Democracy is in crisis – or so people are often saying at the moment. They assert that challenges such as increasing global competition, social inequality and digitalisation have pushed this form of government to the limits of its capacity and are now encouraging the rise of autocracies. Broken promises and shattered hopes are therefore often mentioned too. Is that true? We wanted to find out more, which is why this issue focuses on the state of democracy, particularly in countries in the Global South. What do the people there expect of a democracy? What particular challenges and risks arise if a country has to deal with great poverty or major regional differences? What does that mean specifically for countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia and Nigeria?
The answers we found are surprisingly clear. Although the number of democratic states is decreasing slightly, it is still far higher than it was during the Cold War. At the same time, it became clear that living democracies need to do more than merely establish the will of the electorate. They require real participation, an opinion-forming process in which people can really express their views and needs. And people want to have well-run public services for all, such as water, education and health care. If these services are not accessible or affordable for the majority of society, frustration mounts – and this frustration is directed towards the political system too.
That is what happened in Chile: Towards the end of last year, the largest demonstrations in the country’s history took place – calling for more ‘dignity’. Politics professor Stefano Palestini was in Chile at the time and has combined his first-hand impressions with the latest academic findings in an essay. His conclusion was that, from a global point of view, it would be an exaggeration to talk about a crisis of democracy. But democratic systems have shortcomings that they need to work on. Field researcher Shandana Mohmand from Pakistan reiterates this view in an interview. She recommends strengthening local governments. A report about a community meeting in northern Uganda shows what that might look like in practice.
More participation and fairness is also one of the aims of GIZ’s work, which is why we are always looking not only for the best way to achieve this, but also for new approaches and new insight. Our goal is to realise fair conditions for all – politically, socially and economically – in keeping with the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi, who once said: ‘I understand democracy as something that gives the weak the same chance as the strong.’
We hope you enjoy reading this issue and gain plenty of new insight into a political system that is worth fighting for, wherever you are in the world.