Saturday

22nd Jan 2022

Column

Where could democracy rebound in 2022?

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2022 will be another tumultuous year for democracy. The global attack against democracy, from inside democracies and by authoritarian governments, continues. A number of key elections in 2022 highlight the challenges and the extent of the problem.

Many important elections in 2022 will be more like referenda on democracy rather than offering voters choices of different democratic currents. Voters are forced into a TINA logic ('There Is No Alternative'). If they are in favour of democracy, they only have one choice.

France

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  • 'If the French again have to decide between Emmanuel Macron and an extremist challenger, the democratic malaise will deepen'

Take France: Already, in 2017, French voters could only chose between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen in the second round of the presidential elections. People who did not like Macron voted for him to prevent Le Pen from winning - who is still regarded as an extremist candidate by many, despite her efforts to come across as more respectable than her father.

The April elections will prominently feature the extreme-right Éric Zemmour, a publicist and an unapologetic racist. They will also feature Le Pen of course. The first round if will be a fork in the road: if the French again have to decide between Emmanuel Macron and an extremist challenger, the democratic malaise will deepen.

If, however, the Republican candidate Valérie Pécresse keeps gaining ground and makes it to the second round against Macron, the French voters would have a choice between two candidates representing different currents while respecting democratic rules – even though a race between the centrist Macron and the right-wing Pécresse would still not be a great choice for leftist voters. They suffer from the fact that the Left has not managed to rally behind one candidate.

US

The US mid-term elections in November will be another important indicator for democracy worldwide.

With the entire House of Representative and a third of the Senate seats up for elections, it will not be a binary affair like the French elections. It will however provide important clues about the influence of Trump extremism in the Republican party and his chances to be nominated again for presidential elections in 2024. If anti-Trump Republicans regain momentum, US democracy may have a chance to recover.

Hungary

There are other electoral constellations in 2022, where democracy may gain ground against entrenched authoritarian parties. Take Hungary's parliamentary elections in April.

The electoral shenanigans of the ruling Fidesz party have forced all other parties into a coalition, although they represent widely differing political currents.

The surprising election of the relatively conservative, religious Peter Marki-Zay as the lead candidate of the opposition, has overturned Fidesz' usual campaign tactics.

It makes it harder to frame the opposition with the logic of cultural war, centred on issues like gender or religion, in order to avoid a focus on Fidesz' biggest vulnerability: corruption protected by authoritarian rule.

But it will not be easy for the opposition. The ruling party, fearful of Hungarian voters' possible choices, has barricaded itself behind a thick net of legal rules and captured institutions which do not allow for fair elections.

If there are controversies about the result, we may have a full-blown election crisis in the middle of the EU.

Even if the Hungarian opposition wins, it will have difficulties to change policy against the entrenched institutions controlled by the Fidesz elite and designed to thwart majority will.

Brazil

Another election offering democratic restoration will be Brazil´s blockbuster poll in October when the president, parliament and states' governors and assemblies will be elected. It offers a chance to unseat president Jair Bolsonaro, an extremist, who has taken many clues from Donald Trump.

The electoral risks are significant. Bolsonaro has already talked up a story of possible election-rigging and the process could become highly contentious. It is not guaranteed that Brazil's judicial and security institutions will be as solid as those in the US, where all courts gave short thrift to Trumps lies about stolen votes.

Tunisia

Tunisia will also have elections. The once hailed regional model has slipped into crisis. President Kais Saied concentrated all significant powers in his hands, setting aside the constitution. He plans to elaborate a new constitutional set-up, probably giving a much larger role to the president at the expense of parliament.

He plans to hold a referendum on the constitution in July, while keeping parliament suspended for another year, with elections only taking place in December.

The question is whether he will maintain his popularity, or if Tunisians will elect a Parliament that provides some counter-balance to presidential powers.

Elections are foreseeable events. As we saw in 2021, there will also be may unforeseen events. As another indicator of democracy's weakening, military coup d'etats have returned.

Myanmar, Mali, Sudan

In Myanmar the military staged a putsch against the elected government. The militaries in Mali and Sudan overthrew civilian governments.

It is not clear that the putschists will win however. In Myanmar and Sudan many people demonstrate against the illegal take-over of power.

The world over many people keep standing up against dictators and authoritarian rulers. Let´s hope in 2022 they will have more success than last year. The upcoming elections provide opportunities for a democracy rebound.

Author bio

Michael Meyer-Resende is the executive director of Democracy Reporting International, a non-partisan NGO in Berlin that supports political participation.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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