The global democratic regression has stalled and some of the world’s most authoritarian regions have registered significant gains over the past year, but “the overall pace of democratic change remained stagnant” during 2012, according to a new survey.
The democracy score declined for 40 countries, increased in 54 and stayed the same in 73 of the 167 countries covered in The Economist Intelligence Unit’s annual Democracy Index for 2012.
Most regions saw a similar average democracy score for 2012 as in 2011, with the exception of the Middle East and North Africa where the average score grew by more than a point, from 3.62 to 3.73. Three MENA states – Egypt, Libya, and Morocco – changed status from authoritarian to hybrid regimes, while Libya registered the biggest increase of any country. Yet the region remains one of the least democratic, with 12 of 20 countries still under authoritarian rule.
“Global backsliding in democracy had been evident for some time and strengthened in the wake of the 2008-09 global economic crisis,” the report notes. “Between 2006 and 2008 there was stagnation of democracy; between 2008 and 2010 there was regression across the world.”
But while the regression has been arrested, democrats can boast few major gains.
“In 2012 global democracy was at a standstill in the sense that there was neither significant progress nor regression in levels of democracy worldwide,” said Laza Kekic, the report’s principal editor.
Eight countries experienced a change in regime type, says the EIU, with six registering an upgrade and two a regression.
Hong Kong, Malawi and Senegal improved from hybrid regimes to flawed democracies; Libya, Morocco and Burundi moved from authoritarian to hybrid status; but Mali and Sri Lanka regressed from flawed democracies to hybrid regimes.
“Although almost one-half of the world’s countries can be considered to be democracies …the number of ‘full democracies’ is low, at only 25 countries; 54 countries are rated as ‘flawed democracies’”, the report states. “Of the remaining 88 countries in our index, 51 are authoritarian and 37 are considered to be ‘hybrid regimes’”.
Stagnation of democracy
Key recent developments, according to the report, include:
- The unprecedented rise of movements for democratic change across the Arab world led many to expect a new wave of democratization. But it has become apparent that democracy in the region remains a highly uncertain prospect.
- 2012 was characterized by sovereign debt crises and weak political leadership in the developed world.
- Popular confidence in political institutions continues to decline in many European countries.
- The US and the UK remain at the bottom end of the full democracy category. US democracy has been adversely affected by a deepening of the polarization of the political scene and political brinkmanship and paralysis. The UK is beset by a deep institutional crisis.
- In Eastern Europe democracy declined in 10 countries in 2012. Had it not been for the significant improvement in the score for Georgia, the regional average score for Eastern Europe would have declined in 2012 compared with 2011.
- Rampant crime in some countries—in particular, violence and drug-trafficking—continues to have a negative impact on democracy in Latin America.
The Index analyzes 165 independent countries and two territories to measure the status of democracy, using five criteria: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture.
The most democratic countries are in Scandinavia, with Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Denmark in the top four places, and New Zealand joining them in the top five.
But the report highlights “significant erosion in democracy” in Western Europe: Greece, Portugal, Italy and France have dropped out of the category of full democracies, while 15 of 21 states experienced a decline in their overall score, in large part due to effects of the economic crisis.
“The main reason for the decline in democracy scores in 2011 in the region was the erosion in sovereignty and democratic accountability associated with the effects of and responses to the euro zone crisis,” says the report:
Most dramatically, in two countries (Greece and Italy) democratically elected politicians were replaced by technocrats at the head of governments. Policy in some countries is no longer being set by national legislatures and elected politicians, but is effectively set by official creditors, the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the IMF.
Despite the overall stagnation, the report highlights grounds for optimism.
Even though the democratic prospects of the Arab awakening remain uncertain, the region’s revolts demonstrate the likely fate of “long-serving, geriatric leaders” in the face of “young and restless populations,” the report suggests. Similarly, in states like Zimbabwe and Cuba, authoritarian rule appears unsustainable.
“The longer ageing autocrats hang on to power, the more out-of-touch and corrupt their regimes tend to become,” the EIU notes, “and the more of an anachronism and an affront they become to their peoples.”