Their so-called majoritarianism is a temporary illusion. Therefore, courts need to be brought under control of the government and parliament. The Hungarian and Polish governments insist that their reforms adhere to democratic standards. Just because something is not liberal, it still can be a democracy.
Many analysts have adopted a similar conceptual frame.
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But they are indifferent to liberal checks and balances and do not see the need for constitutional constraints on the power of the majority. But the idea of separating checks and balances liberalism and majority will democracy as two completely distinct concepts creates a false choice that actually undermines democracy. The discussion distracts from what is at its core an undemocratic trend and weakens the resolve to resist anti-democratic parties; after all, it is difficult for democrats to take issue with democratic parties.
The concept of democracy is certainly not static, but there are red lines that, if overstepped, move a country toward authoritarianism. Democracy , is structured around a separation of democracy and liberalism.
The book has gained significant traction with the claim that states today tend to be characterized either by illiberal democracy or nondemocratic liberalism. According to Mounk , even core political rights like freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of the media are expressions of liberalism, not of democracy. But the problem is this: How can elections be free and fair without free speech, a free media, and freedom of association? If the media do not allow a debate and voters and candidates cannot express themselves freely and organize into parties, how can popular views be translated into public policy?
Communists and Nazis have held elections without guaranteeing these rights, but they are characterized as dictators, not illiberals. Other authors, such as Cas Mudde and Takis Pappas, take more nuanced positions.
They do not believe that democracy, even in its illiberal variant, can dispense with core political rights. For them, a democracy is liberal when it has checks and balances, such as independent courts, and illiberal when it does not.
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Some democracies indeed give more margin of manoeuvre to the elected executive than others, such as the United Kingdom. But such executives do not act in purely majoritarian ways. They commonly enact policies that are unpopular or that they did not announce before the elections. It is also possible to imagine a raw majoritarian democracy that employs a simple electoral system to represent majorities without distortion. For example, the Netherlands uses a proportional system, in which the whole country is one electoral district. A party that gains 15 percent of the votes will get 15 percent of the seats.
But on this criterion, Hungary and Poland are certainly not raw majoritarian democracies. In the last elections, Fidesz won 49 percent of the votes but gained 67 percent of the seats in parliament.
In the last elections, PiS won 38 percent of the votes but gained 51 percent of the seats in parliament. Referenda could also conceivably be a main feature of raw majoritarianism. Indeed, Swiss referenda have resulted in hard clashes between the majority will and human rights guarantees—as exhibited by the vote to ban the construction of new mosque minarets towers in the country.
It is noteworthy, however, that the Swiss system contains one of the most complex systems of checks and balances as a counterweight. In theory, the above features could be combined to create a system that has no constitutional court, a straightforward proportional electoral system, and a strong, centralized executive that holds regular referenda. However, such a concentration of power is likely to corrupt the government, creating many temptations to undermine the idea of democratic elections in order to rule perpetually.
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Such a system cannot uphold a democracy for long, if it is not underpinned by legally enshrined rights and checks and balances. Even if raw majoritarianism is theoretically possible, this is not where Hungary and Poland are headed. The developments in these countries rather indicate a slide toward authoritarianism under the guise of majoritarianism. Contrary to what is widely claimed, Fidesz and PiS are not removing checks and balances to create political systems in which the majority will is represented with few constraints.
They are pretending to apply a majoritarian logic while they colonize the institutions of checks and balances and try to control them as much as possible. For now, it means the majority can rule without constraints. Tomorrow, it means they can thwart another majority by using their control of the judiciary and state media. The constitutional court annulled that decision.
Is There Illiberal Democracy? A Problem With No Semantic Solution | Jeffrey C. Isaac
The rule of law worked. But after the elections, PiS replaced not only these two judges but three properly appointed ones as well. The American diplomat Richard Holbrooke pondered a problem on the eve of the September elections in Bosnia, which were meant to restore civic life to that ravaged country. That is the dilemma. Democratically elected regimes, often ones that have been reelected or reaffirmed through referenda, are routinely ignoring constitutional limits on their power and depriving their citizens of basic rights and freedoms.
From Peru to the Palestinian Authority, from Sierra Leone to Slovakia, from Pakistan to the Philippines, we see the rise of a disturbing phenomenon in international life -- illiberal democracy. It has been difficult to recognize this problem because for almost a century in the West, democracy has meant liberal democracy -- a political system marked not only by free and fair elections, but also by the rule of law, a separation of powers, and the protection of basic liberties of speech, assembly, religion, and property.
In fact, this latter bundle of freedoms -- what might be termed constitutional liberalism -- is theoretically different and historically distinct from democracy. As the political scientist Philippe Schmitter has pointed out, "Liberalism, either as a conception of political liberty, or as a doctrine about economic policy, may have coincided with the rise of democracy. But it has never been immutably or unambiguously linked to its practice. Already, the new government has used its power over the allocation of state advertising to reward friendly media and punish its critics.
The new government has involved itself in a debate over history.
Gross was questioned by a prosecutor on his research, and there was talk of rescinding an award he had received. PiS complained that the museum focused on all victims of the conflict rather than on specifically Polish suffering. Perhaps the most unsettling measure enacted under the PiS government is an ambitious law that, in the name of counterterrorism, gives the security services sweeping powers over telecommunications and personal information.
With this legislation, Poland became one of the first countries in the democratic world to embrace the use of telecommunications shutdowns in a particular area, a measure that smacks of digital repression. Tax reports, vehicle information, insurance information, financial statements, and other records are all now available to the intelligence service of a government that has made a point of naming party loyalists to key security positions.
The legislation also grants the domestic security agency the ability to shut down websites.
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The legislation is ostensibly needed to counter acts of terrorism. But Poland has not experienced a terrorist act since , and has one of the smallest populations of Muslim immigrants—often perceived as a risk factor for terrorism—in Europe. Furthermore, the law is written in vague terms that give the government great latitude to decide what is and is not an act of terrorism. The triumph of illiberal governments in countries like Hungary and Poland raises the question of whether the phenomenon will spread further.
Might illiberalism come to dominate a society with much deeper democratic roots—Austria, France, or even the United States? From a practical standpoint, illiberal forces are unlikely to transform countries where the political divide is relatively equal and the established parties have strong, loyal followings.
It is only when the mainstream parties suffer catastrophic electoral setbacks that illiberal challengers can rush into the breach. The Socialist Party had governed Hungary for much of the period since , but it rapidly lost credibility due to economic mismanagement and political dishonesty. It was devastated by the election results, and has failed to reemerge as a viable opposition entity.
It achieved economic success and gained respect in Brussels, but lost the support of the working class, the provinces, and all those who felt bypassed by globalization. A second precondition for the emergence of illiberal regimes is a fundamental weakness in democratic institutions beyond the political sphere, including the media, civil society, anticorruption agencies, and the judiciary. In many newer democracies, these checks and balances remain fragile: It is widely assumed that whoever controls the parliament will also come to dominate the judiciary and the security services, and the media are vulnerable to intimidation or partisan capture.
Illiberalism seems less likely to gain traction in the United States because the courts, for example, are proudly independent, and freedom of the press is firmly protected by statute and constitutional jurisprudence. But if illiberal forces have sufficient political will and the defenders of democratic institutions lack conviction and public support, anything is possible.