Half of democratic governments around the world are in decline, undermined by problems ranging from restrictions on freedom of expression to distrust in the legitimacy of elections, according to a new report by the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA).
“The number of backsliding countries—those with the most severe democratic erosion—is at its peak and includes the established democracy of the United States, which still faces problems of political polarization, institutional dysfunction, and threats to civil liberties,” the IDEA report said.
The report “The Global State of Democracy Report 2022 – Forging Social Contracts in a Time of Discontent” also noted that the number of countries moving toward authoritarianism is more than double the number moving toward democracy. It also mentioned troubling patterns even in countries performing at middle to high levels of democratic standards. Progress has stalled across the Global State of Democracy Indices (GSoD Indices) over the last five years. In many cases, democratic performances are no better than they were in 1990.
Global democracy’s decline includes undermining of credible elections 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 polarized politics.
The GSoD indices show that authoritarian regimes have deepened their repression, with 2021 being the worst year on record. More than two-thirds of the world’s population now live in backsliding democracies or authoritarian and hybrid regimes. Still, there are signs of progress. People are coming together in innovative ways to renegotiate terms of social contracts, pushing their governments to meet 21st century demands, from creating community-based childcare in Asia to reproductive freedoms in Latin America. People are successfully organizing themselves outside traditional party structures, especially youth, from climate protests to Indigenous rights. New constitutions and laws are aiming to lift the voices of marginalised groups. In the streets of Iran, young protesters brave their lives to press for basic freedoms.
“The world faces a multitude of crises, from the cost of living to risks of nuclear confrontation and the acceleration of the climate crisis. At the same time, we see global democracy in decline. It is a toxic mix”, said International IDEA Secretary-General Kevin Casas-Zamora. “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.”
OTHER KEY FINDINGS:
- As of the end 2021, half of the 173 countries assessed by International IDEA are experiencing declines in at least one subattribute of democracy.
- In Europe, almost half of all democracies—a total of 17 countries– have suffered erosion in the last five years. These declines affect 46 per cent of the high-performing democracies.
- Authoritarianism continues to deepen. Almost half of all authoritarian regimes have worsened. Afghanistan, Belarus, Cambodia, Comoros and Nicaragua have experienced a broad decline.
- Democracy does not appear to be evolving in a way that reflects quickly changing needs and priorities. There is little improvement, even in democracies that are performing at mid-range or high levels.
ASIA AND THE PACIFIC
- Democracy is receding in Asia and the Pacific, while authoritarianism solidifies. Only 54 per cent of people in the region live in a democracy, and almost 85 per cent of those live in one that is weak or backsliding. Even high- and mid-performing democracies such as Australia, Japan and Taiwan are suffering democratic erosion.
AFRICA AND THE MIDDLE EAST
- Despite myriad challenges, Africa remains resilient in the face of instability. Countries including The Gambia, Niger and Zambia are improving in democratic quality. Overcoming a restricted civic space, civic action in several countries has created opportunities to renegotiate the social contract; outcomes have varied by country.
- In Western Asia, more than a decade after the Arab Spring, protest movements continue to be motivated by government failures in service delivery and economic opportunities—key aspects of social contracts.
- Three out of seven backsliding democracies are in the Americas, pointing to weakening institutions even in longstanding democracies.
- Democracies are struggling to effectively bring balance to environments marked by instability and anxiety, and populists continue to gain ground as democratic innovation and growth stagnate or decline.
- In the USA, threats to democracy persist after the Trump presidency, illustrated by Congress’s political paralysis, counter-majoritarianism and the rolling back of long-established rights.
- Although democracy remains the dominant form of government in Europe, the quality of democracy has been stagnant or in decline across many countries.
- Nearly half of the democracies—a total of 17 countries—in Europe have suffered erosion in the last five years. These declines affect 46 per cent of the high-performing democracies.
The Report recommended a series of policy actions to bolster global democratic renewal by embracing more equitable and sustainable social contracts, reforming existing political institutions, and shoring up defenses against democratic backsliding and authoritarianism.