The World’s Democracies Ask: Why Can’t America Fix Itself?

Lin Wei-hsuan was just a child when he witnessed his first Taiwanese election. Her parents took her to watch the vote count, where volunteers held up each paper ballot, chanting the choice and marking it on a board for all to see—a huge crowd of citizens inside, and Many people were watching live on television.

The open process, established after decades of martial law, was one of several creative steps taken by Taiwan’s leaders to build public confidence in democracy and win over the United States, which supported China’s unification goals. can stop

At the time, America was what Taiwan wanted to be. But now, many democracies that once looked to America as a model worry that it has lost its way. They wonder why a superpower known for innovation has been unable to resolve its deep polarization, producing a president who has spread false claims of election fraud that have been embraced by the Republican Party and significant segments of the electorate. has taken.

“Democracy needs to rethink itself,” said Mr. Lin, 26, a candidate for a local council who has campaigned for efficient garbage removal and lowering Taiwan’s voting age to 20. 18 years of campaigning. “We need to see what it’s doing, and better.”

For most of the world, the US midterms are little more than a shock — but they’re another data point that some see as a worrying trend line. Particularly in countries that have sought ways to strengthen their democratic processes, interviews with scholars, officials, and voters revealed the alarm that the U.S. appears to be doing the opposite and is eroding its core values. Moving away from ideas.

Many critics of America’s direction cite the January 6 riots as a violent rejection of democracy’s insistence on a peaceful transfer of power. Others expressed concern about state voting disruptions after record turnout resulted from widespread early and absentee voting during the pandemic. Some said they feared the Supreme Court was falling prey to party politics, as nations’ judiciaries struggle to establish independent courts.

“The United States didn’t get into the position it is in overnight,” said Helmut K. Anheier, professor of sociology at the Herty School in Berlin and principal investigator. Berggreen Governance Index, a study of 134 countries where America ranks below Poland in standard of living. “It took a while to get there, and it’s going to take a while to get out.”

On a recent afternoon in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which has long-standing economic and familial ties to Boston, visitors and residents expressed sadness, frustration and surprise at their neighbor’s political situation.

“I’m very concerned,” said Mary Lou McInnes, a registered nurse who was visiting the Halifax Public Gardens with her family. “I never thought it would happen in America, but I think it will probably be independent in the future.”

In 1991, studies showed that Canadians were almost evenly divided about which of the two countries had the better system of government. I A follow-up survey last yearOnly 5 percent preferred the American system.

For some, in Canada and other countries that consider themselves close friends of the United States, the first signs of trouble emerged with the presidential race in 2000, when George W. Bush won a narrow victory over Al Gore with a Supreme Court ruling. received

For others, it was Donald J. Trump winning the 2016 election while losing the popular vote, his refusal to accept defeat in 2020, and the lack of consequences for those who believed his lies. Parroted — including hundreds of Republican candidates in this year’s election.

Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s center-right prime minister, said that “a lot of people assumed that Trump was such a freak and that once he was gone, he was no longer president, everything would go back to normal.” . Trump took office. “And it clearly isn’t.”

“It’s like watching a family member, who you love so much, put themselves in harm’s way,” Mr Turnbull added. “It’s annoying.”

Other countries do things differently.

Canada has made permanent changes to improve its electoral system. In 1920, the country controlled federal elections An independent official which does not report to any government or politicians and which has the power to punish those who break the law. Responsibility for Determination of electoral boundaries In 1964, 10 similar independent commissions were handed over, one for each province.

Taiwan and more than a dozen countries have also established independent institutions to draw voting districts and ensure that votes and counts are equal and fair.

The approach is not foolproof. Nigeria, Pakistan and Jordan have independent election commissions. Many of their elections have so far failed to be free and credible.

But in places where studies show turnout and satisfaction with the process are highest, elections are run by national institutions designed to be apolitical and inclusive. There are more than 100 countries. Some form of mandatory or automatic voter registration; In general, democracies have been making voting easier, not harder, in recent years.

The world’s healthy democracies also have strict limits on campaign donations – in Canada, political donations from corporations and unions are banned, as are political action campaigns to promote parties or candidates. And many democracies have embraced the change.

New Zealand changed its electoral system in the 1990s by referendum, after elections in which the party with the most votes failed to win a parliamentary majority. South Africa is making changes to its party-based electoral system to make it easier for independent candidates to run and win.

Such systemic change would only be possible in the United States with overwhelming consensus in Congress, and even then, it may be out of the question in a country where campaign financing is protected as free speech. And states value their authority over federal elections. The system is designed to be a bulwark against authoritarian abuses.

Jennifer McCoy, a political scientist at Georgia State University who Written in conjunction with a recent report How polarized countries have depolarized in the past, said partisan divisions, have kept the United States stuck in place, but so has myopia: Americans rarely look abroad for ideas.

“We have such a myth surrounding our Constitution and American exceptionalism,” he said. “First, it makes people very complacent, and second, it takes a long time for leaders to recognize the threat we’re facing. That means it’s very difficult to adapt.”

On a recent morning in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, near a street named after Lenin during the Soviet occupation, a group of protesters waved Ukrainian flags and posters calling for an end to Russian aggression.

Lithuania is a staunch U.S. ally and vocal supporter of Ukraine’s fight for self-determination, but even among the most committed, skepticism about the strength and future of U.S.-led democracy is common.

Arkadijus Vinokuras, 70, is an actor and activist who helps organize the rallies. Asked what came to mind when he heard the phrase “American democracy,” he responded with the slogan: “America is the guardian of world democracy and the lifeblood of Western democracies!”

That’s what it looked like 20 years ago – then came Putin, Trump and a divided America.

“Now,” he said, “even America’s biggest admirer has to ask the question, how can this happen to the guarantor of democracy?”

This is a common question in countries that once looked up to America.

On Thursday, at the political science department of the University of Cheikh Anta-Diop in Dakar, Senegal, half a dozen graduate students gathered in a professor’s office to discuss whether elections in the United States can be rigged.

“You take American democracy after Trump, there’s no doubt that it’s weak,” said Suleiman Seis, a 23-year-old graduate student.

Some world leaders have taken advantage of this perceived weakness. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, elected leaders with authoritarian tendencies, have praised Mr. Trump and his wing of the Republican Party.

In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has pursued a Hindu nationalist agenda, has led to these accusations. Democratic retreatnow insists that the West is in no position to impose democratic standards on any country.

From Myanmar to Mali, leaders of military coups have also realized they can destroy democracy without international pressure.

“If you’re sovereign or independent, the price you pay is a lot less than what you paid 30 years ago,” said Kevin Casas-Zamora, a former vice president of Costa Rica. International Institute for Democracy and Electoral AssistanceA pro-democracy group with 34 member states. “And that’s partly because of America.”

Even reformers are beginning to wonder what they can reasonably expect from their highest institutions. When a new chief justice was appointed in South Africa a few months ago, questions were raised about whether the court was or could be apolitical.

All of these countries, and more, face a huge challenge that the US has made more visible: anti-democratic actors, within democracies.

Lithuania and its neighbors have been more resistant to such forces because they can see where they are headed by looking next door, Mr. Vinokouras said.

“The fact that unbridled populism in the Baltic states is still not gaining ground is, I repeat, because of fascist Russia,” he said.

He added that democracies need investment in innovation — the best ideas, no matter where they come from — and a strong commitment to ousting rule-breakers.

He said, “Democracy in general has been degraded, it has become useless. “It has become more like anarchy. Unlimited tolerance for everything destroys the foundations of democracy.

In Taiwan, many made a similar point: the threat from China makes democracy more valuable, helping people remember that its benefits can only be achieved through shared connections across the divide. can go.

“If a country is to move forward, leaders from both parties must act as a bridge,” Mr. Lin said.

Reporting was contributed by Ian Austin in Halifax, Nova Scotia; Thomas Dipkes In Vilnius, Lithuania, Amy Chang Chian in Taipei; Elaine Peltier in Dakar, Senegal; Lynsey Chutel in Johannesburg; Natasha Frost in Auckland, New Zealand; And Sameer Yasser In New Delhi

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