How to Resist Democratic Backsliding
Laura Gamboa makes bold claims in a new book on democratic backsliding. The past few years have seen an explosion in the number of books on democratic decline and breakdown. Scholars have already made the obvious insights. Most intellectuals now realize democracy is in decline around the world. So, it takes real imagination for new scholars to make a contribution to the literature on democratic backsliding. But Gamboa does just that through a reorientation of the focus away from those in power and towards the opposition. She gives us new ways to think about the resources of the political opposition and the strategies available to them.
According to Gamboa, we must first recognize “the erosion of democracy happens over time.” The election of an aspiring autocrat does not mean the breakdown of democracy or its institutions. Indeed, time itself becomes an important resource. So, the goal of the opposition is not to overthrow an aspiring autocrat, but to preserve democratic institutions for as long as possible. In contrast, she offers case studies like Venezuela and Turkey where the opposition became impatient and attempted to use undemocratic means to preserve democracy. The failed attempts accelerated the pace of democratic erosion.
On the other hand, Gamboa refers to Colombia as an example where the opposition preserved its democracy. They used strategies designed to preserve democratic institutions rather than to oust the President. Moreover, their efforts had a significant payoff when the Constitutional Court ruled against Uribe’s efforts for a third Presidential term. It’s a fascinating approach that sheds light on the idea of democratic backsliding. At the same time, it’s still an academic book rather than a field manual for activists. But it raises important questions for both theorists and strategists to consider during the democratic recession.