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Please Advise! What’s Your Pick for World’s Worst Democracy?

The ancient Greeks would not feel great about these twisted systems.

By Steve Burgess 29 May 2019 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess writes about politics and culture for The Tyee. Find his previous articles here.

[Editor’s note: Steve Burgess is an accredited spin doctor with a PhD in Centrifugal Rhetoric from the University of SASE, situated on the lovely campus of PO Box 7650, Cayman Islands. In this space he dispenses PR advice to politicians, the rich and famous, the troubled and well-heeled, the wealthy and gullible.]

Dear Dr. Steve,

Democracy has a lot to answer for these days. So many elected governments seem determined to burn their bridges behind them. Which country do you think has the world’s worst democratically elected leader?



Dear Voter,

Let’s find out! Below, in ascending order — or descending — is Dr. Steve’s Ballot Box Bummers, the Electoral Bottom 10:

10. India

It’s the biggest, baddest democracy in the world. Or maybe not the baddest, but top 10 anyway. Prime Minister Narendra Modi just won re-election by playing some old, familiar tunes. Modi has both stoked and taken advantage of an ugly brand of Hindu nationalism that feeds hatred and fear of Muslims and of neighbouring Pakistan. Hard-core Modi supporters consider Mahatma Ghandi a traitor to the Hindu cause for being too cozy with Muslims. Say this much for Trump, he has yet to proclaim Lincoln was a pushover on slavery (although maybe Ivanka deleted that paragraph from the State of the Union).

9. Louisiana

The “Worst U.S. State Government” category might be a top 10 all its own. Thanks to the tax cuts of former governer Sam Brownback, Kansas could probably change its license plate slogan to “The Train-Wreck State”; Tennessee is trying to criminalize voter registration; Alabama and Georgia have been leading the charge into hypocritical theocracy with their recent anti-abortion laws; and Florida is so very, very Floridian. But in a competition tougher than a one-armed ‘gator wrangler, it’s only fitting Louisiana should come out the winner.

It tops numerous surveys of worst run U.S. states in terms of financial mismanagement, poor health care, and inadequate services. And when it comes to corruption, the Louisiana bayous will be drained before that stinking swamp in Baton Rouge. But what about those Georgia and Alabama anti-abortion laws? Hold their gin fizz — Louisiana is not to be worsted so easily. It has produced its own retrograde anti-abortion law, and with a Democratic governor no less. Game, set and national crap-ionship to the Bayou State.

8. Poland

Jaroslaw Kaczynski doesn’t usually get the same attention as fellow autocrats Vladimir Putin, Viktor Orban of Hungary, and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, perhaps because he lacks any fancy official title, or perhaps because he doesn’t look great with his shirt off. But the leader of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party is another champion of illiberal democracy.

Widely considered the power behind the throne — Tywin Lannister to President Andrzej Duda’s King Tommen — Kaczynski recently suggested that gay rights are a foreign plague and that everyone must be down with Christianity. Kaczynski and his late brother Lech were the key forces moving Poland along the increasingly well-worn path to electoral authoritarianism. So remember kids, it’s not about high offices and fancy titles. The real treasure is the rights you destroy along the way.

7. United Kingdom

Democracy is empowering. Yet to live in a democracy is often to feel powerless and terrified, convinced that a majority (or at least a plurality) of your fellow citizens are demented, hateful, suicidal, or completely insane, and you are captive to their weaponized idiocy. Welcome to the U.K. in the Brexit era.

The British Brexit experience is another reminder the road to hell is often paved with referendums. In theory, affirmations of people power; in practice, frequently a sad reminder of why we elect representatives, ideally people capable of distinguishing asses from elbows.

Whatever else the bubbling British shit soufflé might prove, it does show the timeless appeal of power. Why else would Conservative candidates line up to replace the departing Theresa May as Prime Minister? Free milkshakes? It’s like staring up at the exploding Hindenburg and shouting “OH, THE JOB OPPORTUNITY!”

6. Austria

You know how you get elected and then some stuff happens, like with Russia and stuff, and your entire cabinet is forced to resign in disgrace? Like, everybody? Awkward, right? But it’s so not fair because all the other democratic governments are messing around with Russia too and besides what about immigration and crime and everything? Isn’t that more important than key members of the governing coalition being caught trying to sell themselves body and soul to Russian oligarchs and, it must be noted, failing at even that elementary exercise in basic 21st-century corruption? So unfair.

5. Turkey

Is there anything sweeter than a failed coup? Not if you are Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. An attempt to topple him in July 2016 gave Erdogan, already well on the way to consolidating his authoritarian power, carte blanche to crack down harder. It’s almost enough to make a person origami themselves a tinfoil hat and join the conspiracy brigades. But even before the coup, Erdogan was steadily chipping away at Turkey’s cherished secular tradition. His goons once arrested a 16-year-old for criticizing the government. Nor does Erdogan restrict his bullying to his home turf — his bodyguards apparently roughed up some U.S. reporters and protesters, and he pressured German authorities into investigating and censuring a satirist who mocked him. Thin-skinned, thuggish, opposed to feminism and birth control, Erdogan has been setting an example for his fellow democratic douches for years. An inspiration.

4. Hungary

Viktor Orban is a strongman’s strongman. Unlike some of the more timid exponents of Fascism Lite, Orban is willing to go right back to the original playbook. Orban routinely blames everything on the Jews, chiefly Hungarian billionaire George Soros. He closed his borders to the refugees streaming north from Syria in 2015, erected barbed wire and stationed troops. Orban even managed to get his Fidesz party suspended by Europe’s centre-right coalition in the EU parliament after launching a typical anti-Semitic smear campaign. Domestically he has weakened the courts and the rule of law. Steve Bannon once called Orban “Trump before Trump.” High praise for any tin-pot tyrant.

3. Russia

Here we run into an issue with the Dr. Steve Official Bottom 10 — just what qualifies as a democracy? North Korea calls itself the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, but that nonsense doesn’t get them onto this exclusive list. What about Russia then? Their elections are as free and fair as that time in Grade 6 when Puggy Lumphauser held a schoolyard referendum on whether you should hand over your lunch money and wear your underpants as a hat. Still, Dr. Steve has ruled Russia in for a couple of reasons — one, because they were in fact having real elections in the Boris Yeltsin era; and two, because the current Putin-corrupted system has really become something of a global template for Russian democratic cluster-fucking. It’s tomorrow’s corrupt democracy, today!

2. United States

Isn’t Trump the very worst? Shouldn’t he be wearing the Clown Crown, sitting atop this pungent pile of electoral excrement? Certainly he is the most prominent of all these two-bit Napoleons. There is a magnification factor that comes with Oval Office occupancy. Full many a pissant despot is fated to take power unseen in some backwater republic and waste his foulness on the boon-dock air, while the malignant President of the United States proudly struts his boobery on the big stage.

But making Trump number one on this list would make him too happy. Anoint him the biggest, the most amazing, the most incredible fuck-up ever to bumble his way to victory? No, we must deny him that distinction. Besides, there is another who has truly earned it.

1. The Philippines

Not as powerful as Trump, and thus not as dangerous. But in terms of sheer despicableness there is no electoral champion to match Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Trump famously said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue without losing his core supporters. Duterte has actually boasted publicly about personally murdering people, and once claimed that his fondest ambition was to kill as many people as Hitler. It would all be just so much bluster were it not for Duterte’s murder squads that roam the streets executing not just drug dealers but drug users as well.

Duterte illustrates another quality essential to this list — popularity. Trump’s approval rating may still be appallingly high, but a majority of Americans do tell pollsters that they will never vote for him in 2020. Meanwhile the Philippines’ junior Fuhrer remains massively popular. It’s a handy reminder that when it comes to democracy, bad leaders are not the disease — they’re just the symptom.

Apologies to Japan, Romania, Israel, the EU Parliament, and Ontario. Competition was pretty tough this year. Maybe if there’s a next time.  [Tyee]

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