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Biden’s democracy summit: Just talk or can it effect change?

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On Dec. 9 and 10, U.S. President Joe Biden will host what the White House calls the Summit for Democracy — or, in other words, a meeting focused on democracy.

According to the Biden administration, the two-day virtual meeting, to which more than 100 countries were invited, is designed to help renew democracy around the world and will be followed by an in-person democracy summit next year.

The summit, the administration claims, will “focus on challenges and opportunities facing democracies and will provide a platform for leaders to announce both individual and collective commitments, reforms and initiatives to defend democracy and human rights at home and abroad.” It will presumably end with bold pronouncements by leaders about reforms they intend to make both internationally and at home.

Certainly, the summit comes at a challenging time for democracy. The global monitoring organization Freedom House (for which I consult on several Southeast Asia reports) called this year’s report on the state of global freedom “Democracy Under Siege.” It noted that the global balance had shifted in favor of authoritarianism, and that the organization also has recorded 15 straight years of declines in global freedom. Even military coups, once thought near-extinct relics of the Cold War, are making a comeback, with coups this year in Myanmar, Sudan and Guinea, among other places.

But the Summit for Democracy is unlikely to have much of a lasting impact. To be sure, it is unreasonable to expect a two-day virtual summit to make major inroads into a phenomenon — global democratic regression — 15 years in the making and due to numerous causes, ranging from public dissatisfaction with democratic leaders’ handling of major issues to the growing strength of the most powerful autocratic countries, China and Russia. A study by University of Cambridge researchers found that international dissatisfaction with democracy as a form of government has reached its........

© The Japan Times

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