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Suspicious participants at Summit for Democracy

The Summit for Democracy, held virtually, reflects US politics rather than democratic values, says the writer. Picture: Leah Millis/Reuters

The Summit for Democracy, held virtually, reflects US politics rather than democratic values, says the writer. Picture: Leah Millis/Reuters

Published Dec 9, 2021


The Summit for Democracy, held virtually yesterday and today, reflects US politics rather than democratic values.

This is an opinion I share with The Economist magazine and many other international publications, which have noticed that an objective assessment on grounds of democratic governance, human rights, and rule of law, would disqualify several participants.

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Ted Piccone, a senior fellow of the Brookings Institution, notes that using the World Justice Project (WJP)’s Rule of Law Index as a prism shows that the Philippines, an invited US ally, has the third-lowest index rank of 15 countries in the East Asia & Pacific region, just above Myanmar.

It also had the greatest 2020-2021 decrease in its score in the region (-2.9%) with its greatest declines in the rule of law factors that align with the themes of US President Joe Biden’s summit: constraints on government powers (-5%), fundamental rights (-5%), and absence of corruption (-4%).

A particular challenge for the US as host of the summit was how to reconcile its declining performance on democracy and the rule of law over the past several years with its presumed leadership role as an international “beacon of freedom”.

In 2021, the US’s overall rule of law score dropped 2.9%, more than any other high-income country or any other country in Western Europe and North America. This deterioration was particularly pronounced in the factors measuring constraints on government powers, absence of corruption, open government, respect for fundamental rights, and criminal justice.

That is why media in countries that were not invited have labelled the summit as being hypocritical and promoting double standards, “one for my friends and one for my enemies”.

In South Asia, Pakistan, ranking at 130th out of 139 on global rule of law scores and fifth of six regional countries, was invited, while Bangladesh, which scores slightly higher, was not.

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Another likely factor for Pakistan’s invitation was a desire to balance India’s inclusion with a regional, if aspiring, democratic rival. While India ranks in the middle tier of all countries in the WJP index, it had significant decreases (-4%) in its scores on constraints on government powers, absence of corruption, and fundamental rights from 2020 to 2021.

In Europe, Poland has fallen by 10% since 2015, yet Hungary and Turkey were excluded. Of the 16 (out of 54 African countries) African invitees, South Africa is no surprise, despite ongoing serious challenges with corruption and order and security.

However, Rwanda, which ranks first in sub-Saharan Africa on the WSP index but low on freedom of expression and civic space, was not invited. Nigeria, another invitee, had the greatest overall score drop in the region last year since mostly driven by a deterioration in constraints on government powers and fundamental rights, while corruption continues to be its biggest challenge.

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The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which ranks near the bottom at 137th out of 139 globally in overall rule of law score and the worst performer in Africa, shows US politics at work rather than a vibrant democratic society.

“As the sunlight breaks up into different colours inside a water droplet, democracy cannot be in one single colour or defined by one single country. The ‘participant list’ clearly demonstrates that the so-called summit for democracy is nothing but anti-democracy. It is politicising democracy, and it is all about geopolitics,” said Zhu Ying, a professor on human rights and international laws from Southwest University of Political Science and Law in Chongqing, China.

For example, Singapore, a country that has been regarded as the best example of merging Asian culture with the core of democracy in the Western concept, was not on the list.

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“The American concept excludes the right of other nations to have their own concepts of democracy,” said Victor Larin, an academician and principal researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow.

“Be it the presidential system or parliamentary system, after a Western leader comes to power, almost all members of the ruling team, including ambassadors, are nominated and appointed by the leader and will act around the leader’s governing goals,” said Zheng Yongnian, a Chinese political scientist and political commentator.

We frequently use the expression “one size does not fit all”, and so too it is with democracy. There is no single path to democracy.

True democracy means inclusiveness of different models in different countries, respecting and learning from other countries’ efforts to promote democracy.

* Preuss is an economist at forecaster Ecosa.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media and IOL.

Related Topics:

United StatesDemocracy