Democracy is strongly threatened. Its erosion begins, as Steve Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt point out, with an election. When citizens elect leaders with speeches that subvert the forms, norms and rights that a democracy needs to survive, the system is in danger. The fact that people vote against democracy is very scary. Citizens have the right to elect whoever they want – new leaders or the same ones as always – and, of course, to defend the proposals that they most like. That is precisely what democracy guarantees them: that ideas and programs compete freely and win the opportunity to be applied at the polls. The problem is when leaders who undermine the essence of democracy are elected at the polls.
That citizens elect leaders that seek to dismantle institutions; That he accepts subtle measures that limit his rights or tolerates hate speech from those in power – deepening the cracks and differences between those who think differently – is absolutely worrying. The absence of material and tangible results (but also of a story that challenges and includes them) from democratically elected governments has led sectors of citizens to elect those leaders who also claim to have (magical?) answers to the problems. that citizens face. It is usually a vote of punishment for the “same old ones” (leadership and parties) who have not known how or have not been able to improve the well-being conditions of the majority of the population.
That there are leaders who want to access power through democratic elections and, from there, concentrate power, become the only ones who are right and do things only for those who think like them, is not something new. That this is supported – and desired – by people who, in this process, delegate the power they have and lose freedoms – and rights – is dramatic. That is what is happening in several countries in the region: some leaders rise to power via the democratic ladder and, once there, burn the ladder down. Furthermore, with this type of leadership, the basic consensus on the rules of coexistence, respect and the possibility of dialogue between those who think differently, the rules of courtesy, the independence of institutions, the autonomy of electoral bodies and even the validity of the rule of law.
With the intention of rethinking democracy, a plural and diverse group of 45 people belonging to civil society, academia, governments, parties and the media from 11 Latin American countries participated in the Latin American Forum “Recover the Initiative Democratic”, organized by Southern Affairs, CAF – Development Bank of Latin America and Prisa Media (EL PAÍS publishing group) in the City of Buenos Aires. The conversation revolved around the need to rethink strategies that allow the democratic system to be reinvented around three axes: representative intermediation, environmental democracy and digital transformation.
The exchange sought to identify the inalienables of democracy and my proposal is aimed at building a virtuous circle that allows strengthening its self-protection mechanisms. First, address the effective distribution of public goods (education, health, wealth, security) to guarantee the well-being of citizens. Dignity must be ensured as a value in itself – and as a way of inoculating the messiahs. Second, strengthen institutions. It is not enough to vote and/or be elected, but rules, rights and procedures are required. The problems of democracy are solved with more democracy. Third, invest in training in civic values, skills and abilities through methodologies based on active pedagogy that allows citizens to “learn by doing.”
Elections are what are going to save democracy, because they are what – as Adam Przeworski maintains – feed the hope of being able to change things. Hence, they have to meet a series of minimum conditions: that they be free, competitive, clean, transparent and fair, inclusive, with clear rules and uncertain results. It’s like shuffling and dealing again. Democracy needs gladiators who actively engage and reproduce the epic story that democracy requires to survive. The elections are what will keep alive the possibility of democratic resistance, as long as whoever has been elected at the polls does not burn the ladder with which he rose to power.
Flavia Freidenberg is a Researcher at the Legal Research Institute of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (IIJUNAM) and member of the Network of Political Scientists – #NoSinMujeres.