On one hand, this has been a bad year for democracy. On Monday, Egypt’s 96 million citizens learned that their presidential “election” had been won by Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. After having arrested or threatened every real opposition candidate, he captured 97 per cent of the vote – a margin that places him squarely in the tradition of Egyptian dictators, and erases any vestige of the 2011 democracy uprisings.
Three weeks ago, 144 million Russians experienced the same humiliation, as President Vladimir Putin won his fourth presidential “election,” telescoping his office to 24 years, after having outlawed or eliminated any viable opposition candidates or democracy movements. This year’s edition of the Economist’s Democracy Index finds that 89 of the 167 countries analyzed have seen their level of democracy slip, the steepest fall in many years.
On the other hand, this may be remembered as a moment when many people began to regain control of their countries. If the cover photo of 2018 is a democracy-eroding strongman, the feature story involves a huge crowd of protesters seizing back the reins. It’s people power in the darkest hour.
Look at Slovakia. In February, its five million people learned that investigative journalist Jan Kuciak had died in a gangland-style murder shortly after writing a report on the Italian Mafia’s ties to the country’s corruption-riddled government. Slovaks had had enough. After tens of thousands of people had filled the streets for a month, Prime Minister Robert Fico handed in his resignation on March 15.