In an era characterized by growing polarization, the proliferation of fake news, and the resurgence of illiberal populism, democracy globally and regionally faces unprecedented threats. Daniel Zovatto, regional director of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) for Latin America and the Caribbean, delivered a thought-provoking keynote lecture on Democracy and Elections in Latin America. Zovatto lecture shed light on the complex challenges democracy confronts today.
Zovatto emphasized that the contemporary threats to democracy differ significantly from those of the past. Traditional coups d'état have given way to a new form of authoritarianism, one that exploits competitive elections to gain power and subsequently undermines democracy from within. This erosion of democratic values is not confined to emerging democracies; even long-consolidated democracies face challenges, as evidenced by events such as the assault on the U.S. Capitol in 2021 and the rise of populist leaders in some European countries.
The three "P's" - Polarization, Populism, and Post-Truth - are identified as the primary assailants on democracy. Zovatto warns that the situation is critical, representing a point of inflection between decline and resilience for democracies worldwide.
While acknowledging the difficulty of the challenge, Zovatto urges against premature applause. The urgency of the matter requires immediate attention, deep reflection, precise diagnosis, and a rigorous yet courageous plan of action. Democracy, he argues, is not defeated, but it stands at a crossroads that demands a strategic response to defend, strengthen, rethink, and re-legitimize its quality.
The Latin American scenario, according to Zovatto, is one of chiaroscuro, marked by both lights and shadows. The region experiences a process of stagnation, erosion, and gradual democratic regression, varying in intensity from country to country.
To tackle these challenges, Zovatto outlines key priorities. Political innovation is crucial to address the simplicity of democratic theory. Strengthening electoral bodies, re-establishing citizen trust through new communication channels, rethinking the role of the citizen, and fortifying the Rule of Law are identified as essential steps.
Zovatto's call to action underscores the need for collective efforts in defending democracy. Democracy, he argues, is not merely an ideal but an ongoing construction that demands the commitment of its citizens. Without committed democrats, there can be no democracy.
Monica Gonzalez Contró, director of the Institute for Legal Research (IIJ) of the UNAM, echoed the sentiments, emphasizing that while Mexico's democracy is young and imperfect, it has seen significant achievements. Acknowledging the challenges and pending issues, Contró emphasized the importance of respecting the constitutional framework and the rule of law as tools to strengthen democracy.
The conference, attended by key figures like Guadalupe Taddei Zavala, President of the National Electoral Institute, and Reyes Rodriguez Mondragón, President of the Electoral Tribunal of the Federal Judiciary. It highlighted the international collaboration needed to navigate the complex terrain of contemporary threats to democracy.
As the world faces these challenges, the path forward demands a collective commitment to democracy as an ongoing endeavor. It is a call to action for citizens, leaders, and institutions to safeguard the principles that underpin democratic societies, ensuring that the promise of democracy is not only upheld but strengthened in the face of adversity.