Democracy is the most accepted form of governance around the globe. But, unfortunately, only a minuscule proportion of the world population enjoys the fruits of democracy. According to a new report ranking countries by how functional their political systems are, less than 5% of the world’s population lives in a “full democracy”.
The Economist Intelligence Unit recently released its 2017 Democracy Index, which ranks 167 countries on a 0 to 10 scale. Only countries with scores above 8 are categorised as “full” democracies. The US was downgraded from a “full democracy” to a “flawed democracy” in the same study last year, which cited the “low esteem in which US voters hold their government, elected representatives, and political parties.”
Democracy Index 2017 has described Pakistan as a “hybrid regime” rather than a fully functioning democracy. In a list of 167 countries Pakistan is placed at 110.
The EIU is the research and analysis division of the UK-based media giant The Economist Group. Created in 1946, the EIU describes itself as having over 70 years of experience “in helping businesses, financial firms and governments to understand how the world is changing and how that creates opportunities to be seized and risks to be managed”.
To recall, a decade has passed since Larry Diamond, a political scientist at Stanford University, put forward the idea of a global “democratic recession”. The tenth edition of the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index suggests that this unwelcome trend has become firmly entrenched. The index, comprises 60 indicators across five broad categories—electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, democratic political culture and civil liberties. Nearly a third of world population live under authoritarian rule, with a large share of those in China. Overall, 89 of the 167 countries assessed in 2017 received lower scores than they had the year before.
Norway remains the most democratic country in the ranking, a position it has held since 2010, and western Europe accounts for 14 of the 19 “full democracies” that make up the ranking’s top tier. Nonetheless, the region’s average score slipped slightly in 2017, to an average of 8.38 points out of 10. The Spanish government’s attempt to stop Catalonia’s independence referendum by force on October 1, 2017, caused the country’s score to fall by 0.22 points, leaving it just 0.08 points above the “flawed democracy” threshold. In Malta, the unresolved murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, an anti-corruption blogger, raised questions about the rule of law and the authorities’ willingness to investigate sensitive crimes, leading to a drop of 0.24 points. And France, already a “flawed democracy” according to the taxonomy of the index, fell further down the table, even though its voters firmly rejected a far-right candidate in a presidential election last year. The country’s civil-liberties score declined because its legislature passed a law expanding the government’s emergency powers.
The study has five basic criteria: Whether elections are free and fair (“electoral process and pluralism”), governments have checks and balances (“functioning of government”), and whether citizens are included in politics (“political participation”), support their government (“political culture”), and enjoy freedom of expression (“civil liberties”). The index ranks 165 independent states and two territories on the basis of these five criteria. The list has been divided into four broad categories — full democracy, flawed democracy, hybrid regime and authoritarian regime.
In the 2017 Democracy Index, the average global score fell from 5.52 in 2016 to 5.48 (on a scale of 0 to 10). Some 89 countries experienced a decline in their total score compared with 2016. 27 recorded an improvement. The other 51 countries stagnated, as their scores remained unchanged compared with 2016. Almost one-half (49.3 per cent) of the world’s population lives in a democracy of some sort, although only 4.5 per cent reside in a “full democracy”, down from 8.9 per cent in 2015.
The top three positions on the list are occupied by Nordic countries — Norway, Iceland and Sweden. New Zealand is at fourth and Denmark at fifth place, while others in top-ten include Ireland, Canada, Australia, Finland and Switzerland.
India has slipped to 42nd place on an annual Global Democracy Index amid “rise of conservative religious ideologies” and increase in vigilantism and violence against minorities as well as other dissenting voices. India’s overall score has fallen to 7.23 points, even as it scored well on electoral process and pluralism (9.17). It has not managed to score so well on other four parameters — political culture, functioning of government, political participation and civil liberties. “The rise of conservative religious ideologies also affected India. The strengthening of right-wing Hindu forces in an otherwise secular country led to a rise of vigilantism and violence against minority communities, particularly Muslims, as well as other dissenting voices,” the EIU added. The US (ranked 21), Japan, Italy, France, Israel, Singapore, and Hong Kong have also been named among “flawed democracies”.
Only top-19 countries have been classified as “full democracies”, while the hybrid regimes include Pakistan (110th), Bangladesh (92nd), Nepal (94th) and Bhutan (99th). Top-ranked Norway has been given an overall score of 9.87 with perfect-ten scores for electoral process and pluralism; political participation; and political culture.
2017’s report which also measured the state of media freedom around the world noted that in India, the media is “partially free”. Moreover, journalists are at risk from government, military and non-state actors and radical groups, and the threat of violence has a chilling effect on media coverage. “India has also become a more dangerous place for journalists, especially the central state of Chhattisgarh and the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir. The authorities there have restricted freedom of the press, closed down several newspapers and heavily controlled mobile internet services. Several journalists were murdered in India in 2017.
The star performer in the 2017 rankings is the Gambia. After 22 years of rule by Yahya Jammeh, a dictator who suppressed political freedoms, centralised powers within his ethnic group and used the army to instil fear, the country enjoyed its first-ever democratic transfer of power last year. As a result, its democracy score improved from 2.91, classified as an “authoritarian regime”, to 4.06, a “hybrid regime” 30 places higher in the rankings. Conversely, the most notable declines occurred in Indonesia, which fell from 48th place to 68th, and Venezuela, whose score dropped into the “authoritarian regime” category. America sits in 21st place in the ranking, level with Italy. It remains a “flawed democracy” for the second year in a row.