Behind the News: Democracy under siege
5 December, 2021, 8:07 pm
Last week, an international report classified Fiji as a “weak democracy”.
Titled The Global State of Democracy, the report by International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) provides a snapshot of the global democracy landscape.
The report looks at categories like “democratic weakness” or “weak democracy” to denote how low, countries including Fiji scored between 2015 and 2020, on one or more democratic scorecards.
Those scorecards include representative government, fundamental rights, checks on government, impartial administration and participatory engagement.
Fiji’s “weak democracy” status appeared to have been attributed to the fact that there were no changes in our scores attributed to the scorecards “fundamental rights” and “checks on government”.
Fiji scored 0.6 for “fundamental rights” and 0.5 for “checks and balances”, where 0 represented the lowest achievement in the sample and one being the highest.
Our scores on “fundamental rights” indicate the degree to which our civil liberties have been respected.
It also shows whether we have been provided with access to basic resources that would enable our active participation in political and public affairs.
“Fundamental rights capture the degree to which civil liberties are respected, and whether people have access to basic resources that enable their active participation in the political process,” stated the report.
“It also includes freedom of expression, freedom of association and assembly, freedom of religion, freedom of movement, personal integrity and security, basic welfare, social group equality and gender equality.”
In July this year, several prominent politicians were questioned by police for expressing themselves over the controversial Bill No. 17.
Moreover, we all know that generally, it has become a challenge too, to request for a permit to protest, have a peaceful march and assemble for political or union purposes.
These participatory rights are important for us.
They act as instruments that will ensure whether the government is legitimate and representative or not.
They must be present if we are ever going to meaningfully engage and take part in the democratic and development processes of the country, both at local and national levels.
Additionally, they should be protected if we are to effectively hold our leaders accountable for their decisions and actions.
In a democratic system, participation is key and people-centred.
It is a right by which someone can exercise his or her function in society.
It is a privilege that enables someone to express his or her view toward others.
So in the end, the concept of participation combats inequalities and removes injustices.
It expels favouritism and poverty.
While the findings of the report have put our leaders in a very uncomfortable place, judging from how a few international reports were negatively received by the government recently, we must use it as an opportunity to devise changes and means to strengthen our democracy.
Fiji scored 0.5 – half of the best score – on the “checks on government” scorecard measuring effective control on executive power.
“This included effective parliament, judicial independence and media integrity,” the report read.
The report adds that democracies can be weak, mid-range performing or highperforming, and this status changes from year to year, based on a country’s annual democracy scores,” stated the report.
Further, democracies in any of these categories can be backsliding, eroding and/or fragile, capturing changes in democratic performance over time.
“Backsliding democracies are those that have experienced a gradual but significant weakening of checks on government and civil liberties, such as freedom of expression and freedom of association and assembly, over time,” the report added.
“This is often through intentional policies and reforms aimed at weakening the rule of law and civic space. Backsliding can affect democracies at any level of performance”.
The unfair sacking of two senior civil servants because they put the government in a bad light despite the overwhelming public outcry that followed them, shows it has become increasingly difficult to hold the government accountable.
The inability of opposition politicians to effectively hold government MPs accountable and provide the necessary legislative oversight in the House, further attests that leaders have a problem with being publically scrutinised.
The International IDEA report may be unfavourable to the government but it is an advantage to ordinary citizens.
It gives us hope because it shows that some members of the international community place value on democracy, its health and viability.
Experts on governance, human rights and democracy concepts agree that no two democracies are the same and there is no perfect state of democracy.
However, there are minimum standards that need to be observed and there must be a constant and consistent move towards refining it.
While democracy is the most common political system that people around the world choose to be governed by, many countries that call themselves democracies often fail to live up to its very principles.
And as the quality of leadership diminishes, so does the share of vibrant democracies and the ability of leaders to sustain equitable socio-economic development.
For Fiji to be highlighted as a “weak democracy” is not something that leaders can treat as unimportant and petty.
This plus the recent findings put out by Transparency International on corruption perception, particularly on the charge that about two-thirds of Fijians believe corruption in government was a big problem, should be a cause for concern.
To escape the ramification of what could be if leaders turn a blind eye, we will have to restore the confidence and trust that people have in the government.
Our leaders must provide the necessary democratic environment, support our democratic institutions without politically influencing them and ensure the protection of our human rights.
They must seek to empower vulnerable communities, recover economic growth and alleviate poverty and reshape our development model.
The new agenda moving forward must make it possible to respond not only to current and recurring issues – but also the new challenges that we face now and anticipate in the future.
The challenges rattling our democracy and compounded by COVID-19 suggest a reformative agenda is not only necessary but critical.
Despite the many obstacles stacked up against it, democracy has proven that it is resilient and can provide the groundwork for sustainable development.
Before I leave you, do not forget that we are still within the 16 days of activism against the gender-based violence campaign, which ends on December 10 (International Human Rights Day).
I challenge you to stomp out gender-based violence and discriminatory attitudes and call for improved laws and services to end violence against women for good.
Until we meet on this same page same time next week – stay blessed, stay healthy and stay safe!