The Arab Spring in 2011 has ushered in a unique moment in democratic progress. But is it ? Syria is in tatters; Egypt has suffered a severe democratic reversal; Yemen is trapped in a regional war between Saudi Arabia and Iran; while Libya is in the control of warlords.
Written in 2013, Joshua Kurlantzick, had correctly analyzed all these democratic failures. But he timed it to the demise and devastation of the Thai democracy in 2010; indeed 2009 when Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted. Thailand proves to be a peculiar and stark case of democratic failure since a decade earlier world leaders like Secretary of State Colin Powell had praised its democratic progress. From 1992 onwards, Thailand was inching along in democracy, only to break-down irreparably two decades later.
What is more alarming is the wide spread, almost systemic failure, of the democratic march, once ingeniously described by Francis Fukuyama as "the end of history," where the ideological struggle of humanity had reached a zenith with the end of the Cold War. With communism unable to showcase the power and might of equal representation, it was up to democracy to demonstrate its prowess in every economic, social-political and institutional front. But Fukuyama had been proven dead-wrong. The Hegelian dialectics that formed his thesis had been proven to be false too.
There are simply more variables at work to permit a country, or, a region, to just embrace democracy. Many try, then failed. Joshua Kurlantzick deserves particular praise for highlighting all these failures in a comprehensive book. As a Senior Fellow in the Council on Foreign Relations, who has had the privilege of working as a writer for The Economist, Joshua Kurlantzick, knows Southeast Asia and many parts of the world like the back of his hand.
In fact, the entire analysis is not based on sheer journalistic forays. Using metrics established by the Freedom House, the Economist Intelligence Unit, the Bertelsmann Foundation in German, as well as Asia Barometer, Latino Barometer and Afro-Barometer, Joshua Kurlanzick was able to show with remarkable depth how democracies are failing, or, have failed.
As a democrat, Joshua Kurlantzick must have written the book with some pain. But this is the reality at hand. In fact, the book did make note of the forth wave of democracy---known as the color revolutions---in Georgia and Ukraine. But these advances have since been pushed back by Russia. Indeed, if one were to take the "Yellow Revolution" of the Philippines in 1986, which some authors believed, paved the way for the Intifada (uprising) in Palestine too, the recent election of President Duterte in the Philippines has shown yet another reversal. President Duterte's wild and incendiary language aside, has used death squads to kill drug pushers and addicts in the country.
Meanwhile, in Thailand, the recent demise of King Bhumipol, a highly respected royalty, has also made the country's democratic future highly uncertain, with the Thai military junta seemingly unprepared to call for an election at least for another two years.
Amidst all of the above, Joshua Kurlantzick, rightly made no recommendations on how to turn the situation around. With China as a showcase of economic growth, many countries appear to be gravitating to Beijing. Yet, China, is not exactly a paragon of good governance, given the complexities and challenges which Beijing has faced down, by insisting on more controls. With the US unable to provide any real leadership on the ground-----this despite the ardent belief that 'democracies do not go to war'-----the world appears to be heading for a free fall. Ironically, this state of the world, will also lull some countries into an "autocratic nostalgia"; the likes of which have seen South Korea electing the daughter of President Park Chung Hee to revive the economic growth of the country. Democracy is not merely in retreat, as a form of good government, but is in a mortal struggle to establish its credentials all over again; that more freedom and security can indeed promise greater economic growth.