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A protester wearing a Romanian flag holds a wooden cross reading 'PSD [the country's ruling party] Mafia' during a protest against government corruption in Bucharest on February 25, 2018.DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

On one hand, this has been a bad year for democracy. On Monday, Egypt’s 96 million citizens learned that their presidential “election” had been won by Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. After having arrested or threatened every real opposition candidate, he captured 97 per cent of the vote – a margin that places him squarely in the tradition of Egyptian dictators, and erases any vestige of the 2011 democracy uprisings.

Three weeks ago, 144 million Russians experienced the same humiliation, as President Vladimir Putin won his fourth presidential “election,” telescoping his office to 24 years, after having outlawed or eliminated any viable opposition candidates or democracy movements. This year’s edition of the Economist’s Democracy Index finds that 89 of the 167 countries analyzed have seen their level of democracy slip, the steepest fall in many years.

On the other hand, this may be remembered as a moment when many people began to regain control of their countries. If the cover photo of 2018 is a democracy-eroding strongman, the feature story involves a huge crowd of protesters seizing back the reins. It’s people power in the darkest hour.

Look at Slovakia. In February, its five million people learned that investigative journalist Jan Kuciak had died in a gangland-style murder shortly after writing a report on the Italian Mafia’s ties to the country’s corruption-riddled government. Slovaks had had enough. After tens of thousands of people had filled the streets for a month, Prime Minister Robert Fico handed in his resignation on March 15.

This was not a complete victory: One of Mr. Fico’s cronies was appointed acting PM, and few think the corruption is even close to cured. But the protests are continuing, and there’s no way Mr. Fico’s dominant Smer party can continue as it had before. And, fortunately, almost no role in the protests was played by Slovakia’s opposition parties, whose politics are either outright fascist, ultra-nationalist or xenophobic – this was purely a movement to bring democratic accountability to the governing party, without throwing away the country’s gains.

“For the younger generation, this has been a month of accelerated history and instruction in politics,” the Slovak writer Samuel Abraham observed. “The people who turned out are no longer willing to accept hollow promises or to be afraid of politicians’ threats. That gives us real hope after 30 dramatic days that shook Slovakia.”

Look at South Korea. This week, South Koreans watched the televised launch of the sentencing trial of former President Park Guen-hye. Her impeachment was confirmed by the courts last March in the wake of the “Candlelight Revolution,” in which millions of people took to the streets in months of protest against Ms. Park’s disdain for democratic institutions and her bribery and embezzlement links to some of South Korea’s largest corporations.

The protests, between early November, 2016, and March, 2017, rivaled the vast 1980s rallies that brought democracy to South Korea, and would have been one of the world’s major news events if they hadn’t coincided with less encouraging developments in the United States.

They were enormously successful: Last spring’s election delivered a strong mandate to Democratic Party reformer and human-rights lawyer Moon Jae-in, who this year, as his country hosted the Winter Olympics, was praised for beginning to deliver a more transparent government and deftly handling the difficult relationships with North Korea and the United States. He may be a more principled figure, but he also knows that millions of South Korean voters will grind their country to a halt if he doesn’t deliver.

Look at Romania. The past couple months have seen hundreds of thousands of people filling the streets of Bucharest to demand a return of democratic institutions after the ruling Social Democratic Party tried to strip courts and anti-corruption agencies of their powers (an attack on rule of law similar to those successfully carried out in Poland and Hungary). The huge protests of 2017 were successful in halting the attempts by Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu to limit corruption probes; they have also led to his resignation and those of two other Prime Ministers.

Or look at Ukraine, or Gambia, where mass popular uprisings have put a stop to authoritarian strongmen and succeeded in restoring at least some semblance of full-scale democracy.

As we bristle at the autocrats of 2018, we ought to give as much support as we can to the millions of people who are taking risks by doing something to stop them.

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