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EL ESPECTADOR

Democracy Has More Grit Than You Might Think

There are more and more elected leaders these days willing to ride roughshod over the rules of democracy. But that hardly means the system's doomed.

Voting in Indonesia on Dec. 20 in Indonesia
Voting in Indonesia on Dec. 20 in Indonesia
Kuncoro Widyo Rumpoko/Pacific Press via ZUMA
Pedro Viveros

-OpEd-

In Colombia and elsewhere, there are voices declaring that democracy is doomed. They point to the proliferation of erratic leaders and budding dictators, people like Trump, Maduro, Putin, Duterte in the Phillippines, or Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, but without properly analyzing things in any of those countries.

Instead they argue that the presence of such leaders shows how weak the citizens of those nations are. And their conclusion is that the 21st century is destined to suffer another epidemic: a plague of autocrats.

The ideological references of the past century, namely fascism, Nazism and communism and their "charismatic" leaders, have led some to assume that history will repeat itself. They argue that the present crop of pestilential challenges will inevitably take us back to the foul prescriptions that produced the world wars. And here we thought things couldn't get any worse!

The vote might not be enough to contain the pandemic of demagoguery.

The deplorable events that left society fractured between three worlds — the Western and Eastern worlds, and we in the developing world — were based on extremist conceptions of nationalism that made jingoism a defensive response to anything external. Xenophobia became a rhetorical instrument amid unprecedented socio-economic crises. Voting, democracy's simple tool, was no longer enough to hold back the hordes of supporters running after the paradise promised by a Hitler, Mussolini or Lenin.

Today, too, the vote might not be enough to contain the pandemic of demagoguery. Fortunately, the many crises humanity has faced over the past century have raised the immunity of the democratic body. Its boosted defenses now include complementary mechanisms like the separation of powers, charters, multilateralism, independent bodies and human rights courts, the World Court at The Hague and the globalization of problems, but also solidarity, solutions, knowledge and education.

Voting has become the beginning and the end of a system designed to call out, criticize and control its own outrages. Donald Trump's desire to remain in the White House is, well, just that, a desire. And fortunately, the laws of the United States, forged to prevent entrenchment in power, will prevent his doing so — just as Colombia's Constitutional Court prevented former president Álvaro Uribe from seeking a third, unconstitutional term.

Likewise, multilateral coordination has guided scientific action against the coronavirus, creating a "live-and-direct" global response that has prevented the pandemic's already tragic impact from taking an even higher toll.

Democracies are behind the denunciations of corruption and of unnecessary wars. They have helped reduce poverty worldwide and forge sustainable development goals set out in the UN, itself a democratic consequence of the threats of intolerant elements mentioned above. All these efforts and tools will be crucial not only for keeping democracy alive, but also for protecting those of us who and vote in this most beguiling and enduring of government systems.

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