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Populism – The corrupting of democracy

 Cynicism is gnawing at Western democracies.

Aug.31.– Democracies are generally thought to die at the barrel of a gun, in coups and revolutions. These days, however, they are more likely to be strangled slowly in the name of the people.

Take Hungary, where Fidesz, the ruling party, has used its parliamentary majority to capture regulators, dominate business, control the courts, buy the media and manipulate the rules for elections. As our briefing explains, the prime minister, Viktor OrbanViktor Orban, does not have to break the law, because he can get parliament to change it instead. He does not need secret police to take his enemies away in the night. They can be cut down to size without violence, by the tame press or the taxman. In form, Hungary is a thriving democracy; in spirit, it is a one-party state.

The forces at work in Hungary are eating away at other 21st-century polities, too. This is happening not just in young democracies like Poland, where the Law and Justice party has set out to mimic Fidesz, but even the longest-standing ones like Britain and the United States. These old-established polities are not about to become one-party states, but they are already showing signs of decay. Once the rot sets in, it is formidably hard to stop.

At the heart of the degradation of Hungarian democracy is cynicism. After the head of a socialist government popularly seen as corrupt admitted that he had lied to the electorate in 2006, voters learned to assume the worst of their politicians. Mr Orban has enthusiastically exploited this tendency ...

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