More countries are moving towards authoritarianism as democracy erodes worldwide, according to a new report by an intergovernmental organisation, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA).
The Stockholm-based watchdog said half of the world’s democracies are in a state of decline amid worsening civil liberties and rule of law, while already authoritarian governments are becoming more oppressive.
It said this decline comes as elected leaders face unprecedented challenges ranging from the COVID-19 pandemic to Russia’s war in Ukraine, the cost of living crises, a looming global recession, and climate change.
The ‘Global State of Democracy 2022’ report showed that the number of countries with the most severe democratic erosion is at its peak and includes established democracies like India and the United States.
And there are troubling patterns even in countries performing at middle to high levels of democratic standards.
Threats to democracy
The decline of global democracy includes the undermining of credible election results, restrictions on online freedoms and rights, youth disillusionment with political parties, as well as out-of-touch leaders, intractable corruption, and the rise of extreme right parties that has polarised politics.
The International IDEA’s Secretary General, Kevin Casas-Zamora, said however that Europe is doing well in general, while countries like Slovenia and Moldova have made remarkable progress recently.
However, democratic standards in Europe have tended to plateau, meaning progress is still possible but is not always achieved. This can lead to some disillusioned citizens seeking other ways to fulfil their expectations:
“That dissatisfaction manifests itself in very strident political attitudes that often scapegoat parts of the population, and embrace particularly the message of far-right parties,” he said.
Casas-Zamora encouraged defending things that embody democratic societies, such as the free press, fair elections, and checks and balances, and argued that societies need to continue to expand and renew democracy, through initiatives like citizens’ assemblies or youth activism.
“Never has there been such an urgency for democracies to respond, to show their citizens that they can forge new, innovative social contracts that bind people together rather than divide them,” he said.
Some bright spots
Despite the negative picture, there are many examples of resilience across the world where democracy is absent or under threat.
Ukrainians have been resisting Russia’s war of aggression, Iranian women are fighting against the country’s theocratic dictatorship, and in China, citizens are protesting against the government’s zero COVID policy.
The report insists vigilance must prevail, as the global state of democracy remains fragile and in many countries, democratic performance is no better than it was in 1990.