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September 20, 2017

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As voters eschew the establishment, trust in democracy plummets

Indonesia -- Can voters under democratic systems be trusted these days? That's the most pertinent question we should ask today as voters in country after country are turning their backs on what we consider to be established values and norms in democracies, such as greater prosperity, protection of human rights and peace.

Faced with the prospect of greater economic integration through globalization, voters in the U.K. chose to sever ties with the EU and went their separate ways through Brexit. In the U.S., the same sentiment paved the way for the rise of a racist demagogue like Donald Trump. In Germany, the progressive stance of Chancellor Angela Merkel on the refugee problem has been met with a rebuke from voters, with electorates choosing the bandwagon of right wing political party Alternative fur Deutschland. In neighboring Hungary, nearly 98 percent of those who voted in a referendum rejected the EU proposal to allow more refugees to settle in the country.

'A pathology to democracy'

The latest blow to the ideals of democracy came from Colombia, where more than 50 percent of voters rejected a peace deal that had been negotiated for four years by the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos and the Marxist rebel group FARC. We can still argue about the merit of voters saying no to a trade deal that they believe could ship jobs overseas (e.g. Trump's fascination with China), but it is beyond comprehension to see voters rejecting a peace deal that could prevent deaths and further destruction from conflict.

Beyond the obvious question of why prime ministers and presidents today have the penchant to hold a referendum, (which is redundant in a system of representative democracy), the nagging question is what brings voters to challenge the political establishment and embrace populism, something that many considered "a pathology to democracy" and one considered "the paranoid style of politics." What could explain the rise of "Make America Great Again" or the nativist appeal of a politician like Viktor Orban of Hungary?

Many have pointed to socioeconomic causes of populism, that those who lose under globalization are more xenophobic as they believe foreigners in their midst will take away jobs. (Trump's wall against Mexico again comes to mind). The key to the rise of populism can also be found in politics.

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