Western democracy in decline, and not just in the West

Dong Likun says that, seen against China's rise, problems with the Western multiparty political system belie America's claim of its universality and expose the hypocrisy of US double standards

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 June, 2014, 3:46pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 June, 2014, 3:57am

The United States and the West have been battered by recent political crises in Ukraine and Thailand, turmoil in the Middle East, and their own lingering financial crises. Since 2000, many nominally democratic developing countries have in fact become despotic. The external trappings of elections are all that is left.

Western democracy is increasingly rigid and losing its appeal. Ever since the end of the cold war 25 years ago, the West has become stuck in a rut and turned a blind eye to issues that people care about. Their democracy is about struggles between parties and canvassing for votes. Once a political party comes to power, it becomes indifferent to the real needs of the people. As a result, the general populace becomes less and less enthusiastic about politics. Elections become a tool for small groups fighting for power and their own interests.

The core value of democracy is to provide a basis of consensus so various interests groups of a society can co-exist in harmony. The West, however, only considers a government established through competition under the multiparty system to be a true democracy.

No doubt, there is a certain rationale behind multiparty competition, and they have played an important historic role. But with changing times, few people are in a position to form political parties and fight for state power. This system gradually excludes the majority from a country's political life.

Multiparty competition turns into fierce rivalry between different interest groups. The constant power struggles have become a common feature for both Western democracies and non-Western countries adopting a Western democratic system. A typical example of this is China's Taiwan, where fierce battles between the "blue" [KMT] and "green" [DPP] camps have not only blurred the lines between right and wrong, but also torn society apart.

America's double standards have also shaken the foundations of the Western democratic system.

The US is trying to bring the world under its domination by advocating "Western democracy" as a universal value. More importantly, when the US promotes its democratic values to the world, it uses different standards for different countries and regions. Instead of building a real democratic system for the world, its basic goal is to extend its global hegemony by setting up pro-US regimes in countries with different systems and values.

The US is ready to support any country as long as the latter stands by its side - regardless of their political systems - as in the cases of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other countries. These countries are still ruled by monarchical families and there is nothing democratic about their political systems.

In Iran, people led by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini overthrew the pro-US Pahlavi dynasty in 1979 and put in place a relatively democratic system that produces a government through elections. However, the US has treated the new Iran as an enemy, calling it an "evil" state and trying to destroy it by all means.

The US is ready to support local opposition in non-Western countries, if the local government's policies and stances contradict Washington's. The opposition may then stir up unrest, demolish the established order, and overthrow a legitimate government.

During the cold war, the US exerted political, economic, cultural and military pressure to topple the Soviet Union. When the latter did splinter, each republic abandoned the Soviet system and converted to Western-style democracy.

It should be the case that, since Russia and the former Soviet republics have adopted American-style democracy, the US and Russia co-exist peacefully. However, the US, for the sake of its national interests, has continued to destabilise Russia through an economic blockade, political penetration and military threats.

Ukraine became an independent state after the cold war and chose a new government through democratic elections. However, because the newly elected government maintained close ties with Russia, the US lent its support to Ukraine's pro-Western opposition parties to overthrow the elected government. This was done by staging the two so-called orange revolutions, which triggered protests and street violence.

During the past 10 years, the US has implemented completely different policies. With democracy serving as a fig leaf, the hypocrisy of American democracy has been exposed and the credibility of Western democracy ruined.

As an advocate of democracy and human rights, the US has failed to support the Thai government, which has a popular mandate, and turned a blind eye to its overthrow. To contain China's rise, the US has even supported right-wing elements in Japan, thus allowing Japanese militarists to stage a comeback.

Democracy has gone through a long process of development. There are different types most suited to particular periods of history, and the form and substance can be constantly enriched and improved.

While Western democratic systems are experiencing challenges, China's socialist democratic system is flourishing. It is down to the development and perfection of a system organised in accordance with national conditions and the determination to take a democratic path of socialism with Chinese characteristics.

At present, there is much debate around the world about China's current situation and her future. One important viewpoint is that China's development has taken little account of public opinion and been realised through autocratic leadership, and will not be sustainable. Another belief is that China risks collapse if it doesn't carry out political reforms.

This exaggerated "China threat" theory has blurred many people's understanding of the country's system. Whether they talk of collapse or threat, the purpose is to drive "democratisation" and implement Western democracy in China - and perhaps inspire a Chinese version of the Arab spring.

Dong Likun is a professor at Shenzhen University. This article is translated from Chinese