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Navigating Democracy: Elections, Strong Leaders, and the Perils of Authoritarian Models in 2024

Navigating Democracy: Elections, Strong Leaders, and the Perils of Authoritarian Models in 2024

 

7 January 2024

 

The year 2024 marks a crucial election year with billions set to cast their ballots, including countries like the United States, India, Mexico, and Russia, following notable elections in 2023 in Argentina and the Netherlands. These elections witnessed a shift to the right, with some leaning towards the extreme right while some countries went to the opposite. The results reflected discontent among voters dissatisfied with government policies and their respective parties.

Expectations surround Vladimir Putin’s potential electoral victory in Russia and maintaining his reign. In the United States, the elections are anticipated to be turbulent, mainly due to the aspirations of former President Donald Trump. Trump is in court defending multiple cases, including charges of undermining democracy during his term.

Amidst all this, President Nayib Bukele of El Salvador is making a name for himself. After a narrow election victory, he initiated reforms, focusing on crime, on healthcare, education, and infrastructure, even building sports stadiums for international games. One decision that drew significant attention was El Salvador's adoption of Bitcoin as its official currency, a global first. Nayib Bukele, of Palestinian descent, condemned Hamas’s actions against Israel, advocating for a strong stance against the group. Recent polls indicate an approval rate above 90%, one of the highest globally, prompting questions about the effectiveness of a strongman model in tackling current crises. This argument itself poses a threat to democracy, contributing to the global crisis of democratic values.

The anomaly of Bukele and El Salvador is not unique; it bears significant similarities with Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore, where one generation elevated the country from third world to first world, becoming a role model for China. The debate arises whether an authoritarian governance model is more effective in propelling a country forward. Historical references extend to Plato’s Greece, presenting the case of the Philosopher King as superior to democratically elected rule.

In Curacao, arguments have been for a benevolent dictator to prevent the worst during past crises, reflecting a growing longing for a strong leader. In studying the Singapore model, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria summarized that it works with a benevolent despotic ruler like Lee Kuan Yew, highlighting the challenge of finding one. El Salvador appears to have found theirs, but history teaches us to be cautious.

Look at Venezuela. Chávez came to power with a small majority. He showed terrific results in his early years, elevating the poor out of poverty, alphabetizing the people, and improving healthcare by swapping oil for doctors with Cuba. Chávez ruled even after his death by preparing his successor, Nicolás Maduro. Today, Venezuela is one of the countries that has created the most refugees. Examining Venezuela, where Hugo Chávez initially showed remarkable results, lifting people out of poverty and improving healthcare, the subsequent rule of Nicolás Maduro resulted in one of the highest refugee-producing countries today. The strongman model may work for a short or prolonged period, but history and common sense caution that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. As my mentor, Roel in ’t Veld, once stated in a speech, “The only thing we should be absolute about is to avoid tyranny; all other matters are up for debate.” So, a Bukele model for Curacao might not be the wisest choice.

 

Miguel Goede

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