighting for their own entitlements, or for the rights of others.
    • This social indignity undermines citizens’ capacity to take an active interest in public affairs and to check and humble the powerful.
      • Citizens are forced to put up with state and corporate restrictions on basic public freedoms. 
      • This makes them used to big money, surveillance, baton charges, preventive detentions, and police killings.
    • But the scandal doesn’t end there. When millions of citizens are daily victimized by social indignities, the powerful are granted a license to rule arbitrarily
    • When this happens, demagoguery comes into season. It refers to political activity or practices that seek support by appealing to the desires and prejudices of ordinary people rather than by using rational argument.
    • The leaders can even convince people that they can turn lead into gold. They make careless, foolish, and incompetent decisions that reinforce social inequities. They license Big industry and government players to decide things, which in turn breeds corruption.
    • Finally, in the absence of redistributive public welfare policies that guarantee sufficient food, shelter, security, education, and health care to the downtrodden; democracy morphs into a mere façade.
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