Friday, December 8, 2023

Guess who’s a champion of democracy?

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Steve Wyn-Harris celebrates a certain small trading nation at the end of the world and its place in geopolitics.
Once upon a time former US president Donald J Trump presided over a country that is 28 places lower on the Democracy Index than a certain small trading nation at the end of the world.
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The month of June has jumped up out of nowhere and I see I have just four columns to file before finishing.

I haven’t bored you too much with geopolitics but it’s a subject I find fascinating and I’m sure it is of interest to many of you.

We are a small trading nation at the end of the world and what happens elsewhere has much more impact upon us here than what our own domestic politics serve up to us.

Let’s start with something that has interested me for a long time: the Democracy Index put out by the Economist, which offers up fact-checked coverage of world politics.

To create their index and rankings of countries, they consider several categories. Electoral process, civil liberties, functioning of government, political participation, and political culture.

You’ll be thinking that a Scandinavian country must surely top it and you’d be right – Norway.

Now some of you are going to be surprised by second place. A wee country called New Zealand, just ahead of Iceland, Sweden, Finland and Denmark.

Don’t get grumpy and email me your displeasure and doubts but instead be pleased you live in a country that has free and fair democratic elections that allow a smooth changing of governments when the majority vote for that to happen.

We are among just 24 nations considered to be full democracies. As you might expect, countries such as Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom feature in this group.

Sixty authoritarian countries are at the bottom of the table, and pity the poor beggars who live in Afghanistan, Myanmar, North Korea, Central African Republic, Syria and Congo. If you really believe that we are so hard done by here, have a go at living in one of these nations for a bit.

What is intriguing about this index is the countries that are not considered full democracies. The next group down are flawed democracies and include Greece – the inventor of democracy – Italy, Belgium and, most surprisingly, the United Sates of America.

The US comes in at 30th on the index.

Americans don’t use the popular vote for elections but rather an electoral college system and this has progressively been engineered to become less democratic over time.

The 2020 presidential election came down to a close call from two or three swing states.

More people voted for Donald Trump (71 million) than any other presidential candidate in US history except for Joseph Biden, who had 5 million more Americans vote for him and yet only just won that election.

Trump had spent four years showing contempt for democratic processes, preferred foreign dictators over democratically elected leaders, debunked sound science and many other sins but very nearly won that election.

And now it is looking like he will be the Republican challenger to Biden, who, if he wins their next battle would be 85 if he survived a full term.

You honestly must wonder how these two could be the best two candidates that impressive country could dish up.

I’ve never liked Trump or his values and when that has appeared in this column in the past, have been surprised at the vitriol that has come my way from a rural NZ that Trump couldn’t care less about.

The US has done amazing things such as put men on the moon and countless other remarkable achievements. But it has also meddled in many other countries’ domestic affairs on the pretence of preserving democracy but in truth for self-interest.

It is now in a battle for world supremacy with China, a battle it is destined to eventually lose. The last couple of centuries have been an aberration as the US grew into that vast country full of resources, but history shows that China has always been an economic powerhouse and the Chinese always play the long game.

The risk for all of us is if this battle for supremacy leads to some sort of nuclear engagement over Taiwan or some other flashpoint.

The other obvious immediate concern is Russia and this foolish and unnecessary war with its neighbour Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin has badly miscalculated and now finds himself into a 15-month war with no end in sight. It is draining Russia of resources and the death toll is mounting.

One of the factors that led to the fall of the Soviet empire was the mothers of the dead finally had nothing more to lose so came out to protest.

Putin has an iron grip on his country but that control – or he himself – cannot last forever and then there will be turmoil in a country that has 6000 nuclear warheads, a few more than the US.

I once wrote that the two things we should be most afraid of are a decent virus like the Black Death and a meteor strike such as the one that saw to the dinosaurs. I should have added nuclear conflagration.

However, it’s not all grim out there. Europe has taken in millions of refugees, many from Ukraine, over the past couple of years. Countries regularly send relief supplies to others in great need.

Groups like Doctors Without Borders and Habitat for Humanity give freely of their time to assist others.

And we are second on the Democracy Index!

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