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Elections: Democratic or Authoritarian Tool?

FP Interrupted

The Quick Take
A quick look at the headlines this week 👀🏃🏻‍♀️

  • This week on “the Brexit” — the British Parliament voted to take the Brexit process away from Prime Minister Theresa May. Yes, this has resurrected talk about ousting the British prime minister, to which Theresa May said she would step down if parliament backs her Brexit plan. 😳
  • Still on Brexit, cause there is a lot to follow here: While March 29, today!, was the original “departure” date (the date the UK was set to leave the European Union), it has been pushed back til April 12, for now.
  • The elections in Thailand last Sunday are still TBD. Official results have not been released. Seven parties that ran candidates in the election announced that they would form a “democratic front” to govern. Except, it’s not likely they can put forward a prime minister. That requires a majority of upper and lower house votes. And that upper house — it’s controlled by the military junta.
  • In a complete rejection of long-standing U.S. policy and in direct violation of UN Resolution 497, Donald Trump signed a proclamation that recognizes Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, which it captured from Syria and has occupied since 1967.
  • China trade negotiations resumed this week. Top trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin landed in Beijing on Thursday. Top Chinese negotiator, Vice Premier Liu He, plans travel to the U.S. next week.
  • Turks and Ukrainians go to the polls on Sunday to vote in municipal and parliamentary elections, respectively.

Elections: Democratic or Authoritarian Tool? 

While “to publish” or “not to publish” the Mueller report dominated headlines this week, we couldn’t stop thinking about democracy.

Putin has always been motivated to make “Russia great again.” Disrupting the liberal world order that the U.S. and its Western allies created after World War II has been one target; weakening the United States itself is another. Little did Putin know that elections would be the bullseye.

Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections has shaken the country, polarizing Americans and distracting lawmakers from important issues: the economy, growing inequality, failing infrastructure, education, and a worrying opioid epidemic. Americans aren’t alone.

Lauren Leatherby and Mira Rojanasakul, write that “on average, the world is becoming less democratic for the first time in several decades. The surprising twist is that it’s happening as more and more countries hold elections.” (Definitely check out the interactive graph.)

Elections have gone from being the cornerstone of democracy to a tool used to hold onto power and skew the rule of law. Authoritarians have come to love it because elections give the illusion that liberty exists. The reality is that through intimidation, media manipulation, and other unsavory tactics, such as demanding identification to vote, authoritarians strong arm the outcome.

What to do? It’s easy to say “remain vigilant.” The truth is we need to get involved. Public participation is the foundation and infrastructure of democracy. Get to know your elected officials — what they’re working on and how they’re voting. Challenge claims you see on social media, whether on an issue or an individual, even if that individual isn’t on “your side.” It may be satisfying to hear outlandish claims about any given politician, Republican or Democrat. It hurts all of us when we sit back and take those claims in, especially when we know that it’s not likely to be true.

Democracy doesn’t take “sides.” And therein lies its incredible value.

A few pieces on this topic:

  • The biggest threat to democracy comes from the failures of Western elites and governments, not authoritarians, says Sheri Berman. (Washington Post)
  • “History should teach every authoritarian that nationalism doesn’t last forever, because rhetorical greatness cannot pay the bills,” says Nina Khrushcheva. (NBC)
  • Long before Trump came on the scene, key congressional Republicans had been sidling up to nativist and authoritarian leaders across the globe, writes Sarah Posner. (Type Investigations)
Upcoming elections to watch:
  • Turkey – March 31
  • Ukraine – March 31
  • Israel – April 9
  • India – April 11-May 19
  • Indonesia – April 17
  • Algeria – April 18
  • South Africa – May 8
  • European Parliament – May 23
  • Greece – sometime this year; there are rumors it could happen as early as May. If it does, we’ll give you more on it. 

If you’re eager for more insight on elections in general, follow Francesca Binda and Binda Consulting. They’re our go-to folks.


March 29 was the day that Britain had set to pull out of the E.U. They voted to extend that deadline. The new date is April 12. What happens next?

  • Jen Kirby has an EXCELLENT explainer for what has happened this week, the options on the table, and what’s next. (Vox)
  • Do you get Brexit? Yeah, us neither. Yasmeen Serhan on how Brexit is impossible to understand. (The Atlantic)
  • The biggest Brexit loser this time wasn’t May. Therese Raphael on the Euroskeptic wing of the Tory party and how it has overplayed its hand. (Bloomberg)
  • Breaking up is hard to do and Brexit is no exception. Whatever happens, the U.K. and E.U. will be tied to each other for years to come, and it will behoove them to cooperate on matters of security, economic, social, and political affairs, writes Amanda Sloat. (Foreign Affairs)
  • With decades more uncertainty and incivility to come, it’ll be young people who are forced to make sense of something that makes no sense, Lara Spirit writes. (Washington Post)
  • Who would replace Theresa May as prime minister? Megan Specia has some of the contenders. (NYT)
  • And for a good listen, Elmira spoke to Fintan O’Toole about Brexit, particularly the big sticking point: the Irish backstop. (Project Syndicate)

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