FeaturedNationalVOLUME 19 ISSUE # 19

Pakistan reclassified as authoritarian regime

A strong democratic system and strict adherence to rule of law and constitution are basic conditions for economic growth and prosperity for a country in today’s world. A country which fulfils these conditions also earns the respect of the international community.

How does Pakistan measure up to the world standard on the two above criteria? In this context, a negative report has come from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) which has demoted Pakistan 11 places in the global ranking on the state of democracy and downgraded it from a “hybrid regime” to an “authoritarian regime”.

According to the EIU report, democratic standards across the world fell in 2023 amid the spread of wars, authoritarian crackdowns and a decline in people’s trust in mainstream political parties. Titled “Age of Conflict”, the EIU study evaluates the state of democracy in 165 independent states and two territories. Basing its scores on a range of indicators, each country is classified as one of four types of regime: full democracy, flawed democracy, hybrid regime or authoritarian regime.

The top three places in the index are occupied by Norway, New Zealand and Iceland, while the bottom three countries are North Korea, Myanmar and Afghanistan. While the number of countries categorised as democracies increased, the global average index score fell to 5.23 in 2023 from 5.29 the year before, its lowest level since the first study was published in 2006. According to the EIU report, only 7.8 percent of the global population reside in a “full democracy”, and more than one-third live under authoritarian rule.

In this report Pakistan has been shown as suffering the biggest decline in the Asian region — its score falling to 3.25, triggering a downgrade from ‘hybrid regime’ to ‘authoritarian regime’ and a loss of 11 places in the global ranking. Interestingly, 15 out of the 28 countries in the region recorded a decline in their scores, with only eight improving their status.

According to the report, Greece, which improved its score, moved up to ‘full democracy’, while Papua New Guinea and Paraguay went up from ‘hybrid regimes’ to become ‘flawed democracies’. On the other hand, Angola has been upgraded from its authoritarian classification to ‘hybrid regime’.

The EIU report has pointed out that elections in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Russia were flawed as opposition forces in these countries were subjected to state repression and prevented from exercising their full democratic rights. This conclusion by EIU is based on two indicators ‘electoral process and pluralism’ and ‘functioning of government’, especially as the “outsized political influence means that elections are far from being free, fair or competitive”.

It is relevant to note here that Pakistan’s score on the democracy index remained a little over 4 since 2008. It was for the first in 2023 that the country’s score fell to 3.25 during the coalition government comprising the PML-N, PPP and JUI-F. Pakistan’s 2023 score on the democracy index is even worse than 2006 (3.92) when military dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf was at the helm of the affairs in Pakistan and had clamped down on political parties.

The EIU report has made some interesting observations on India, which claims to be the world’s biggest democracy. India has now been classified as a ‘flawed democracy’, with the remark that the polls “at least allow for the possibility of change, although incumbents or anointed successors are likely to win in these too”. The EIU report adds that incumbents are likely to retain power there, and the BJP — termed the biggest political party in the world with over 180m members — is set to win another term after a decade in power. According to the report, Modi’s brand of narrow Hindu nationalism has created an oppressive atmosphere for the country’s large Muslim minority population which fears gradual erosion of its democratic, cultural and social rights.

The EIU notes that India’s scores for ‘functioning of government’ and ‘political culture’ improved, but its ‘civil liberties’ declined. To quote it, “The decline in the civil liberties score was due to the state’s failure to protect minority rights amid inter-ethnic violence in the north-eastern state of Manipur between the mainly Hindu Meitei and predominantly Christian Kuki ethnic communities that erupted in May 2023. The state government imposed an internet blackout when the violence began.”

The EUI report should be a matter of concern for the incumbent government in Pakistan which should take immediate steps to promote democratic culture in the country. Concomitantly, there is a need to establish the rule of law and justice on stronger footing because in the World Rule of Law Index Pakistan has fallen  to the same level as Myanmar and Sudan where people enjoy no democratic rights and freedoms.