Democracy is under attack in Hong Kong. “Triad” gangsters are suspected to be behind a brutal attack on pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. Some attackers were seen leaving the attack in cars with Chinese mainland license plates.
“Voting is a basic right of citizenship. It’s the foundation of a democracy—people’s ability to participate and engage with the issues facing their communities and their country. That ideal lies at the core of American values, and I’m always mindful of the fact that a lot of Americans gave their lives for that ideal. Moreover, excluding groups of voters encourages resentment, risking protests and potentially violence. … Winning power by keeping people away from the polls is a perversion of what democracy is about. Our political institutions need to reflect the will of the people, and if you disenfranchise people, it means our representative government doesn’t reflect accurately the will of the people.”
“In the past two weeks…it has become apparent that people are no longer willing to accept everything from the so-called ‘strongmen,’ as they like to call themselves. This is the lesson from the events in Istanbul and Hong Kong, that ‘everything will be fine.’ Contrary to what populists all over the world would have us believe, for the vast majority of people democracy remains the desired form of government. Democracy, in this context, also means a state order based on the recognition and enforcement of human rights.”
Hong Kong has been rocked by its biggest political crisis in decades in the past two weeks, as millions have thronged to the streets in downtown business districts to protest a proposed law allowing for the the extradition of suspects to mainland China. Many Hong Kongers were already considering leaving because of exorbitant property prices, a high cost of living, and a notoriously intensive education regime. But the recent political turmoil has stiffened the resolve of many to emigrate.
The Czech capital of Prague was the site of massive demonstrations on Sunday, as protesters gathered not to overthrow the political system but to save it from Prime Minister Andrej Babis, a populist billionaire under criminal investigation who they consider a threat to democracy and to the independence of the country’s legal system. Thus far, Babis has ignored the people’s calls for his resignation.
On Saturday, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam suspended the process to pass a controversial extradition bill—a step demonstrators have rejected as a half-measure. Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong, just released from prison, has called for Lam to resign from office. Lam issued a rare apology on Sunday for the way she has managed the bill. Neither the suspension nor the apology made much difference, as marchers gathered for the second Sunday in a row, and protests continued Monday.
A Unite America report grades all 50 states on their efforts in adopting reforms that increase election participation, accountability, and competition: ranked-choice voting, automatic voter registration, vote by mail, open primaries, and independent commissions. Since 2010, 20 ballot measures appeared on voters’ ballots, and 16 were approved. With 9 states receiving an “F” rating, there remains significant work to be done to advance structural reforms.
As Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam vows to delay hearings for a controversial extradition bill, more than 2 million Hongkongers took to the streets to protest the bill. Organizers vow that the protests will occur until the extradition bill is dropped completely.
“Circa 2019, Hong Kong is a study in the creeping power and increasing sophistication of autocracy. While it is possible there could be a Tiananmen-like massacre in the streets of Hong Kong, it is more likely that its mainland overlords will opt for more subtle ways of choking off Hong Kong’s remaining autonomy and freedoms. They will wear down the protesters, continue to send subtle signals that opposition is being monitored, and work hard to dispel the large crowds, hoping that the next time around the protests will be smaller and more muted. China will continue its strategy of elevating supporters and grinding down opponents, resorting to violence only if absolutely necessary.”
Good news for democracy in Africa, where peaceful transitions of power are increasingly replacing the coups of yesteryear. While only 11% of Africans live in countries that Freedom House considers free, progress is being made: since 2015, the region has experienced 26 transfers of power, and more than half with an opposition candidate defeating a member of the incumbent party. Gone are the decades when power regularly changed hands through coups—87 of them between 1950 and 2010.
“A prerequisite for a stable international environment is for America to be engaged in world affairs and multilateral institutions. To combat terrorism, prevent nuclear proliferation, manage international crises, and protect our children from an environmental tragedy in the making, we need America’s strong commitment, as well as new forms of multilateralism adapted to the times we live in. America can’t make it alone, and the world can’t make it without America.”
A group of 14 Stanford University scholars has published its recommendations for increased election security, addressing problems of cybersecurity, ballot security, and election transparency. Nate Persily, director of Stanford’s Cyber Policy Center, said. “We recognize that the topic of Russian intervention in the 2016 election provokes a partisan reaction… But we believe Democrats and Republicans can unite around what are some common-sense reforms.”
Turmoil hangs over the upcoming election in Guatemala. The election process has been marred by lawsuits and violence, including the assassination of a left-wing mayoral candidate, and it’s occurring in the midst of a constitutional crisis generated by outgoing president Jimmy Morales, who is under investigation for corruption.
Two of Moldova’s political parties formed a new coalition government on Saturday in order to oust a third from power, but the latter has refused to leave office. The Constitutional Court ruled that the new government was unconstitutional, suspended the new president, and replaced him with the former prime minister, who immediately dissolved Parliament and called for new elections in September. The two parties, supported by five NATO countries and Russia, plan to reorganize in defiance.
Observers say Kazakhstan’s election yesterday, which was marked by large-scale demonstrations, violated democratic standards and basic freedoms. The election, called after Nursultan Nazarbayev stepped down in March, resulted in Nazarbayev’s hand-picked successor, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, receiving nearly 71% of the vote, defeating six rivals. Protesters called the election a sham with a predetermined outcome, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe agrees.
“The information ecosystem is broken. Our political conversations are happening on infrastructure—Facebook, YouTube, Twitter—built for viral advertising. The velocity of social sharing, the power of recommendation algorithms, the scale of social networks, and the accessibility of media manipulation technology has created an environment where pseudo events, half-truths, and outright fabrications thrive.”
“Across the continent, political party systems are splintering. Some of this reflects the resurgence of existing parties. Support for the Greens, for example, has risen in recent years. But much of the fragmentation has been the result of the emergence of new political parties. Since 2000, 94 new parties have won seats in national legislatures in Europe. … Research suggests that the widespread creation of new parties across Europe, especially those that are personalist in nature, has troubling implications for democracy’s future in Europe.”
“At a time when democracy has been under assault in Europe, Trump has sided with anti-democratic leaders like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban over our genuine democratic friends such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. At the same time, Trump has been largely uncritical of authoritarian leaders such as North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, China’s Xi Jingping, and Russia’s Vladimir Putin. In effect, Trump has taken a carefully calibrated, bipartisan, and effective policy pursued by all our presidents (to embrace our allies and thwart our adversaries) and turned it on its head.”
Paramilitaries killed at least 60 people when they attacked pro-democracy protesters in Khartoum, civil society groups in Sudan have said. The previously reported death toll from the violence on Monday stood at 40, but the Sudan Doctors’ Committee said security forces also shot dead at least 10 people on Wednesday in Khartoum and in its twin city of Omdurman amid scattered protests. The death toll is expected to rise.
“If a monopolistic tech company decided to fully embrace its capacity to spy on its users and leverage that data to a personal or political end, the consequences for democracy could be catastrophic. Americans got a taste of what an influence attack looks like during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. So long as big tech remains largely unregulated, future influence attacks on American elections will become only more potent.”
On the 30th anniversary of China’s Tiananmen Square protests and massacre, Sudan is experiencing a similar crisis. Troops stormed the main camp of pro-democracy protesters in the capital city of Khartoum on Monday, killing at least 35 people and injuring hundreds. The demonstrators are demanding that the military council, which has ruled Sudan since President Omar al-Bashir was ousted in April, make way for a civilian-led interim body.
“There is nothing more important to our system of self-government than assuring that each vote is accurately recorded and counted. Our electoral process has been subjected to systematic assault since 2016 and will forever be vulnerable to cyber attack in the digital world. Our traditional voting machines are inadequate in the face of these assaults. They must be replaced to protect our elections.”
Gunfire erupted in the streets of the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, early Monday as security forces opened fire on pro-democracy protesters outside the country’s military headquarters and killed several people, according to local media reports.
“More and more, American electoral politics seems correlated with demographics. The modern Democratic Party is increasingly made up of minorities and young people, and thus has a direct interest in making voting as easy and widespread as possible. Republicans, conversely, are dependent on white people and older voters, demographic groups already more likely to cast ballots. The GOP thus has a direct political incentive to tighten rules and restrict electoral access.”
Thanks to Robert Mueller and our intelligence agencies, we’re a lot more educated today than we were three years ago on the threat of disinformation—where it comes from, how it is spread, and what the effects are. Or are we? As it turns out, probably not surprisingly, Americans’ understanding of these matters falls along political lines, according to a new study by Comparitech.
With so many candidates and so few debate stages, the DNC is realizing that it needs to begin to raise the requirements needed for candidates to be invited to debate. While the standards for the first two debates will remained unchanged, to be invited to the third debate, Democratic candidates must have 130,000 unique donors and have 400 unique voters in 20 states.
“As New Hampshire and Iowa get closer, Democrats will take a deeper look at the entire field. Name recognition will grow. The electability argument will change. The president’s approval rating will fluctuate. But what we’ve learned from the last two and a half years won’t change: In our two-party system as manipulated by campaign consultants today, with candidates selected via a winner-takes-all process, a plurality winner governs with an eye to the base, and can transform an entire party and our politics in the process. It shouldn’t have to be that way.”
“Studying the effects of hard-right parties on qualitative measures of transparency, individual liberties, rule of law, and minority rights in 30 European countries from 1990 to 2012, Robert Huber and Christian Schimpf showed that the presence of anti-system populists in opposition can be good for democracy, because they act like ‘drunken guests’ at a dinner party and blurt out awkward truths. But they also found that there is ‘a substantial negative effect on democratic quality’ when they enter government.”
“I was struck, when I was in Congress, by the tactics members used to appeal to people who often had different backgrounds, priorities, and perspectives: They mentioned precedents, sought to connect to their listeners’ core values, compared their proposals to the alternatives, cited experts, and knew how much public support or major interest-group support they had. This is how we decide things in this country: We listen, we argue, we cajole, we compromise, and we persuade. The whole process can get untidy, and it’s tough work in today’s polarized, hyper-partisan environment. But…it is an extraordinary privilege to be part of a system, representative democracy, that gives you the opportunity to persuade others, and by doing so to chart the future course.”
“Many citizens of former socialist countries are supportive of strong leaders. In a democratic process, you need to listen to various ideas and programs, weigh the arguments, and make decisions. Democracy is complicated, but if there is a leader you believe, you do not need to do anything. In eastern Europe, Vladimir Putin is actually becoming more and more popular, as the numbers of followers of Viktor Orbán or Jaroslaw Kaczynski are growing. This phenomenon of illiberal democracy was completely unpredictable, and what is particularly worrying is the fact that it is a fruit of democracy itself…”
“Across the world, democracy is delivering anti-liberal results. Liberals should be honest about what this means—among other things that they are failing to persuade sufficient numbers of voters to entrust them with power, and that this failure has begun to discredit the very norms and institutions that make our democracies liberal in the broader and deeper sense. The result is likely to be a spike in corruption and a decline in freedom for everyone who isn’t owed a favor by the ruling party. … Liberalism and democracy have gone together for a long time. But there’s no guarantee the pairing will last—or that they can easily be brought back into alignment once the ties between them have been severed.”
Australia’s center-right government shocked the country and defied the polls as it retained power of government. In power since 2013, PM Scott Morrison and the Liberal-National coalition will return.
How ya like US now? It’s a mixed bag. The Eurasia Group Foundation conducted a poll to determine whether countries see American democracy as a model. We fared the worst among key allies included in the poll (Germany, Japan), while a majority of the Chinese would like to see their government become more like ours. The most-cited reasons for unfavorable views of the U.S. were opposition to President Trump, interventions abroad, and economic inequality.
“President Donald Trump has insulted U.S. allies, befriended Vladimir Putin, excused a grim list of other dictators, embraced nativist politics and movements, and shaken the post-World War II liberal order. But the problem also includes cynical politicians in both parties, calcified systems that don’t deliver public goods and complacent citizens who cannot bestir themselves to vote. All of this is tarnishing the overall luster of democracy—and pulling America away from the world. If we do not soon reverse this U.S. retreat, democracy world-wide will be at risk.”
“Democracies depend on the free flow of accurate information more fundamentally than autocracies do, not only for functioning markets and better public policy, but also to allow citizens to make informed voting decisions, provide policy input, and hold officials accountable. At the same time, information flows can be manipulated to undermine democracy by allowing the unchecked spread of propaganda and pseudo-facts, all made more efficient by the Internet, automation, and machine learning. This is Democracy’s Dilemma: the open forms of input and exchange that it relies on can be weaponized to inject falsehood and misinformation that erode democratic debate.”
“Today, presidents have basically abandoned the separation of powers Madison so carefully crafted. Three events took place last week—all at the hands of President Donald Trump—and each warrants examination from the Madisionian perspective as each assaults limited government and rejects the separation of powers. Each, as well, involves the accumulation of unconstitutional power in the branch of government that Madison feared the most.”
Officials from the Election Assistance Commission, the federal agency charged with managing the nation’s electoral systems and helping states adopt good election administration practices, are pleading for more money before the 2020 elections. The agency is operating at half the capacity it had 10 years ago, while threats have increased. “What we are working on is the infrastructure of our democracy,” Vice Chair Benjamin Hovland said. “What we need is an investment from Congress to help us do that work.”
“In this country, independence of the president from established authority of any kind is supposed to be impossible. Its emergence represents, at the very least, an erosion of democracy — a nightmare, not a legacy.”
The Maine Senate voted narrowly on Tuesday to join an interstate effort that would aim to undo the Electoral College in its current configuration by awarding presidential electors based on the national winner of the popular vote. If it becomes law, Maine would join 15 other jurisdictions in an interstate compact aimed at electing presidents by popular vote.
Concern has been growing for the past several years about the future of democracy, and there is considerable dissatisfaction in many countries with how democracy is working in practice. But public support for democratic ideals remains strong, and by one measure, global democracy is at or near a modern-day high. As of the end of 2017, 96 out of 167 countries with populations of at least 500,000 (57%) were democracies of some kind, and only 21 (13%) were autocracies.