In the recent early elections in Moldova on July 11, 2021, the pro-presidential liberal pro-European Action and Solidarity Party won a majority of 53% of the parliamentary seats, leaving its main rival, the Electoral bloc of the socialists and communists, with only 27% of the votes well behind.
It is noteworthy that Maia Sandu, who previously headed the PAS, convincingly defeated the socialist pro-Russian incumbent Igor Dodon in the runoff election in the presidential election in December 2020 with 58%. It should come as no surprise, as this victory by liberal democratic forces is only the latest in this emerging trend. Perhaps it is too early to speak of a trend, but the events of recent years in the number of former Soviet countries give cause for optimism.
Several societies in the post-Soviet space have seen a series of events in recent years that can be described as “electoral revolutions”. Indeed, in 2018 and 2021 in Armenia, 2019 in Ukraine, 2020 in Moldova and right now, the liberal democratic forces were able to win their national elections and defeat the old and corrupt regimes.
The mass protests known as the Velvet Revolution in Armenia in spring 2018 resulted in the semi-authoritarian and corrupt regime of Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan being replaced by the united democratic anti-corruption forces led by Nikol Pashinyan.
In the recent early parliamentary elections, held on June 20, 2021 and due to a political crisis caused by Armenia’s defeat in the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in 2020, Civil contract again received the majority of the votes. The Armenians once again supported the liberal democratic forces, clearly showing their support for an open and participatory political order and the continuation of the reforms aimed at democratic consolidation and the rule of law.
The electoral revolution in Ukraine in the 2019 presidential and early parliamentary elections resulted in an overwhelming victory for a total newbie in politics Volodymyr Zelenskiy and his party. Servant of the peoplewho convincingly defeated the corrupt old political elite, who had no interest in the profound political and economic reform that removed the barriers to consolidated democracy and the rule of law.
All these events took place in the countries of the former Soviet Union, which, unlike the majority of post-Soviet societies such as Russia, Belarus or countries in Central Asia, did not revert to authoritarianism or even totalitarianism.
These societies were stuck in the limbo of semi-authoritarian, semi-democratic, corrupt hybrid regimes. Such mixed regimes, also called competitive authoritarianism, combine features of democracy and authoritarianism. They seriously lack the rule of law and strong democratic institutions as the most important prerequisites for consolidated democracy. However, such regimes tolerate competition for political office, and elections take place regularly.
In these regimes, the incumbents, who usually represent the old corrupt elites, use a variety of techniques to create an uneven playing field to ensure their re-election. Techniques include exploiting administrative resources, controlling the major media, harassing opposition and civil society, and even falsifying election results. This enables the political leadership to defeat the opposition and civil society forces and stay in power. But that’s not always the case.
Unlike in the consolidated authoritarian regimes, the opposition forces can defeat the ruling regimes under certain circumstances. That happened from the 1980s through the 2010s in the former communist countries and beyond, and has been known as color revolutions. The Yellow Revolution in the Philippines in 1986, the Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2003 or the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004 are just a few examples of such movements.
However, many observers have noted that over the past decade the tendencies towards democratic relapse have also become evident in consolidated democracies and the rise of authoritarianism around the world. Some even argue that the growing support for authoritarianism and illiberal order comes not only from corrupt elites, but also from common people, especially in post-communist Europe.
Nonetheless, the recent electoral revolutions described above may prove to be excessive. Such an optimistic outlook is also based on the fact that the mass protests of the last two years have taken place not only in semi-democratic regimes, but even in consolidated autocracies such as Belarus or in totalitarian regimes such as Iran or China (Hong Kong). Tolerate illiberal and corrupt regimes more.
This is evident even in communist Cuba, where protests began on July 11, 2021 dictatorship. The protesters shouted “We are not afraid” and “Freedom”. The government‘s sluggish response put people at ease for the time being, but the possible outcome of these protests is still unclear as their causes have not been addressed.
But one thing is clear: the global fight for freedom is far from over. Hopefully today we see the emerging new wave of democratization across the world.
* Oleg Chupryna, PhD student, John & Pat Hume Doctoral Scholar, Department of Sociology, Center for European and Eurasian Studies, Maynooth University