December 22, 2005
In 2005, Democracy Continued Its Forward Creep
Citizens of democracies often have to settle for politicians with
few virtues, but it would be hard to set the bar lower than in
the recent presidential campaign in Liberia. One candidate's supporters
came up with a novel chant: "Did he kill your ma? No! Did
he kill your pa? No! Vote for George Weah!"
in a show of ingratitude for Weah's restraint, chose Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf,
who is the first woman elected to head a national government in
Africa. She, fortunately, is also not known to have murdered anyone's
been a year to remember that democracy, for all its merits, sometimes
offers only modest consolations. The obvious example is Iraq,
which held two national elections but was wracked by an insurgency
that has contributed to the deaths of some 30,000 civilians. As
Brookings Institution analyst Michael O'Hanlon put it, "Iraqis
have basically accepted becoming the most violent country in the
Middle East as a price for becoming the most democratic."
and Iraq were part of a renewed global shift toward freedom that
began in the 1980s and has yet to stop. Rust never sleeps, Neil
Young told us, and the democratic impulse operates in a similar
manner -- eating away at authoritarian rule slowly and steadily,
but often imperceptibly.
though, results were visible. The human rights organization Freedom
House reports in its annual survey that the world now has 122
democracies -- 64 percent of all countries, and a new high. Democracy
is not synonymous with liberty: Only 89 countries, containing
46 percent of the Earth's population, are classified as free.
Eighteen percent of the world's people live in partly free countries,
with 36 percent not free.
three new democracies arrived in a region where they were once
as scarce as polar bears -- Africa. Besides Liberia, Burundi and
the Central African Republic gave power to the people. But the
continent's senior ruler, Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo, ended his
38-year term only by dying. He was succeeded by his son.
One of the
most unlikely positive changes this year was the inauguration
of Viktor Yushchenko as president of Ukraine -- two months after
he lost the election. Outraged by obvious fraud, millions of people
massed in the streets day after day until the government held
another vote. With an honest count, Yushchenko won easily.
was a rebuke of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had supported
the loser. In April, Putin said the collapse of the Soviet Union
was "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century"
-- a distinction many people would give to the creation of the
convened an elected parliament featuring a rogue's gallery of
warlords, opium merchants, communists and veterans of the Taliban.
But any elected parliament represents progress in a country that
over three decades has endured a Soviet invasion, civil war and
leftist President Hugo Chavez survived the year while insisting
that the United States government was plotting to kill him. His
party won an election that, thanks to an opposition boycott, drew
only 25 percent of voters to the polls. "Silence united Venezuelans,"
declared one Chavez critic.
elected to the presidency Evo Morales, a socialist coca farmer
who vowed to be "a permanent nightmare for the United States."
Both Chavez and Morales are admirers of Cuba's Fidel Castro, who
after 47 years still heads a government ranked among the most
repressive on Earth.
In the Middle
East, Freedom House says this year there were "modest but
notable increases in political rights and civil liberties."
Kuwait granted the vote to women, leaving Saudi Arabia to hold
the line against female suffrage. In Lebanon, an uproar following
the assassination of an opposition leader forced the withdrawal
of Syrian troops, which had dominated the country since 1976.
But the only democracy in the region is Israel.
thinks Islam is congenitally hostile to democracy, however, will
have to explain Indonesia, the world's biggest Muslim-dominated
nation, which is now categorized as free. As The Economist
magazine has noted, "Over the past six years, Indonesia has
undergone a remarkable transformation from near-dictatorship to
has already found that after you achieve popular rule, there is
a lot of work needed to make people free and prosperous. Amid
a floundering economy, critics complain that Indonesians cannot
eat democracy. That's true. But like people in much of the world,
they can attest that there is nothing nutritious about tyranny.
2005 Creators Syndicate