Democracy just about prevails despite pandemic and problems around the world
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EDP reader Peter King says the past 12 months have seen plenty of attempt to derail the democratic process
The twin threat posed by the coronavirus pandemic and an all-out assault on democracy across the globe has placed us all in double jeopardy in the year since the first lockdown began.
Boris Johnson may have tried to put a positive spin on the storming of the Capitol and the failure of the American political machine to land the coup de grace on Donald Trump, dismissing the events of the impeachment trial as ‘kerfuffle’ and claiming that the country’s democracy is strong.
But president Joe Biden was a little closer to the mark when he said that his predecessor’s acquittal for inciting mob violence was a reminder that ‘democracy is fragile’.
Time and again repressive regimes have sought to silence opposition. The People’s Republic of China arrested more than 50 of Hong Kong’s most prominent pro-democracy activists and politicians in the biggest crackdown since imposing a security law, which was passed by 2878 votes with a single vote against and just six abstentions.
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As the pandemic raged, the Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, who had been poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent, was subsequently detained when he flew back into the lion’s den five months later. The 1993 constitution declares Russia a democratic state, but, as chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov wrote last summer: "All roads, all votes, lead to Vladimir Putin."
In Myanmar people felt their hard-fought battle for democracy had been lost after the military seized power, claiming the landslide election won by Aung San Suu Kyi had been marred by fraud – a claim echoed by a bad loser in a distant land with a blinding sense of his own false reality.
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Closer to home the pandemic has proved to be a convenient spur for shunning scrutiny. In a piece for The Institute for Government in December Alice Lilly wrote that the Brexit deal was the latest case of the government’s disregard for parliamentary investigation.
By allowing the negotiations to drag on until the last moment, the government had left little time for anything more than rubber stamping. Ministers had also developed a bad habit of making announcements at press conferences, or through leaks to the media, as a means of sidestepping scrutiny.
In September, speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, giving Boris Johnson a humiliating dressing-down for treating parliament with ‘contempt’, said: "The way in which the government has exercised its powers to make secondary legislation during this crisis has been totally unsatisfactory."
Democracy, despite Boris Johnson’s gloss, is always easy prey for despots seeking to dress themselves in borrowed robes, whether in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or in the election rigging of Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.
If the pandemic has helped to stifle parliamentary processes in the United Kingdom, it has at least played its part in the downfall of Donald Trump. The Washington Post argued that Trump’s re-election would have been difficult anyway, but that the president had finally lost because he mismanaged the virus.
Yet an analysis undertaken by The Conversation, a network of media outlets that publish news on the Internet, suggested that Trump would have probably been re-elected if Covid-19 cases had been between just five and ten per cent lower.
For believers in democracy, the election outcome offered a chance to stand side by side with vice-president elect Kamala Harris, when she said: "We did it. We did it, Joe."
Nevertheless, even with the help of the virus, it had been a close-run thing. As Wellington said, after helping to remove another monster from the global scene, it was "the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life."