How do nations face "erosion of democracy"?

The countries where the electoral mechanism is questioned are linked with the dangers of this phenomenon. Choices, Political Representation and Electoral Governance. Rules, actors, processes, and democratic innovation.

How do nations face "erosion of democracy"?
Countries face "erosion of democracy". Photo by Arnaud Jaegers / Unsplash

There is a growing concern in the world about "democratic erosion" because regimes seem to be dismantled from within by political forces that have come to power; it is a process that is not new but seems to multiply in recent years, even reaching countries such as Hungary, Poland and, potentially, the United States.

This was the opinion of Aníbal Pérez Liñan, a researcher at the University of Notre Dame, who gave a talk entitled "Elections under suspicion: The attack on electoral institutions and the defense of democracy", which concluded the diploma course on "Elections, Political Representation and Electoral Governance. Rules, actors, processes and democratic innovation", organized by the Institute for Legal Research (IIJ) of the UNAM.

The director of the IIJ, Pedro Salazar Ugarte, recalled that the context in which it was developed makes it possible to visualize the current state of democratic processes inside and outside Mexico. A diploma course of this type, which does not focus on elections, but on political representation and electoral governance, and which includes different dimensions of actors, rules, and processes, is important and relevant.

Pérez Liñan, also a professor of Political Science at the Parisian university, explained that it is currently being debated whether this phenomenon generates a wave of autocratization in the world, or whether it is an isolated process in some nations. As an example, he referred to the case of the United States where, he said, former President Donald Trump questioned the results of the last election and claims that there was some kind of fraud that he cannot prove, which directly impacts the credibility of the democratic process.

A recent article published in the Washington Post reports that in 2021 there was a partisan divide on the credibility of the contest; for example, 79 percent of Democratic voters believe the elections are fair, but only 27 percent of Republican voters trust the electoral process, while only half of the independents believe in the legality of the process.

"This, in a democracy that we normally treated as consolidated, is an obvious problem, because it means that the credibility of elections is at stake and is going to continue to be at stake. There is a mechanism by which legislatures are redrawing districts so that certain candidates will have an advantage in the next elections, which will further complicate the credibility of the electoral process in the United States," explained Pérez Liñan.

Nations, where the electoral mechanism is questioned, are directly linked to the dangers of the erosion of democracy. Recently, at an international level, political scientists identified common patterns to this process: mobilization and legitimization, electoral triumph, reconfiguration of power with the elimination of controls, ensuring the permanence of the new government through reelection, as well as limiting civil liberties.

"The process is initiated by so-called illiberal forces that come to power democratically, but then use the mechanisms to dismantle civil rights, political rights and civil liberties from within, and for this, they tend to seek to capture the Judiciary, have greater influence over the Legislative power, eliminate mechanisms of horizontal accountability in democracy to use their electoral credibility and advance in the consolidation of a project, which can end in an authoritarian regime, but does not always end that way," he emphasized.

Myths are often generated about the results of previous elections to generate doubts and gain the support of the electorate, which implies that the government will be able to control the mechanisms of electoral governance, modify election rules and ensure reelection.

The big dilemma is to identify political actors who are not committed to democracy and who may be illiberal, as no mechanism will allow them to move away from a political stance or that will not be misinterpreted as political bias in favor of others.

"The most important thing in this process is that one should not fall into the temptation of fighting fire with fire, moderation should be exercised to delay autocratization and unity should be preserved in the face of division," Perez Liñan emphasized.