Democracies Going the Authoritarian Way

Freedom of Expression Under Attack in Asia- Pacific

The world is becoming more authoritarian as autocratic regimes become even more brazen in their repression and several democratic governments, including established democracies, are increasingly adopting authoritarian tactics by restricting free speech and weakening the rule of law, according to the latest findings of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA).

The new report “The Global State of Democracy Report 2021 – Building Resilience in a Pandemic Era” pointed out that increased authoritarian tactics is a trend exacerbated by the Covid19 pandemic. The report comes ahead of US President Joe Biden’s Summit for Democracy on December 9-10, when about 100 countries gather to discuss the challenges facing democracy

In the forward to the report, Former Chief Election Commissioner of India Dr S Y Quraishi said that the global urge for democratic governance remained strong. However, the pandemic has emboldened several governments to double down on popular expression, and push for more direct control, he added

International IDEA Secretary-General Kevin Casas-Zamora said: “the political flaws and social fault lines revealed by the pandemic will drive more people towards populist and authoritarian leaders that seldom deliver durable solutions for the concerns of citizens.”

“If there is one key message in this Report, it is that this is the time for democracies to be bold, to innovate and revitalize themselves.” said Kevin Casas-Zamora.

The analysis and accompanying report, based on a robust methodology and a broad, multidimensional understanding of democracy, offers a critical assessment of the global context and seeks to galvanize the countries of the world to strive for better governance.

KEY FINDINGS

Challenges

  • The number of countries moving in an authoritarian direction in 2020 outnumbered those going in a democratic direction
  • Democratically elected governments, including established democracies, are increasingly adopting authoritarian tactics
  • Some of the most worrying examples of backsliding are found in some of the world’s largest countries (Brazil, India).
  • The United States and three members of the European Union (EU) (Hungary, Poland and Slovenia, which holds the chair of the EU in 2021) have also seen concerning democratic declines.
  • Authoritarianism is deepening in non-democratic regimes. The year 2020 was the worst on record, in terms of the number of countries affected by deepening autocratisation
  • Electoral integrity is increasingly questioned often without evidence even in established democracies.

Opportunities

  • Several democracies around the world have proved resilient to the pandemic by introducing or expanding democratic innovations and adapting their practices and institutions in record time.
  • Several countries learned to hold elections in exceedingly difficult conditions, and they rapidly 5activated special voting arrangements to allow citizens to continue exercising their democratic rights
  • Throughout 2020 and 2021, pro-democracy movements have braved repression in many places such as Belarus, Cuba, Eswatini, Hong Kong and Myanmar.
  • Some countries continued to make headway in their democratisation processes. In Zambia, the opposition leader sailed to victory in August 2021 despite the incumbent party’s strong arm tactics.
  • Signs of the private sector taking on democratic rights issues, such as over the treatment of Uighurs in China
AGENDA

In the report, the International IDEA has come up with three fold agenda (deliver rebuild and prevent) for curbing the rise of authoritarianism and reversing this course

Deliver: Government institutions in close consultation with civil society, should take the lead in re-crafting social contracts. These contracts should be based on inclusive societal deliberation that sheds light on the gaps between what people require to meet their aspirations and what governments can currently provide

Rebuild: Government institutions, political parties electoral management bodies and media should update practices in established democracies, build democratic capacity in new democracies, and protect electoral integrity, fundamental freedoms and rights, and the checks and balances essential to thriving and resilient democratic systems

Prevent: Government institutions, along with civil society and the media, must prevent rising authoritarianism and democratic backsliding by investing in democracy education at all levels of schooling

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