Nora Luzi - Coordinator of Democratic Governance Unit - UNDP Argentina
On November 8th 2007, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a Resolution to support the efforts of Governments to promote and consolidate new or restored democracies. Since then, every 15th of September we celebrate democracy.
International days provide with an opportunity to advocate, remember and educate the public on important issues, whether they are global problems or achievements of humanity.
Democracy is one of the core values of the United Nations since it provides with an environment for the protection and enforcement of human rights. Moreover, the UN promotes good governance, monitors elections, support civil society to strengthen democratic institutions and accountability.
The origins of democracy are in Ancient Greece, when the word "democracy" (Greek: δημοκρατία - "rule by the people") was invented by Athenians in order to define their system of government, around 508 BC. Many years later a law severely limited the powers of the Council of Areopagus, which deprived the Athenian nobility of their special powers.
Milestones in the evolution of democracy as a political system include: Carta Magna (1215), the first elected Parliament (1265), Habeas Corpus (1879) in the democratic parliaments of England and Scotland. In America, the first constitution of Pennsylvania in 1682- Frame of Government – introducing rights and freedoms as well as the concept of balance of power and the US Constitution ratified in 1789, limiting the concentration of power are to be highlighted.
The XX Century witnessed important developments on civil, political, social and economic rights declaration and enforcement, among others: free elections, electoral rights, political representation, government accountability, women`s rights and citizen participation in democratic societies. However, advances were unequal around the world, and, in many cases, there were sound setbacks.
During the first decade of XXI Century, liberal democracies were majority since 55% of 99 countries were classified as democracies, according to V-Dem studies.
However, democracies declined in more than 20 countries from 2010 to 2018 while one third of the world population lived in weak democracies, as reported by V-Dem 2019, featuring electoral, liberal, participatory, deliberative, and egalitarian principles.
Moreover, even when pro-democracy movements increased from 27% to 44%, autocratization processes increased and for the first time since 2001 they involved 92 countries and 54% of the world population. Autocratization processes took place in different regions of the world and in developing as well as developed economies.
One of the biggest challenges to democracies is the social inclusion. Generally, the relationship between democracy and low levels of exclusion is clear, however when it comes to the political regimes classification as developed by the World Regimes Classification – autocracies, electoral autocracies, electoral democracies and liberal democracies- the relationship blurs.
Inequality increased since the mid 80´s in most parts of the world. Acknowledging the negative social, political and economic impact of inequality, development programs are being designed and implemented to tackle it.
The disruption caused by COVID19, originated a sanitary emergency, soon turned into and economic and social crisis. The pandemic seriously aggravated the exclusion and inequality while at the same time stressed the democratic institutions.
Highly contagious, uncertainty on the availability of a vaccine to tackle the novel virus, mortality rates and insufficient international cooperation stress democracies and governments are prone to design and implement health, economic and political measures by passing parliaments, auditing bodies and accountability to citizens arguing the emergency context.
Emergency measures are not inherently undemocratic but, in many countries, have undermined civil liberties and violated human rights. For instance; elections have been postponed, access to public information has been curtailed and the lack of transparency and corruption in public procurement has been frequently reported.
On the International Day of Democracy we celebrate more than a government type; democracy is a goal to achieve; democracy enables the realization of human rights- whether social, political, economic or cultural rights-, democracy promotes the value of freedom, acknowledges the importance of check and balances and encourages accountability to the civil society.
Therefore, in exceptional times like the COVID 19 emergency, we must contribute to strengthening the democratic institutions. Pandemic is not a valid justification to limit the democratic frameworks.
We praise the “Call to Defend Democracy”, an international effort to support democracy in times of pandemic, signed by over 90 organizations from all over the world, nearly 500 prominent individuals from 119 countries including 13 Nobel Laureates and 62 former Head of States or Governments.
Finally, let´s remember the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterrez´s words:
“As the world confronts COVID-19, democracy is crucial in ensuring the free flow of information, participation in decision-making and accountability for the response to the pandemic.”