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How authoritarian forces across globe use electoral means to capture power

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak* 

In electoral democracies, periodic elections conducted according to constitutional provisions serve as essential tools for deepening of democratic consciousness and ensure people’s governance. These elections aim to humanise power and establish a state and government that prioritises the well-being of both people and the planet.
However, there is a concerning trends in recent years where authoritarian, undemocratic, and reactionary forces use electoral means to capture state power. These forces often pursue interests that conflict with those of the working population, undermining the principles of democracy in various countries.
These alarming anti-democratic developments highlight a significant issue: elections alone are necessary but insufficient in cultivating a secular, scientific, and democratic consciousness among the populace.
Despite the regular occurrence of elections, many societies struggle to instil these fundamental values in their citizens. The failure to foster a more informed and democratically engaged citizenry allows anti-democratic elements to exploit the electoral system, posing a threat to the core ideals of democratic governance.
People across the globe continue to cast their votes based on narrow silos of religion, race, regional affiliation, caste, and other immediate, assigned, majoritarian, dominant, and reactionary identities. This tendency to vote along these lines often leads to a fragmented and polarised electorate, which undermines the broader goals of democratic governance.
Voting driven by such narrowly assigned affiliations prevent individuals from considering the larger societal implications of their electoral choices. It contributes to the perpetuation of social divisions and hinder the development of policies that address the needs of the broader population. When voters prioritise their immediate identity group over the common good, it becomes challenging to build inclusive and equitable societies.
Political parties, interest groups, propagandists and lobbyists often exploit fragmented and polarised electorates to mobilise the masses in pursuit of their own agendas. These entities manipulate divisions based on nationality, religion, race, caste, and regional affiliations to garner support and advance their specific goals.
This strategy is highly effective in rallying segments of the population during elections to capture state power at the cost of deepening societal divides. By appealing to narrow dominant identity-based interests, these groups can distract from real issues that affect the collective well-being of the entire population.
The tactics of populist mobilisation based on dominant and narrow identities often lead to the prioritisation of divisive policies that reinforce existing inequalities and hinder the development of inclusive and equitable societies.
The use of dominant identity politics can also undermine democratic processes by shifting the focus away from policy discussions and towards emotional and majoritarian identity-driven rhetoric. This can result in voters making decisions based on fear, prejudice, or loyalty to their identity group rather than on a rational assessment of policies and their potential impact on society as a whole.
The rise of fraudulent propaganda, disinformation campaigns, anti-minority and anti-migrant hate speeches, and targeted advertisements by political leaders and media outlets threaten the very foundation of electoral democracy by manipulating elections.
This manipulation undermines the integrity of the democratic process, eroding public trust in the fairness and transparency of elections. Disinformation campaigns spread false or misleading information, which can confuse voters and skew their perceptions of candidates and issues.
Anti-working classes, anti-women, anti-minority and anti-migrant rhetoric fosters division and prejudice, marginalising vulnerable communities and inciting social unrest. Targeted advertisements, often fuelled by data analytics and social media algorithms, can micro-target specific voter groups with tailored messages that reinforce biases and polarise opinions.
These tactics not only distort the electoral landscape but also create an environment where informed decision-making is compromised. As a result, elections have failed as a tool to foster democratic consciousness among people and deepen the democratic practice of governance.
Use of identity politics undermines democratic processes by shifting focus away from policy discussions towards emotional, majoritarian rhetoric
Political participation grounded in progressive, democratic, secular and scientific consciousness is crucial for determining the quality of an electoral democracy. When citizens engage in the electoral process with these values in mind, it enhances the functioning and integrity of democratic systems.
However, the weakening of such participation due to reactionary dominant or minorities forms of mobilisation poses a significant threat to democracy as a practice. When political engagement is driven by narrow identity-based appeals or manipulated by powerful political groups and parties, it undermines the foundational principles of democratic governance.
This type of mobilisation can lead to a less informed and more polarised electorate, where decisions are made based on immediate affiliations rather than on a rational evaluation of policies and their broader societal impact.
Dominant and reactionary electoral mobilisation often involves leveraging societal divisions -- such as those based on nationality, religion, race, caste, and region -- to rally support. While this can be effective in the short term, it risks entrenching existing inequalities and perpetuating divisive politics. Over time, such practices can erode public trust in democratic institutions and processes, making it harder to achieve inclusive and equitable governance.
To safeguard people’s democracy, it is essential to promote and sustain political participation that is informed by progressive, democratic, secular, and scientific principles. This involves not only encouraging citizens to vote but also fostering a political culture that values critical thinking, inclusivity, and evidence-based decision-making.
Accountability, transparency, and rule of law can help in restoring faith in electoral democracy and uphold its core constitutional principles in defence of people and the planet. Civic education also plays a key role in this, equipping individuals with the knowledge, skills and democratic consciousness needed to participate meaningfully in the democratic processes to strengthen democracy in practice.
*University of Glasgow, UK



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