The State of Democracy around the World - Seeker's Thoughts

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The State of Democracy around the World

Democracy is not so much a stable political system as a work in permanent progress. It takes decades, even centuries, to embed in a society- but, even then, it is never settled and never totally secure. 


Indeed the distinction between democratic countries and non- democratic countries is a blurred one and it is better to see nations on a spectrum from fully democratic to outright authoritarian. Position on that spectrum can and do changed, sometimes for good or bad- very rapidly.

Several countries attempted democratic forms, such as Russia, South Africa, Afghanistan and Iraq. What is much less well understood is that even the older democracies are facing serious challenges which, in some cases, amount to a crisis. Unfortunately this is the case many of the nations of Europe and much of the remainder of the developed world including the United States.



What is democracy?

Transparency in political processes, accountability of elected representatives, basic freedoms for all citizens, equal rights for women and minorities and high rates of voter participation are main factors for popularity of democratic system.

The world saw a huge wave of democratization after World War II. The newly-liberated states in Latin America, Africa and Asia adopted democratic forms of government after centuries of colonial subjugation. Today more people live under various forms of democracy than ever before.

More than 120 of the 192 countries in the world have some form of democracy in contrast to only 11 parliamentary democracies existed in 1941. This indicates the appeal of democratic ideas and systems.

Democracy is considered to be in waves, as it grew and reduced. This can be understood as given following-
First wave - The first wave is considered to be from 1922 to 1942 during which the number of democracy was at peak and then reduced to 12.
The first wave began in the early 19th century across North America and Western Europe in outcome of the American and French revolutions
The First wave of democracy began in the early 19th century when suffrage was granted to the majority of white males in the United States.
This continued until 1922, when Benito Mussolini rose to power in Italy.

Second wave – This started after World War II to 1970’s. 
The Second wave began following the allied victory in World War II, and crested nearly 20 years later in 1962 with 36 recognized democracies in the world. In mid1970’s again democracies reduced in number and there remained 30 democratic countries.

Third Wave-The Third wave began in 1974 and included the historic democratic transitions in Latin (Southern) America in the 1980s, Asia Pacific countries and regions (Philippines, South Korea, and Taiwan) from 1986 to 1988, Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and sub-Saharan Africa beginning in 1989.

Fourth wave- In the 2011 revolution took place in the Arab world.
The fall of the autocratic regimes particularly in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya had also led many political analysts to label the Arab Spring as the start of the new forth wave of democracy.

The Various Institutions, Indexes to measure democracy around The Globe:

According to the Democracy Index 2019,  released by the Economist Intelligence Unit, 167 countries by 60 indicators across five broad categories.
The categories considered for the index are electoral process and pluralism, the functioning of government, political participation, democratic political culture and civil liberties.
The index classifies each country either as a full democracy, flawed democracy, hybrid regime or authoritarian.

The important findings of the democracy index are:
·         Only 4.5% of the world’s people live in a full democracy.
·         The overall global score remained stable in 2018 for the first time in three years.
·         42 countries experienced a decline in their index score compared with 89 in 2017 and 48 countries have improved their score.


·         The Index notes that threats to democracy around the world have become increasingly obvious. The Arab spring fizzled, China’s leader is poised to rule for life, Populists with autocratic tendencies have won elections in the Philippines, Brazil and Mexico. Democratic institutions have been subverted in Hungary, Turkey, and Poland.
·         The subversion of the democratic institutions has become so glaring that strongmen in different countries often copy each other’s tactics, sound bites and voters have become scapegoats.
·         Political participation is the most improved category in the index.
·          
The countries rankings are highlighted below:
·         Australia and New Zealand are the only “full democracies” in the entire Asia-Pacific region
·         Eight countries Algeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Timor-Leste, Ethiopia, North Korea, Laos, Nepal and Sri Lanka which have the word “democratic in full titles were not fully democratic.
·         India was at the 41st place with a score of 7.23/10 and was placed in the flawed democracies category.



According to Freedom in the World, Index compiled by Reporters without Borders (RSF) shows how hatred of journalists has degenerated into violence, contributing to an increase in fear. The number of countries regarded as safe, where journalists can work in complete security, continues to decline, while authoritarian regimes continue to tighten their grip on the media.

 The RSF Index, which evaluates the state of journalism in 180 countries and territories every year, shows that an intense climate of fear has been triggered — one that is prejudicial to a safe reporting environment. The hostility towards journalists expressed by political leaders in many countries has incited increasingly serious and frequent acts of violence that have fuelled an unprecedented level of fear and danger for journalists.

Norway is ranked first in the 2019 Index for the third year running while Finland (up two places) has taken second place from the Netherlands (down one at 4th), where two reporters who cover organized crime have had to live under permanent police protection. An increase in cyber-harassment caused Sweden (third) to lose one place. In Africa, the rankings of Ethiopia (up 40 at 110th) and Gambia (up 30 at 92nd) have significantly improved from last year’s Index.

Only 24 percent of the 180 countries and territories are classified as “good” (coloured white on the Press Freedom Map) or “fairly good” (yellow), as opposed to 26 percent last year. As a result of an increasingly hostile climate that goes beyond Donald Trump’s comments, the United States (48th) has fallen three places in this year’s Index and the media climate is now classified as “problematic” (orange). 


Never before have US journalists been subjected to so many death threats or turned so often to private security firms for protection. Hatred of the media is now such that a man walked into the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland, in June 2018 and opened fire, killing four journalists and one other member of the newspaper’s staff. The gunman had repeatedly expressed his hatred for the paper on social networks before ultimately acting on his words.

Threats, insults and attacks are now part of the “occupational hazards” for journalists in many countries. In India (down two at 140th), where critics of Hindu nationalism are branded as “anti-Indian” in online harassment campaigns, six journalists were murdered in 2018. Since the election campaign in Brazil (down three at 105th), the media have been targeted by Jair Bolsonaro’s supporters on both physically and online.

Many authoritarian regimes have fallen in the Index. They include Venezuela (down five at 148th), where journalists have been the victims of arrests and violence by security forces, and Russia (down one at 149th), where the Kremlin has used arrests, arbitrary searches and draconian laws to step up the pressure on independent media and the Internet. At the bottom of the Index, both Vietnam (176th) and China (177th) have fallen one place, Eritrea (up 1 at 178th) is third from last, despite making peace with its neighbor Ethiopia, and Turkmenistan (down two at 180th) is now last, replacing North Korea (up one at 179th).




Democracy in South Asia


South Asia is home to 3 per cent of the world’s area and 21 per cent of the world’s population. It’s significant that 50 per cent of the world’s population living under some form of democratic rule resides in this region.

      Representative government

     When it comes to representative government, India and Sri Lanka have maintained relatively high scores. Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan have had periods of non-elected regimes. The general trend in South Asia in this respect has, however, been positive.

     Fundamental rights

     With respect to ensuring fundamental rights, the region’s score matches that of Asia Pacific but it is slightly below the global average. At the country level, Afghanistan and Nepal have seen the most improvement. Sri Lanka and Pakistan saw a slight decline in the 1970s and 1980s.

     India’s score has been stable since the late 1970s. However, a decline has been observed since 2015.

      Gender equality

      South Asia shows a steady improvement on the yardstick that measures gender equality with Nepal standing out. India’s score was better than the world average till 2003 but there has been a dip in the country’s performance on the gender equality yardstick since then.

Governments- South Asia has shown a steady increase from 1975 to 1994. Afghanistan, Nepal and Pakistan have shown the most improvement. Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka have remained relatively stable with scores in line with the global average.

In the yardstick on impartial administration, South Asia follows both the regional and global trends with no significant change, except in Nepal, which has seen a significant improvement.

Civil society participation has increased in India by leaps and bounds between 1978 and 2012 after which it declined drastically to fall below the average of Asia Pacific and that of the World. In 2017, it was the lowest since 1975.  

                                     
India’s Status

Since independence, India has managed to stay on the democratic path in a way unprecedented among states freed from colonialism during the last century.
Recently, however, the dominance of the Hindu nationalists under Prime Minister Narendra Modi – and the manner in which they have ruled – has given rise to claims that India’s democracy and its minorities are in grave danger.

In some respects, the current Modi government has not undermined democracy or the standing of minorities any more severely than certain Congress governments in earlier years did. Moreover, by consulting unique data available through the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) research programme, we can determine that certain indicators of democratic performance started to decline already in 2009-2014, under the second government of Manmohan Singh. Furthermore, some of the negative trends to be observed seem to form part of a more general trend evident at the global level.

However, policies pursued by the Modi government – together with political strategies carried out by extremist Hindu nationalists in civil society from 2014 onwards – co-vary with a dramatic and rapid decline in several indicators of democracy and liberal freedom. Freedom of expression has been curtailed; democratic deliberation has been bypassed; attacks on religious minorities have been carried out.
Finally, India’s government – which used to try to uphold secular principles – now forges connections with religious actors in civil society on an unprecedented scale. The conclusions drawn here are that the Modi government bears significant responsibility for a serious recent decline in India’s democracy and that this trend appears to be in line with its efforts to build a so-called Hindu Rashtra – an ethnic Hindu state.

     India’s performance on the yardstick to measure media integrity was better than the global and South Asian average between 1994 and 2012. However, the country’s score has fallen below the global and Asia-Pacific average in 2017. Given that free and fair media is crucial to a meaningful democracy, this is a worrying tendency.

     The Election Commission has played an important role in conducting free and fair elections in the country. The Commission’s Systematic Voters Education for Electoral Participation Programme role has been crucial in this respect.

      An independent judiciary is another reason for the resilience of democracy in India. The apex court has given judgments that keep a check on the government and ensure a transparent and accountable system

      In the last decade, there has been a significant dip in India’s record on civil liberties, personal integrity and security, freedom of association, media integrity, gender equality and basic welfare.

     The decline of democracy in India

     To understand the direction in which India’s democracy is moving, we can use unique data collected from the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) project. The project is one of the world’s largest combined efforts to collect and publish country-level data on democratic performance. I have myself coded for the project.

    In the annual report 2018, the authors at V-Dem depict India’s decline in the area of democracy as serious. V-Dem’s findings are in line with charges made by PEN International regarding freedom of the press, as well as with reports from Amnesty International concerning violence against minorities. So, the main purpose here is not only to describe even further the decline of India’s democracy. 

    Several sources suggest independently that it is. An even more central objective here is to describe what the decline looks like over time, to identify more precisely the areas where the most worrisome trends are, and to point out the composition of the government during the periods when the worst deterioration seems to occur.

Challenges to Democracy
1. World's leading autocracies like China and Russia have been growing while the democratic government struggled. 
2. The spread of antidemocratic practices is growing as people are not aware that anti democracy will eventually leads to 'politicized courts, intolerance for dissent, and predetermined elections. 
3. Despite the democratic upsurge, there are significant challenges like poverty, inequality, gender injustice, nepotism and corruption.
4. Elected despots and authoritarian leaders are weakening democracies across the world.
5. One of the major challenges to democracy is people losing faith in it. There are many reasons for such disillusionment, including corruption, nepotism and unemployment. This often leads to people disengaging with key public policy issues which, in turn, makes those in power less accountable.












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