Threat of Authoritarianism Remain High around the World

by Solaiman Hassanin ‘23

The dangers of authoritarian tendencies in major democracies across the globe continue to ring alarm bells. In Brazil, many considered Lula Da Silva’s victory over Jair Bolsonaro a narrow escape from the most populous county in South America tumbling into fascism. At the same time, concerns in India over increasing far-right success continue to hover over the world’s biggest democracy. Internationally, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey has emerged as a controversial discussion point, with claims of limitations on the press and a controversial foreign policy weighing against Erdogan’s domestic popularity. On the flip side, many of those accused of fostering authoritarian tendencies, such as Hungary’s Victor Orban, accuse opposing factions of inappropriate censorship and targeting.

The main concerns throughout the world follow general themes that have emerged as worrying trends in some of the world’s democracies, particularly the limitation of free speech and the weakening of a nation’s judiciary. For example, according to the Press Freedom Index, reported by Reporters without Borders, India has become the 150th-ranked country in terms of free speech in relation to 180 countries that were ranked. The low position is a signal of confirmation to critics of Prime Minister Modi, who is often accused of far-right connections with Hindu Nationalists, an especially troubling aspect of his rule in recent years as violence against religious minorities in India has increased. Another example is Turkey’s new “disinformation” law, which allows the government to imprison those who spread misinformation with a three-year prison sentence. While Turkey is now ranked 149 out of 180 according to the same Press Freedom Index, up from 154 in 2021, concerns remain in the lead-up to the 2023 elections where President Erdogan will again be up for an extension to his presidency.

Recently, controversy has grown particularly strong around Hungarian institutions with the EU Commission recommending the freezing of funds heading toward the Hungarian economy, a move meant to pressure the Hungarian government into reform. While rights groups such as Human Rights Watch have claimed that Hungary suffers from a weakened judiciary and is threatened with becoming dominated by the ruling party of Prime Minister Orban, the Hungarian side says it is being unfairly treated by biased left-wing European factions, noting that they believe they have fulfilled the conditions for EU support. A weakened judiciary would be manifested in the politicization of the courts, a clear slant in rulings favoring the government, widespread corruption, and increased power over the appointment of judges by the ruling party. While the recommendation was for support to be stopped, it should not go unnoticed that the Hungarian proposed plan for judicial reform did, in fact, get endorsed by the EU Commission, adding a layer of complexity to Hungary’s situation.

Back in Brazil, critics of Bolsonaro have continued to point fingers at his politicization of the Brazilian courts, a place of strong controversy in the recent elections. The Brazilian courts have ruled against Bolsonaro, showing an independence many considered to be Brazilian Democracy’s saving grace. While international concerns over Brazil have since calmed with Bolsonaro peacefully conceding the presidential election to opponent Lula, many of Bolsonaro’s supporters continue to insist that the election was stolen from them, with large-scale protests continuing on weeks after the election.

For some democracies, the future indications are certainly concerning to a high number of people, but in the same democracies, the reality still remains muddy and unclear. None of the above states-India, Turkey, Hungary, or Brazil, have been stripped of their opposition, none of them are truly authoritarian states. None of them can be stated as flourishing and unproblematic democracies either. They represent something in between.