Authoritarianism and Democracy
Over the past 300 years, with the decline of regional and global empires and the rise of nation-states, democracy has emerged as the world’s foremost political system. Principles of democracy are enshrined throughout the UN Charter, as well as many of the UN’s other foundational documents. In the context of the developing world, many nations have been encouraged to implement aspects of democracy into their political system to allow for governments representative of the people’s desires. Indeed, the prevalence of democratic systems has arguably led to greater economic progress and sociopolitical success within the nation in question. However, while the power of the people to elect their own representatives into office is democracies’ greatest feature, it can also become its greatest weakness. It has become evident that democracy is not a foolproof path to political and economic stability. In fact, the introduction of democratic processes has, in some scenarios, led to instability and the rise of authoritarian regimes to compensate. Authoritarianism, of course, relies on the strict enforcement of law and centralized power, with certain limits on personal freedoms which, in the midst of instability, may better ensure future stability.
It is the responsibility of the UNDP to address the rising tide of authoritarianism in the midst of failing attempts at democracy. From the judicial crisis in Poland, to drug-related violence endorsed by the central government of the Philippines, and to the burgeoning maelstrom of Venezuelan politics, the rise of authoritarian actions from democratically elected individuals has been observed in numerous cases across the globe. This trend can be detrimental to the potential development of each nation, because political and social stability is of the upmost importance to attract physical and monetary investment essential to growth. Without this stability, development often remains stagnant or unsustainable at best. This issue is also not limited to countries typically considered to be in the category of “developing nations.” Mature economies such as the Russian Federation have likely stagnated, politically and economically, as a result of authoritarian politics. Even in the United States, some have argued that the Trump administration’s combative and uncompromising governing style has corroded institutions of democratic governance, particularly the free press. If true, this could portend a rise in authoritarian tendencies that could, in the long term, have negative consequences for the country’s economic health. Both democratic and authoritarian systems have the potential for stability, yet it has been apparent that radical changes in any political system – arguably more likely in a brittle authoritarian system – can lead to power vacuums and instability.
To properly address this issue, it is necessary to consider solutions to political problems that deter development within a nation. Additionally, the participation of citizens in the democratic process can complicate these issues, by allowing them to choose leadership without full knowledge of the consequences their choice holds. The question then becomes, do citizens know what is in their best interest, or does authoritarianism save them from their own ignorance? Currently, the concern for the committee and the international community is that political instability has deterred investment and caused stagnant growth, preventing the UNDP from achieving its goal of Sustainable Development. To address this problem, it is essential to discuss failings of the democratic process, when desired stability and development are not forthcoming. On that point, what is the appropriate response to the hindrance of such progress, and what are its root causes? What can be done to enhance stability and forestall the rise of authoritarian tendencies?