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How the Jan. 6 insurrection has affected democracy globally

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

President Biden issued a stark warning this week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We must, in this moment, dig deep within ourselves and recognize that we can't take democracy for granted any longer.

FADEL: He spoke just blocks from the U.S. Capitol, where a mob sought to overturn the 2020 election results. Did the January 6 attack have ripple effects on other democracies around the world? For more, we turn to Freedom House executive vice president Nicole Bibbins Sedaca.

Good morning, Nicole.

NICOLE BIBBINS SEDACA: Good morning.

FADEL: OK. So we just heard President Biden with that warning. And he said the number of candidates running for elected office who are repeating the false claim that the election wasn't legitimate is hurting this country's democracy. So what does repeating that lie when thousands of officials and dozens of courts found there was no widespread fraud do to the public's faith in voting and democracy, especially as we head into the midterms next week?

BIBBINS SEDACA: We are concerned about those who continue to repeat the lie that the 2020 election was not free and fair. What we know is that it was and that there were challenges to the election that went through a democratic process...

FADEL: Right.

BIBBINS SEDACA: ...Over 60 court cases. And all of them showed that it was a free and fair election. Those who choose to deny the election and those who choose to talk about that and sow seeds of doubt are really undermining our system. And it's something which hurts all of us as Americans. We have to have strong institutions that we have trust in and be willing and able to trust the results that come out of those elections.

FADEL: What are the ripple effects beyond the U.S.? When you look at the world, what's happening in the U.S., how is it influencing what you're seeing in other democracies?

BIBBINS SEDACA: Absolutely. The United States is a strong democracy. We have a vibrant civil society. We have strong institutions. And many countries around the world have looked to us as an example. But we also know that they look to us when we have weaknesses in our democracy, and sometimes we see similar behavior in other countries that model some of those challenges we have. Brazil just had an election.

FADEL: Right.

BIBBINS SEDACA: One of the challenges which we saw there was, leading up to the election, there was a significant amount of concern - there was a significant amount of individuals who were saying that the election wasn't free and fair before the election took place, something we're also seeing in the United States. That's the type of modeling that we're concerned about. At the end of the day, the decision is obviously in the hands of the people and in the hands of the leaders of other countries. But we know that what happens in the United States is not only important for Americans and our ability to experience freedom here, but also for how we're modeling and how we're able to engage around the world, both to advance our interests and to support other people who are seeking democracy in their countries.

FADEL: Right. And that election in Brazil - Jair Bolsonaro so far hasn't conceded and is saying only God could remove him from office. But when you look across continents, and there's been a rise in authoritarian leaders being elected in democracies, besides the U.S. influence or the ripple effects there, what's driving the trend?

BIBBINS SEDACA: We've seen a number of problematic trends around the world. Authoritarian leaders recognize that democracy is a threat. And they are looking for ways across the board, whether they - whether it's the extreme cases that we see in Russia and Ukraine, where they are invading democratic countries or whether we see in China or Saudi Arabia, where they're closing the space for journalists and civil societies - there is an absolute front on democracy around the world because authoritarians know that if they had to put themselves up to political decisions to their citizens, they would likely lose their power. But we also see challenges within existing mature democracies.

FADEL: Right.

BIBBINS SEDACA: You see populist leaders who have come to power through democratic means. And, you know, populist leaders - rather than responding to the concerns that they tap into in their societies, rather than creating good public policy, what they quite often do is sow further divisions in their country, undermine institutions and erode the very democracy that got them elected. And we see those trends happening in many places around the world.

FADEL: In the few seconds we have left, when you think about these mature democracies where autocratic leaders are coming to power through votes, what do you see as the biggest threat to freedom?

BIBBINS SEDACA: We see democratic governance as a challenge. You know, there's a lot of focus on elections themselves. But what we have to remember is democracy is a work in progress every single day. And each of us has the responsibility and the opportunity to shepherd that democracy. What that means is we cannot demonize those who are on the other side simply because they have differing views. We can't undermine our institutions. We can't censor media at worse or have a smaller space for others to exercise their free speech.

FADEL: That's Freedom House executive vice president Nicole Bibbins Sedaca. Thank you so much.

BIBBINS SEDACA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.