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The Fragility of Democracy

More than ever, we must cling to that brightly shining beacon of democracy. Holding elections – even in the most difficult of circumstances – underscores the resilience of the human spirit and the enduring power of our collective voice.

  • 1 month ago
  • April 15, 2024
7 min read
Representative image courtesy of Phil Scroggs on Unsplash Representative image courtesy of Phil Scroggs on Unsplash
This Op-Ed is one in a series by Publisher Sam Yehia aimed at shedding light on critical global issues that demand urgent attention and address a spectrum of challenges affecting us all, emphasizing the need for collective action and support. By fostering awareness and encouraging collaboration, he hopes to inspire positive change and contribute to a more compassionate and equitable world as we cover the multitude of issues that impact our global community.

In democracy, the pulse of the nation is measured by the participation of its citizens, especially during the electoral process. The old adage “every vote counts” rings true. Each ballot cast serves as a building block for the foundation of governance. This proves even more important when margins are razor thin, as if often the case in U.S. elections.

Engaging in elections becomes not just a right, but a duty, like holding the torch of liberty. In the democratic arena, citizens are not merely spectators. They become its lifeblood, ensuring “government of the people, by the people, for the people” does not perish, but prospers. The year 2024 includes a significant number of national elections. Over 50 countries, home to half the world’s population, will head to the polls.

2024 elections occur amidst a concerning trend of global democratic decline and significant impacts on human rights

● Amidst the Russia-Ukraine war, President Vladimir Putin emerged as the victor in his election. He garnered support from 76.3 million Russians out of 87.5 million people who cast their votes in March. Election authorities reported a nationwide turnout of 74.22 percent at the close of polls. This surpassed the 2018 turnout of 67.5 percent. With opposition either eliminated or sidelined, western nations raised doubts regarding the legitimacy and fairness of the elections.

● On March 1, Iranians participated in elections, the first held since widespread protests erupted in 2022 following the tragic death of Mahsa Amini. The protest period resulted in the loss of 551 lives. This including 49 women and 68 children, as documented by the UN fact-finding mission. The subsequent elections turned out 41 percent of the voters. It was the lowest rate of participation since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

● In the 2021 Syrian presidential election, Bashar al-Assad was re-elected for a fourth term. This occurred against the backdrop of an ongoing civil war that led to significant displacement. Over 14 million Syrians were forced to leave their homes since 2011, creating the largest refugee crisis globally. Within Syria itself, 7.2 million individuals are internally displaced. About 70 percent require humanitarian assistance and 90 percent live below the poverty threshold.

● In parallel, the civil wars in Libya and Yemen have resulted in the loss of thousands of lives and sparked major humanitarian crises. The lack of robust political parties and the proliferation of armed groups have complicated the political terrain. This has posed challenges to establishing a stable and participatory form of governance for more than a decade.

From Gaza to the collapse of Haiti, unrest reigns

● While the Palestinian State continues to struggle under the yet unresolved decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, its territories remain formally divided into three areas. The Gaza Strip has not held elections since 2006. It continues to be undermined and influenced by Iran, Israel’s nemesis. Iran remains the principal supporter of militant groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis. Meanwhile, the West Bank, governed by the Palestinian National Authority, has not held elections since 2004.  Twenty years into what should have been a four-year presidential term, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has become synonymous with “corruption, nepotism and inefficiency” by dissolving parliament, entrenching his control over the judiciary, and purging political rivals.

● Haiti has not conducted any elections since 2016. Turmoil in the country intensified after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July 2021. This left the country in a power vacuum. With no elected officials and incessant political disruption, a crisis ensued. Gangs filled the power void and now control an estimated 80 percent of the capital. Recent reports from humanitarian organizations indicate that about 15,000 individuals, including children, have been displaced.

What is at stake? The world’s largest oil reserves, millions of lives, and fledging democracies

● Venezuela, the country with the largest oil reserves in the world, will conduct a presidential election on July 28, 2024. Notably, the date comes earlier than usual. The nation has endured significant political and economic upheaval, marked by extensive protests against the government in 2014 and 2017. The protests led to civil unrest and prompted over 7.5 million citizens to leave.

● In various regions of Africa, escalating conflicts and political unrest have displaced an unprecedented number of people. Currently, over 40 million have been forced to flee their homes. South Sudan, Mali, Chad, and Mozambique reveal the highest rates of forced displacement on the continent. Each one is poised to conduct elections this year. This situation underscores the complex challenges these countries face. They must balance the pursuit of democratic processes with the urgent need to address humanitarian crises.

● In a significant display of democratic power, the people of El Salvador exercised their voting rights. President Nayib Bukele’s commanding re-election victory on February 4, 2024, took a sweeping 84.7 percent of the vote. His party secured an overwhelming majority in Congress, capturing 54 of the 60 seats available. This electoral success is attributed to Bukele’s effective crime reduction policies, which significantly lowered the nation’s previously high murder rates. As a result, El Salvador undergoes a remarkable transformation. It is evolving from a country once plagued by violence to one that stands as a beacon of safety in Latin America.

Even America remains susceptible to threats against democracy

The United States of America has stood as a shining example of democratic process since the Civil War ended in 1865. The elections of 2018, 2020, and 2022 were three of the highest-turnout U.S. elections of their respective types in decades. About two-thirds or 66 percent of the voting-eligible population participated in the 2020 presidential election. This is the highest for any national election since 1900.

Then, a massive group of rioters attacked the United States Capitol on January 6, 2022. They attempted to halt the peaceful transition of power from then President Donald J. Trump to incoming President Joe Biden. The two men will likely face off again this November and experts predict thin margins. All this comes amidst a backdrop of skyrocketing polarization between democrats and republicans.

Americans see a severe dip in bipartisanship and an ineffective government that does not pass bills or produce budgets. Exacerbating the situation, according to a 2022 survey, about 20 percent of election workers from smaller communities and nearly 70 percent from larger cities faced harassment for simply attempting to do their jobs.

Hope lies in the human spirit

More than ever, we must cling to that brightly shining beacon of democracy. Holding elections – even in the most difficult of circumstances – underscores the resilience of the human spirit. It highlights the enduring power of our collective voice. In the face of civil wars and suppression of expression, the act of casting a vote becomes a testament to the indomitable desire for freedom and fundamental rights.

Voter apathy, on the other hand, silences voices. The consequences can be far-reaching. They can lead to a government that may not reflect the will or serve the best interests of the people. Thoughtful and conscientious voting helps prevent crises caused by instability, economic downturns, and social unrest. Though the path to democracy remains strewn with obstacles, we must acknowledge that nothing worth having comes easily. The storms of political instability and the fires of armed conflicts rage on. Yet, the ballot box remains a symbol of hope.

This year, in a chaotic global landscape, citizens can grasp the reins of their future. They can steer us toward a brighter tomorrow. In doing so, they demonstrate the old saying, “Where there is a will, there is a way.” It is our collective determination that lays the foundation for a just and equitable future. It certainly feels like an immense challenge to continually defend democracy. Yet, history has proven time and again, the alternative is civil war and unrest in perpetuity. 

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Translations provided by Orato World Media are intended to result in the end translated document being understandable in the end language. Although every effort is made to ensure our translations are accurate we cannot guarantee the translation will be without errors.

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