Is democracy declining in Asia? This question gained prominence when Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., son of the late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, won the country’s presidential election. The Telegraph said, “Pariah to president: Marcos Jr wins landslide victory to return family to Philippines supremacy”.
Last year, a similar surprise had struck the world when the Afghan Taliban, regained their control in Afghanistan after replacing an elected government who were commonly known as puppets installed by the foreign powers with a reputation of being corrupt and inefficient. Once the cover of foreign forces disappeared, the rule of the Afghan government also vanished, providing an easy run over for the Taliban who installed their non-democratic system in the country without facing any major resistance from any quarter. Resurrection of Afghan Taliban as rulers of the country sealed the fate of democracy in Afghanistan.
Like Afghanistan, the victory of Marcos Jr., in the Philippines marked a new turn in one of the oldest democracies of Asia as it brought to power a political leader whose family had a tainted past. His late father, Ferdinand Marcos, had ruled the country with an iron hand by imposing martial law and resorting to unbridled plunder and loot of the national wealth for more than two decades. Nearly 36 years after the fall of Ferdinand Marcos, his son has now emerged with a landslide victory in the election on an agenda that claims to revive the golden age of his father.
Instead of apologizing for all the atrocities and plundering his father had committed, he eulogized his rule and denied all accusations and legal actions taken against his parents. The electoral results proved that his narrative had an overwhelming popularity and support among the people and he used it effectively. To pave his way to success were the policies of his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, who was often accused of rolling back democratic values during his rule by resorting to extrajudicial killings of drug dealers, street criminals, and going after the media and his political opponents in a ruthless manner.
Like Afghanistan, the victory of Marcos Jr., in the Philippines marked a new turn in one of the oldest democracies of Asia as it brought to power a political leader whose family had a tainted past.
To take advantage of Duterte’s legacy, Marcos Jr., made an alliance with his daughter, Sara Duterte, who has also won the election by overwhelming majority as a candidate for vice presidentship. The alliance of these two strong political dynasties of the Philippines is a sign that the reign of autocracy established by Duterte will go on and the dictatorial policies followed by Ferdinand Marcos Sr., in the past, would regain their supremacy and legitimacy in the country.
Pakistan’s record on its democratic front is somewhat identical to the Philippines. Imran Khan’s ouster as the PM revived his waning popularity, as his narrative of being a victim of an alleged foreign conspiracy was readily accepted by his supporters. All actions or inactions that have been a cause of his dwindling popularity became a forgotten past and he regained the popularity he had lost from his inefficient governance.
The sharp fall of Pak Rupee against Dollar, the growing number of people living below the poverty line, and the suppression of media freedom are no longer a matter of concern for his cult following.
The primary agenda that Imran Khan pursued with full force was to bring the’ stolen money’ back into the country remained unachievable, and what made it more disgraceful was an uptick in the rate of corruption noted by international watchdogs during his regime. It couldn’t dent his image as his followers still believe that another chance will enable him to attain what he couldn’t achieve during his previous term.
Regardless of when or if the ongoing political chaos will settle down, hatred and intolerance towards opponents in politics will continue. This is not a new phenomenon for the country. The politics of intolerance has played a key role in political turmoil that quite often visited the country. Imran Khan has been issuing hateful statements, and even said that nuking Pakistan would have been a better option than bringing ‘looters’ into power. The anti-corruption policy Imran Khan pursued or was made to pursue has caused a serious damage to the polity of the country. Moreover, political differences have now turned into enmity. To make things worse, this deadly poison of political enmity is now making its inroads into the minds of the common people and the chances of Pakistan to come out of this quagmire are getting bleaker by the day.
Pakistan and the Philippines are not the only countries of Asia where democratic values are being compromised. India, the world’s largest democracy, is another Asian country where democracy is sliding downward. Hindu nationalism is on the march in the country, with a design of targeting minority communities especially Dalits and Muslims on various religious and cultural issues. The historical places built during the Mughal era are being searched by the Hindu historians and archeologists to find traces of Hindu deities and thus create hatred against the Muslims. From performing arts to journalism, the watchdogs of Hindu nationalism keep sniffing every activity to identify any deviation from the values defined by these activists.
These declining trends of democracy in Asia are eye openers for all those who believe in democratic system as a panacea for all ills of the society. Will this trend be allowed to go unquestioned and unresisted? Although the majority communities, being the immediate beneficiaries of this decline, are always ready to lend their support to such trends, the long-term impact of such inclinations will be dangerous for the integrity and progress of the countries suffering from this trend.