Are you at your wit’s end when observing the contemporary geopolitical situation while contemplating how people at power are able to willingly ruin democracy? Here is the ultimate plan for disaster and a nightmarish reality:
1. Have a political dynasty
Before diving into the required conduct of actors to squash democracy, certain preconditions need to be met. The parties in the political arena need to be based on dynastic leadership in which succession is a rare occurrence. This ensures sluggish policy change and vested interests which are firmly and resolutely defended if necessary. Historical grievances, patronage and feudal ties are the cornerstones of politics, opposed to a political agenda that addresses societal and economical challenges. This lack of internal democracy ensures that critics do not receive a platform to express their ideas while the constituencies have little influence. Thus, if political participation is meagre, the first sign of an eroding democracy is visible.
2. Hold elections without really voting
Having established the preconditions, we can continue with the actual behaviour of the different actors. Right before the elections, opposition parties should publicly announce its boycott of the elections and deploy violence in order to prevent people from voting. The opposition boycott will lead to a historically low voter turnout and uncontested parliamentary seats which, in turn, can be assigned to the government party. As no parliamentary opposition exists, the government can rule the country as it sees fit. Laws that lack scrutiny and democratic accountability are approved in parliament leaving the door wide open for political tyranny.
3. Deploy paramilitary forces
The government should set up an elite paramilitary force to combat terrorism while the critics should raise their concerns for the need of such unit without even considering reforming the law enforcement and judiciary. Over the years this paramilitary unit should become infamous for killing people in self-defence, cross-fire or in custody. The unit should continue to carry out extra-judicial killings, arbitrary arrests and torture while enjoying impunity. The government should not make any attempt to hold the unit accountable, especially when there are allegations that ruling party members are using the unit as a death squad. Make sure that the unit continues to operate with impunity even if their actions lead to systematic human rights violations and abuse.
4. Create a culture of fear and impunity
Those who have read the novel 1984 by George Orwell remember the vivid fear of the protagonist for being under possible surveillance by the Party or run the risk of being overheard by the Thought Police. Indeed, a social order can be best controlled by fear. The ‘other’ should be afraid at all times. Without leaving explicit evidence, leaders of the opposition parties should suddenly disappear. And if this is too subtle, launch a vicious crackdown on the opposition. Be sure not to act in accordance with any international human rights standards or domestic law. Make sure the perpetrators are not brought to justice. Democracy can only be destroyed when lawlessness is the order of the day.
5. Use violence to hold onto power
The opposition must organise strikes, traffic blockades and demonstrations in order to create overall disorder. Of course, these measures have to take a violent turn at a certain point in order to cause a significant disruptive effect and nationwide chaos. Thus, attack those who refuse to honour the blockades and throw petrol bombs at any vehicle that ignores the obstructions. The government should strike back at violence with more violence by allowing excessive force to be used against political protesters while their actions continue to cause civilian casualties and the ongoing clashes leads to major economic loss. Both parties should not take responsibility for the people who are injured or killed due to escalating political violence.
6. Attack vulnerable minorities
A functioning democracy is the ultimate system in which the basic and inalienable rights of minorities are guaranteed. For a democracy to slowly crumble away, single out the religious and ethnic minorities. Unlawfully destroy their houses, shops and places of worship and use violence as a means of deterrence if you suspect them of having voted for the other party or not boycotting the elections like your party had called for. You will not be held accountable as a culture of impunity is the ultimate source for oppression and the slow decay of democracy.
7. Shrink space for civil society
In order to have a functioning democracy, you need to have a functioning civil society. A strong civil society can challenge the power of government and hold the government accountable when they fail to meet their obligations to the public. To deteriorate democracy, you need to push the civil society to the margins of democratic processes. Like some governments, start from shrinking space for civil society. Use creative legal manoeuvres to weaken their role in speaking out against social injustices and establishing political dialogue. Pass laws that are vague and broad enough to increase limitations on freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association. Use these laws to stifle dissent and harass critics of the government.
Do these 7 steps remind you of a terrifying storyline based on a dystopia happening in far future? It is actually the present of various countries around the world, in particular the present of Bangladesh where political stalemate have cost the lives of hundreds of people and led to systematic abuse of human rights. The current situation goes further than ruining democracy, it ruins a society that gasps for its breath.