Democracy, socialism or autocracy every system of government has both advantageous and detrimental aspects. According to the requirement of prevailing social realities, we had seen the rise of a compatible political system. Likewise, the twentieth century can be characterized by the triumph of democracy across the world. We had seen autocratic systems was replaced by democratic systems. The process was hastened in the wake of the second world war and the process of decolonization further accelerated it . We had also witnessed a protracted war between pro-democracy and anti-democracy camps which ushered in the vindication of democratic ideals. We had noticed the yearning for democracy and free world which is symbolized by breaking the Berlin wall and reunification of two parts of Germany. Democracy prevails as the political system in more than seventy-two countries.
However, at the turn of the twenty-first century, this picture began to change gradually. The democratic system of government that developed in ancient Greece under with the promise of individual freedom is now becoming increasingly autocratic. And the people have begun to accept it- willingly or unwillingly. Autocratic economic prosperity seems to be their main concern now, not just the repeated changes of government in nominal democracy. Free and fair, which is one of the hallmarks of democracy, is now being questioned. Rumors of Russian interference in the last US election were rife. This distrust of voting system is one of the main reasons for the decline of democracy around the world.
Democracy emerged in the Western world as a state system in the ninth century. Then, at the beginning of the last century, the number of democratic states increased to 26. In the economic downturn of 1930, which was trapped in the grip of capitalism, that development of democracy was hampered to some extent. Against that backdrop, fascism and communism gained ground. However, at that time, the western economist likes of john Maynerd Keynes tried to reconcile democracy with some socialist underpinnings for the sake of salvaging the system. Introduction of welfare measures and government oversight in free market had aided to perpetuated moribund democracy at that moment.
After World War II, with the end of global colonialism, the winds of democracy began to blow in Europe and Africa with the direct supervision of the United States. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the Cold War, a protracted ideological war between the Soviet Union and the United States, the number of democratic countries enlarged to 72. After that, democracy did not have to look back. The triumph of democracy began in different parts of the world.
However, with the turn of 21st century, the tide of that liberal democracy has begun to flow down. A report by the Variety of Democratic Institute (V-DEM), a Swedish-based think tank, revealed that. They reviewed the democracies in 169 countries from 2008 to 2018 and published the study, which showed that the democracies have deteriorated dramatically in the last 10 years. These countries are gradually leaning towards comparative autocracy.
The London-based magazine, the Economic Intelligence Unit, has published in its Democracy Index of 2019 that there are only 22 full democratic countries in the world today.
On the other hand, populist politics and autocracy are becoming popular all over the world as evident from election of Trump and ant-EU sentiment in Europe. States are gradually marching towards elected autocracy and succession. Russia, which collapsed after the collapse of the Soviet Union, has returned through Putin’s 20-years autocratic rules.
Meanwhile, Chinese autocratic leader Xi Jinping is battling the United States well in the economic trade war by taking the seat of president for lifetime. He is equally playing in world politics. Turkey once a hardline democratic country, has also become a beacon of hope for the Muslim world under Erdogan’s 20-years rule. And since the Iranian revolution of 1969, Khomeini has been Iran’s supreme leader. The monarchical countries of the Middle East have also successfully retained the culture of their autocratic monarchs for a long time.
In India, the world’s largest democracy, the Modi government has consolidated 10 years of power through populist politics. By weakening the opposition, they are also walking on the path of autocracy. The situation in Bangladesh is the same. Sheikh Hasina’s government has survived in power of Bangladesh for 15 consecutive years wherever the culture of this country was the change of government after each five years. There is no chance to see them separately from autocracy. Affluent and powerful section of the society is also supporting these new autocratic leaders. The absence of a strong opposition and the absence of any major mass movement against these autocrats bears testimony of that support.
A German-based research institute called “Bertelsman”; in their 2018’s statistics identified a total of 57 countries as autocratic including Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
Though freedom of speech is often questioned in an autocratic system of government; freedom of the press is also largely curtailed. If all these problems can be overcome, then autocracy can be one of the acceptable government systems. However, these issues can be largely overcome as the current elected autocratic system includes public accountability.
Freedom of speech is somewhat curtailed in dictatorial regimes, but in most cases economic development is accelerated by the long rule of one person or political party. So one of the largest of the people, of course, applauds these autocrats; try to let them survive in power.
So Hitler’s autocracy and the autocracy of modern Malaysian architect Mahathir Mohamad have no chance to be measured on the same scale. Mahathir Mohamad retired from politics on his own accord after 23 years as the Prime Minister, but in 2018 the people re-elected him to power. Therefore, it will be our folly to argue that all autocratic regimes are bad.
This change of government system all around the world will also have a strong impact on global politics. As long as democracy is established in the world, it can be said for sure that America will have the world leader. But in the fall of democracy, if an autocratic world order develops, America is sure to lose its position. Therefore, keeping in view this change, it is necessary to bring far-sighted change in the foreign policy of developing countries like Bangladesh
Looking at this change, the current dilemma that Bangladesh is facing in determining its relations with India and China will be resolved. Therefore, it is important for the Bangladesh government and political parties to formulate policies keeping in mind the global changes of this political system.
Khayrul Ahsan Marzan is studying International Relations in University of Dhaka.