Democracy Under Stress

October 20, 2017 • Volume 27, Issue 37
Is representative government in retreat worldwide?
By Suzanne Sataline


Police detain a protester in Ankara, Turkey (Cover: AFP/Getty Images/Adem Altan)
Police detain a protester in Ankara, Turkey, on Sept. 14, 2017, during the trial of two teachers fired during a purge of suspected supporters of a failed coup last year against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Autocratic leaders in a rising number of countries are restricting citizens' rights, reversing years of democratic progress. (Cover: AFP/Getty Images/Adem Altan)

Many democracies in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Latin America and Southeast Asia are veering toward autocracy, stalling or reversing decades of democratic progress. Leaders have postponed elections, jailed opponents, restricted personal and press freedoms and rewritten constitutions to legalize their actions. Freedoms have eroded in such countries as Russia, Venezuela, Turkey, the Philippines and Poland. In addition, Western democracies are struggling with economic, social and political instability, corruption, immigration and frustrated voters who have turned to populist-nationalist leaders for solutions. Donald Trump, elected president in a wave of populist fervor in the United States, has vowed to stop promoting democracy overseas and to withdraw from some treaties. Meanwhile, Russia seeks to undermine democratic institutions, free elections and liberal Western alliances, and China is wooing developing nations in an effort to show that countries can prosper without the constraints of democracy. Still, some observers are optimistic about democracy's future, saying that new democracies are emerging and others are showing surprising resilience.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Oct. 08, 2021  Erdoğan's New Turkey
Oct. 20, 2017  Democracy Under Stress
Jul. 17, 2012  Myanmar's New Era
Jan. 17, 2012  Emerging Central Asia
Jun. 21, 2011  Peacebuilding
May 03, 2011  Turmoil in the Arab World
Feb. 15, 2011  Sub-Saharan Democracy
Jun. 2010  Democracy in Southeast Asia
Apr. 01, 2005  Exporting Democracy
Jan. 30, 2004  Democracy in the Arab World
Nov. 03, 2000  Democracy in Latin America
Oct. 08, 1999  Democracy in Eastern Europe
Jul. 24, 1998  Democracy in Asia
Aug. 17, 1990  Initiatives: True Democracy or Bad Lawmaking?
Feb. 02, 1990  Free Markets, Free Politics and Growth
Jun. 14, 1967  Greece: Monarchy Vs. Republicanism
Feb. 04, 1959  Revolutionary Ferment and Democratic Processes
Alliances and Security Agreements
Cold War
Congress Actions
General Defense and National Security
General International Relations
Global Issues
Imperialism, Colonization, and Independence Movements
Latin American Conflicts
Protest Movements
Regional Political Affairs: Africa
Regional Political Affairs: East Asia and the Pacific
Regional Political Affairs: Europe
Regional Political Affairs: Latin America and the Caribbean
Regional Political Affairs: Russia and the Former Soviet Union
Terrorism and Counterterrorism
U.S. at War: Cold War
U.S. at War: World War II