With ‘flawed democracy’ on the rise, people are still making their voices heard.
Over half the countries in the world saw their democratic health scores decline in the latest Economist Democracy Index. Restrictions on freedom of speech were a significant cause for many countries’ declines on the index. Issues in countries where we work included arrests for defamation, murdered journalists, rise of hate groups and limits on public meetings. But these restriction have been met with resistance. Citizens have started petitions, organized protests and rallied those around them.
In Brazil, the upcoming presidential election has reignited a powerful national conversation on political corruption. Citizens are asking that political candidates and leaders take responsibility for ending practises which can lead to abuse or misuse of public funds.
Brazilian Jonathas Oliveira has started a campaign to end the housing allowance for judges. His petition highlights how judges in Brazil receive a “housing assistance” that costs more than R$ 1 billion ($300 mil USD) each year. In fact the average monthly ‘housing assistance’ given to a judge in Brazil is R$ 4,378 (US$ 1,372) – which is more than what 92% of the Brazilian population makes each month.
While this may seem more like an issue of income inequality than corruption, investigations by Folha de São Paulo has shown that many judges are claiming housing allowances to relocate to Brasília despite already owning their own homes in the area. Over 205,000 people are already supporting Jonathas’ campaign and the government is considering eliminating the housing allowance.
In Indonesia, the government recently passed a new law making it punishable to criticize the national legislature. Passed in less than two days, the new law sparked a huge civil society response, with almost 200,000 people signing a petition to voice their opposition. Based on a previous law, MD3, which was debated several years ago, many see the passing of this revision as an attempted to silence critics and opposition ahead of regional elections in 2018 and national elections in 2019.
Despite these efforts, leading Indonesia human rights organizations are mobilizing and the public is reacting quickly. The online campaign, social media advocacy and public outcry are holding parties and politicians accountable for their role in passing this law.
In Mexico, over 400,000 people rallied against the passage of the ‘Ley de Seguridad Interior’ (Domestic Security Law) which sought to increase the use of military and armed forces in domestic police matters. Citizens supporting Victor Hugo Olmedo Sabater’s petition highlighted how increasing state violence was not the answer to addressing Mexico’s crime and gang problems.
In early January, the president signed the law in spite of strong civil society opposition. However the campaign remains active, supporting a call for the judicial branch to rule on the new law’s constitutionality.
Democracy thrives when citizens feel able to express their views and government officials listen and take action. Online forums like change.org provide opportunities for citizens from all backgrounds to start campaigns and strengthen democracy.
By Katherine Baird, International Projects Manager