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Are Worries about the Health of Democracy Today Overblown?

Author: Joshua Kurlantzick, Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia
January 22, 2014
The Economist

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Worries about the health of democracy today are hardly overblown. In some ways democracy in 2013 had its worst year in at least a decade, and this trend has continued into early 2014, as democracy wobbles in Bangladesh, Thailand, Ukraine, Turkey and many other countries. Many wealthy and established democracies, including America, suffered profound governance breakdowns and rising levels of partisanship, and faced growing numbers of people who seem to have lost faith in the democratic process entirely. Indeed, the growing popularity of insurgent, far-right parties in Europe stems partly from voter anger at the failure of democratic institutions, and established parties on the left and the right, to address core political questions.

In America, voter alienation has led to the Tea Party, the equivalent of Britain's UKIP or France's National Front. In other rich countries, this alienation from the democratic process has led to more diffuse protest movements. From Israelis camping in the streets of Tel Aviv in the biggest demonstrations in Israel's history to protest their leaders' lack of interest in basic economic issues, to the Occupy movement across America and countries of western Europe, people in established democracies are increasingly turning to street protests to make their points, since they believe they cannot be heard at the ballot box. They have become convinced, they say, that the democratic process has become so corrupted, so dominated by entrenched interests and so disassociated from popular issues that they can change their countries only through massive rallies, even if those protests bring down fairly elected leaders.

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