On 31 March, Turkey headed for its local elections to elect mayors and members of city, district, and village councils. With 57 million eligible voters, this election was a test for the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party in the wake of a major currency crisis last year. Meanwhile in India, the world’s largest democracy, parliamentary elections are set to be held next month. With more than 900 million voters and a weeks-long voting process, it is being hailed as the most colossal democratic exercise held across the globe. As elections loom, one can argue that democracy wins every time someone casts their ballot. At its core, citizens vote in a democracy to have representatives in the government at every level, who act on their behalf as well as for the common good. For decades, democracies across the world have existed in peace. Along with trade and liberalization, countries have become interdependent and coexist in harmony instead of raising armies to charge across each others’ territorial borders. Research and facts are a testimony to this – since World War II, no democratic countries have gone to war against each other, with the exception of the Kargil War between India and Pakistan in 1999. States that have adopted democracy tend to be a part of intergovernmental organizations and employ methods that promote equality, freedom, and basic human rights.
Often, people have cited that in the 21st century democracy is under threat. In general, more and more states are retreating under the banner of patriotism, borders are closing, trade tariffs are creating havoc in international economic markets, terrorism is rampaging unchecked, and the world, in a nutshell, is in shambles. Climate change and its related disasters, overpopulation, immigration, and large populations of refugees only further exacerbate the situation. People have lost faith in the electoral system as well. Voices of the bottom 1% are hardly ever heard, and their conditions never make it to the political agenda, which is occupied by the top 0.1%. The “majority” vote is not sufficient to represent the opinion of all. Feminism has fallen back and relies heavily on social media to formulate its movements. The world has become less tolerant, less welcoming to others, and is often brutal at times. In the face of such conditions, democracy’s pillars do seem under substantial threat.
With nationalism, populism, and left-wing versus right-wing ideologies on the rise, elections have come to bear the brunt of the attack against democracy. In Estonia, parliamentary elections held on 3 March, 2019 were influenced by Russian-backed attackers. Digital attacks across democratic countries have been on the rise, and the United States is a potential target as the presidential election of 2020 looms. Other harmful cyber campaigns have focused on voter lists, computers that tally votes, and websites that report results to the public, in addition to institutions that support democratic processes. Turkey is gearing up to face the same problem due to Russia’s frequent meddling in European elections.
Elections have the power to sway markets, people, and circumstances of a state. In India, home to political turmoil and fragile religious divides, elections spark issues deep-seated in developing countries. As political parties move to gain the maximum number of seats, they sway political opinion through corruption. This further worsens the timeline of elections by pitting sections of society against each other in the preceding months, so by the time the elections roll around, the environment is just hostile. Hence, millions in India do not register to vote and often do not want to be associated with ‘dirty’ politics.
Democracy flourishes when there is deliberation, civic participation, equal representation, and the prospect of accepting every minority and majority voice. It isn’t perfect. Women still don’t have enough opportunities, the LGBTQ+ community lacks resources to further their cause, capitalism has led to unequal income distributions across countries, and elections have just become about getting a day off from work.
However, Estonia has protected its digital services, and when the election results (in which 25% of the population voted online) came out they have the opportunity to have their first female prime minister, if a coalition is formed. India’s intelligent youth are motivated and patriotic. Their aspirations to have a corruption-free nation as well as to forge tolerant and peaceful relations with Pakistan in the wake of the February Kashmir attacks have allowed them to be truly democratic as they exercise their rights to freedom of speech and opinion. Its elections will only take them further upwards from here. Having faith in democracy is not a pessimistic stance, it is optimistic and the right thing to do. Compared to the brutal autocracies and monarchies, it is also the only option that protects who we are as citizens of our state, as people, and as individuals.