The apparently stable advantage of democracy over autocracy disguises worrying erosion in the quality of democracy, a new analysis suggests.
Democracy has not lost its normative appeal, but even established democracies have experienced “significant setbacks” in the freedoms of assembly, association and the press, as well as declines in political participation, civil liberties and social capital, according to the Bertelsmann Foundation’s 2010 Transformation Index.
The findings “do not, at first glance, suggest that a global shift toward autocracy is underway,” the report argues.
The clusters of democracies (60 percent) and autocracies (40 percent) have remained stable, while qualitative deteriorations in Georgia and Nigeria were balanced by gains in Liberia, Serbia and Turkey.
But, regime types aside, the overall quality of democracy has declined, Bertelsmann notes.
“The gradual qualitative erosion underway has penetrated the core institutions of democracy in political systems around the world,” the report observes. “With the exception of a very stable group of top performers, the overall quality of democracy has deteriorated and – in some cases – considerably.”
“In several democracies, an anemic rule of law, weak party systems and insufficient trust or limited social capital in civil society all prevent further steps toward consolidation,” the index suggests. “Over time, these developments threaten to hollow out the quality and substance of governance, which in turn undermines respect for democratic institutions.”
The index tracks transitions to constitutional democracy and a market economy in 128 countries and ranks them in two indices: a Status Index indicating a country’s state of development en route to democracy and a market economy; and a Management Index that evaluates the quality of governance among decision makers.
Some 76 states meet basic democratic criteria, but while 23 such democracies show no significant deficiencies, 53 are “defective democracies” where, despite relatively free elections, political and civil rights or separation of powers are not established.
Among these countries are 16 states classified as “highly deficient democracies” (including Haiti, Kenya and Russia) due to shortcomings in rule of law, intolerance of opposition and inadequately representative political structures.
Poor economic performance and growing social exclusion also threaten to undermine the legitimacy of democracy. In 25% of the countries reviewed, “the level of socioeconomic development is so low that poverty and social exclusion are widespread and structurally ingrained.”
Only 41 countries received average to good scores in this area and some regions perform exceptionally badly. In sub-Saharan Africa, most countries received scores of only one to three (out of 10) and only five countries – Botswana, Ghana, Mauritius, South Africa and Uganda – have avoided a dramatic level of mass poverty and social exclusion.
The report observes that in the absence of democratic legitimacy, authoritarian states must legitimate themselves through their outputs.
“Many have used the favorable conditions of recent years to increase their economic performance and, in some cases, to expand their social welfare systems,” it notes, citing “authoritarian modernizers” such as China, Singapore, Vietnam, the Gulf states and Cuba [huh?] as receiving high scores for their output legitimation.
The 2010 Index features a useful down-loadable application for interacting with the data.