February 2, 2023

Money News PH

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The world’s democracies are asking: Why can’t America fix itself?

Lin Wei-hsuan was just a kid when he watched his first Taiwanese election. His parents took him to watch the vote count, where volunteers held up each ballot, called out the election and marked it on a board for all to see – the huge crowd inside and many more watching live on TV.

The open trial, instituted after decades of martial law, was one of several creative steps Taiwan’s leaders have taken to build public confidence in democracy and win over the United States, whose support could chill China’s goal of unification .

Back then, America was what Taiwan wanted to be. But now many of the democracies that once looked to the United States for a model are worried they are lost. They wonder why a superpower famed for innovation is unable to address its deep polarization and produce a president who is spreading false allegations of voter fraud that significant sections of the Republican Party and voters have embraced.

“Democracy needs to revise itself,” said Mr. Lin, 26, a candidate for a municipal council campaigning for efficient garbage disposal and lowering Taiwan’s voting age from 20 to 18. “We need to look at what she’s doing and do better.”

For most of the world, US interim dates are little more than an outlier – but they are another data point for what some see as a trend line of trouble. Particularly in countries that have found ways to strengthen their democratic processes, interviews with academics, officials, and voters revealed concern that the United States appeared to be doing the opposite and drifting away from its core ideals.

Several critics of the American line cited the January 6 riots, a violent rejection of democracy’s insistence on a peaceful transfer of power. Others have expressed concern about states erecting voting barriers following the record turnout resulting from widespread early and postal voting during the pandemic. Some said they were concerned the Supreme Court would fall victim to partisan politics, like the judiciary in countries struggling to set up independent courts.

“The United States did not get into the position it is in overnight,” said Helmut K. Anheier, a sociology professor at the Hertie School in Berlin and a lead investigator for the Berggruen Governance Index, a study of 134 countries America is in Matters of quality of life among Poles. “It took a while to get there and it will take a while to get out.”

On a recent afternoon in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which has long economic and family ties to Boston, visitors and residents expressed their sadness, disappointment and surprise at their neighbor’s political situation.

“I’m very concerned,” said Mary Lou MacInnes, a nurse who visited the Halifax Public Gardens with her family. “I never thought it would happen in the US, but I think maybe in the future it will become autocratic.”

Election day is Tuesday November 8th.

Studies from 1991 showed that Canadians were almost evenly divided over which of the two countries had the better system of government. In a follow-up survey last year, only 5 percent preferred the American system.

For some in Canada and other countries who consider themselves close friends of America, the first signs of trouble with the presidential campaign came in 2000, when George W. Bush narrowly defeated Al Gore in a Supreme Court decision.

For others, it was Donald J. Trump’s victory in the 2016 election while losing the popular vote, followed by his refusal to accept defeat in 2020 and the lack of consequences for those who parroted his lies – including hundreds of Republican candidates in this year’s election.

“A lot of people imagined Trump was such a headstrong loner and once he was gone, he wasn’t president anymore, everything would go back to normal,” said Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s centre-right Prime Minister, as Mr. Trump took office. “And that’s clearly not the case.”

“It’s like watching a family member for whom you have tremendous affection injure themselves,” added Mr. Turnbull. “It’s depressing.”

Other countries do it differently.

Canada has constantly made changes to improve its voting system. In 1920, the country placed federal elections under the control of an independent official reporting to no government or politicians, with the power to punish rule-breakers. Responsibility for setting electoral boundaries was transferred to 10 similarly independent commissions in 1964, one for each province.

Taiwan and more than a dozen countries have also established independent bodies to designate constituencies and ensure that votes are cast and counted consistently and fairly.

The approach is not foolproof. Nigeria, Pakistan and Jordan all have independent electoral commissions. Many of their elections were still not free and trustworthy.

But where studies show that turnout and satisfaction with the process are highest, elections are conducted by national bodies that are non-political and inclusive. More than 100 countries have some form of mandatory or automatic voter registration; In general, democracies have made voting easier in recent years, not more difficult.


Nov 8, 2022 12:58 am ET

The world’s healthiest democracies also have stricter limits on campaign contributions – Canada bans corporate and union political contributions, as well as political campaigns promoting parties or candidates. And many democracies have embraced the change.

New Zealand overhauled its electoral system with a referendum in the 1990s after the party with the most votes failed to win a parliamentary majority in elections. South Africa is seeking changes to its political party-based electoral system to make it easier for independent candidates to run and win.

Such a system change would only be possible in the United States with overwhelming consensus in Congress, and even then it can be out of the question in a country where campaign finance is protected as freedom of speech and where states value their authority over state elections intended to serve as a bulwark against autocratic abuses.

Jennifer McCoy, a political scientist at Georgia State University who recently authored a report on how polarized countries have depolarized in the past, said partisan divisions have kept the United States in place, but so has myopia: Americans are looking rarely abroad for ideas .

“We have such a myth about our Constitution and American exceptionalism,” she said. “First, it makes people very complacent, and second, it takes managers a very long time to see the risk we are at. That means it’s very difficult to adapt.”

On a recent morning in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, near a street named after Lenin during the Soviet Union’s occupation, a group of protesters waved Ukrainian flags and placards calling for an end to Russian aggression.

Lithuania is a staunch US ally and vocal supporter of Ukraine’s struggle for self-determination, but doubts about the strength and future of American-led democracy are widespread even among the most committed.

Arkadijus Vinokuras, 70, is an actor and activist who helps organize the rallies. When asked what comes to mind when he hears the phrase “American democracy,” he responded with a slogan: “America is the defender of global democracy and the guarantor of the vitality of Western democracies!”

This is what it looked like 20 years ago – then came Putin, Trump and a divided America.

“Now,” he said, “even the biggest fan of America has to ask himself: How could this happen to the guarantor of democracy?”

It’s a common query in countries that once looked up to the United States.

On Thursday, at Cheikh Anta Diop University’s political science faculty in Dakar, Senegal, half a dozen graduate students gathered in a professor’s office to debate whether elections in America could be stolen.

“You take US democracy after Trump, undoubtedly it’s weaker,” said Souleymane Cissé, a 23-year-old graduate student.

Some of the world’s leaders have exploited this perceived weakness. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary, elected leaders with autocratic leanings, have praised Mr Trump and his Republican Party wing.

In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has pursued a Hindu nationalist agenda that has prompted accusations of democratic backsliding, now insists the West is in no position to pressure any country over democratic standards.

From Myanmar to Mali, leaders of military coups have also found they can subvert democracy without significant international resistance.

“If you’re an autocrat or would-be autocrat, you’re paying a lot less than you did 30 years ago,” said Kevin Casas-Zamora, a former Costa Rican vice president who directs the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, a 34-year-old pro-democracy group member states. “And that’s partly because of the US”

Even reformers are beginning to wonder what it is reasonable to expect from their high-minded institutions. When a new Chief Justice was appointed in South Africa a few months ago, the question arose as to whether the court was apolitical, or even could be.

All of these countries and more face an enormous challenge that has made America more visible: anti-democratic actors within democracies.

Mr Vinokuras said that Lithuania and its neighbors have been more resilient to such forces because they can see where they are headed by looking the other way.

“The fact that unbridled populism is not yet gaining ground in the Baltic States is, I repeat, due to fascist Russia,” he said.

What democracies need, he added, is investment in improvement – the best ideas, no matter where they come from – and a strong commitment to ostracizing those who break rules and norms.

“In general, democracy has degenerated, it has become useless,” he said. “It’s become more like anarchy. Unlimited tolerance for everything destroys the foundations of democracy.”

In Taiwan, many people made a similar point: The Chinese threat makes democracy more valuable and helps people remember that its benefits can only be realized through shared connections across divides.

“If a country wants to keep moving forward,” Mr. Lin said, “the leaders of both parties should play the role of a bridge.”

Reporting was provided by Ian Austen in Halifax, Nova Scotia; Tomas Dapkus in Vilnius, Lithuania; Amy Chang Chien in Taipei; Elian Peltier in Dakar, Senegal; Lynsey Chutel in Johannesburg; Natasha Frost in Auckland, New Zealand; and Sameer Yasir in New Delhi.