A new report released this week on the state of political systems around the world the world makes for grim reading, with the authors saying 2022 was a “disappointing” year for democracy.
The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) annual Democracy Index snapshot found less than half – 45.3 percent – of the world’s population is living in a democracy.
“More than a third of the world’s population – 36.9 percent – live under authoritarian rule, a large share of which are in China and Russia,” the EIU said.
There had been an expectation that the lifting of draconian coronavirus-related restrictions would lead to a rise in global democracy, but these advances were cancelled out by other negative developments globally.
Russia’s massive attack on Ukraine for starters.
What does the report measure?
Broadly, the EIU report defines the features of a democracy as “government based on majority rule and the consent of the governed; the existence of free and fair elections; the protection of minority rights; and respect for basic human rights.”
It adds: “Democracy presupposes equality before the law, due process and political pluralism.”
Each country is assessed on these criteria and awarded a score out of 10.
So, which are the best and worst countries?
Norway, which scored 9.81, New Zealand (9.61) and Iceland (9.52) held the top three places for 2022. Germany (8.80) came in 14th, the U.K. (8.28) 18th, France and Spain tied for 22nd (8.07), and the U.S. (7.85) 30th.
The bottom three were North Korea (1.08), Myanmar (0.74) and Afghanistan (0.32).
What about Russia and Ukraine?
The report is exceptionally bad news for the people of Russia (2.28), which dropped 22 places to 146th, below countries such as Sudan (2.24), Cuba (2.65) and Iraq (3.13).
Russia was ranked lower even than Burkina Faso, which witnessed two military coups last year and has been losing ground to a jihadist insurgency; and Haiti, which has been gripped by a worsening political and economic crisis since the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.
“Following its invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s score showed the most dramatic drop of any country in the world,” the analysis group said.
Ukraine (5.42) came in at 87th, falling one place from last year’s ranking, which – given it’s a country under martial law, as Russia wages war against it – isn’t too shabby, all things considered.
Does the report say what can be done to improve democracy in Ukraine?
In a detailed account of the history and state of democracy in Ukraine, which is well-worth reading in full, the EIU highlights that Ukraine’s Democracy Index score had been steadily improving since the 2014 Maidan protests.
It adds: “However, progress was piecemeal and the grip of the oligarchic clan system over political life seemed to be as strong as ever, despite a more engaged civil society and a desire to move the country closer to the EU.”
This popular frustration led to the election of President Zelensky but he “struggled to push through anti-corruption and other reforms in the face of resistance from vested interests.”
But the report also highlights how, despite the pain and suffering, Russia’s war against Ukraine also provides an opportunity.
“Russia’s invasion of 2022 may have provided the shock that will ensure no return to the status quo ante in Ukraine,” it says.
“Russia’s war of aggression has raised the level of national consciousness and will amplify expectations of change afterwards.
“Historically, wars have been among the biggest drivers of political and social change; this may also be the case for Ukraine, provided that it wins.”
What about Russia?
With Vladimir Putin in charge, there’s little scope for change. Russian authorities have been waging an unprecedented crackdown on the media and opposition since Putin unleashed his armed forces on Ukraine in February 2022.
“Russia has been on a trajectory away from democracy for a long time and is now acquiring many of the features of a dictatorship,” the EIU said.
Give me the bigger picture
We humans like to think we’re always on the path to progress but the report doesn’t really support this view – only 8 percent of us live in a “full democracy” in a group of more than 20 countries such as Canada, Sweden and Uruguay.
The global average score scarcely improved from 5.28 in 2021 to 5.29.
In positive trends, Chile, France and Spain were upgraded from the “flawed democracy” to “full democracy” category, mainly because pandemic measures that had infringed on citizens’ freedoms in 2020-21 were reversed, the EIU said.
But as we’ve already mentioned above, the EIU’s conclusion is that “from a global perspective the year 2022 was a disappointing one for democracy.”
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