The world’s (almost) eight billion people live in a range of political and cultural environments. The Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) Democracy Index study for this year is one such attempt to assign a score to nations based on how closely they live up to democratic principles. The annual survey, which ranks the state of democracy in 167 countries based on five criteria – electoral processes and pluralism, government functioning, political participation, democratic political culture, and civil liberties — discovers that more than a third of the world’s population is subject to authoritarian rule, while only 6.4% enjoy full democracy. The indications are combined to provide a 0 to 10 rating to each category, and the five category scores are summed to get the overall index score. Full democracies are countries with a total Democracy Index score between 8.01 and 10 (out of 10). Those with a score of 6.01 to 8.00 are categorized as imperfect democracies. According to the EIU, democracy is at its lowest position since the index’s inception in 2006, which may be attributed in part to pandemic limitations that saw many governments struggle to combine public health with personal freedom. According to the 2023 assessment, Norway is the most democratic, while Afghanistan is the least.
The EIU recorded a reduction in the average global score from 5.37 to 5.28 in this year’s report, the worst dip since 2010. This translates into a depressing statistics: only 46% of the population lives in a democracy “of some sort”. The Global State of Democracy Report arrives at a time when democracy is under attack both literally and metaphorically all across the world. Beyond the lingering pandemic, today’s wars, and a coming global recession, there is the problem of climate change and all that it entails — severe weather occurrences, the required green transition, and multi-faceted ramifications for democratic government. The recent string of global crises, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and conflicts in Ethiopia, Myanmar, Syria, and Yemen, and their ramifications, appear to herald the emergence of a new status quo marked by extreme volatility and uncertainty, rather than a departure from previous historical trends. Against such a backdrop, this article will try to portray an overall scenario of democracy in the world.
South Asian Democracy
According to the survey issued by the UK-based Economist Intelligence, the South Asian nation received a score of 5.99 out of 10 in 2022, unchanged from the previous year. Thailand improved its overall score the most in 2022, rising from 6.04 in 2021 to 6.67 in 2022. According to the Index, Bangladesh has risen from 75th in 2021 to 73rd in 2022 with a score of 5.99, which puts it on the verge of entering the category of ‘flawed democracies’ (6.0 and above), where the United States ranks 30th and Singapore ranks first. Bangladesh ranks 15th out of a big number of states in the Asia-Australasia region. Bangladesh has the highest regional average outside of North America and Europe. When Bangladesh is compared to a number of nations in South and Southeast Asia, it is clear that the country has made great progress toward establishing a democratic society. Bangladesh, according to the research, is ahead of Pakistan, Nepal, and Bhutan.
Global Scenario of Democracy
In 2022, the average worldwide index score remained stable. Despite predictions of a resurgence when pandemic-related limitations were lifted, the score remained nearly similar, at 5.29 (on a 0-10 scale), compared to 5.28 in 2021. More than half of the countries examined by the index saw their rankings stagnate or fall. Western Europe was a positive anomaly since it was the only area where the score had recovered to pre-pandemic levels. The Global State of Democracy’s latest findings reveals a decline in and stagnation of democracy around the world. A close look at the data reveals that while many democracies have put in place the laws and infrastructure required to support democratic institutions, unequal access to those institutions is a serious and continuing problem.
In 2021, 37% of the world’s population was still under authoritarian rule. Afghanistan is at the top of the list, followed by Myanmar, North Korea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Syria. Of course, a large proportion of the Chinese people live under this type of government. On the opposite end of the scale, complete democracies account for only 6.4% of the population. This ranking is led by Norway, followed by New Zealand, Finland, Sweden, and Iceland. North America (Canada and the United States) is the top-ranked region in the Democracy Index, with an average score of 8.36, however, this has fallen slightly from 8.58 in 2020. However, both nations have lost ground in the world rankings; nonetheless, Canada remains a top performer.
The United States is still classed as a flawed democracy by the EIU and has been since 2016. The research highlights significant division and “gerrymandering” as major concerns confronting the country. Latin America and the Caribbean saw the greatest drop in regional scores in the globe. This region’s score fell from 6.09 in 2020 to 5.83 in 2021. This drop reflects the general public’s dissatisfaction with how their governments handled the outbreak. Costa Rica and Uruguay are the two countries in this area that are fully democratic. On the opposite end of the scale, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba are classified as authoritarian regimes.
Western Europe will have the most complete democracies in the world by 2021. In fact, this area has four of the top five complete democracies: Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Iceland. In this region, Spain suffered a significant deterioration; the country is now seen as a defective democracy. A significant change occurred in the Middle East and Central Asia. This area is home to a large number of nations with authoritarian governments. Indeed, the region’s total democracy score is presently worse than it was before the Arab Spring began in 2010. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest number of nations ranked at the bottom of the Democracy Index. The reality is that 23 countries are deemed “authoritarian regimes”. Meanwhile, 14 nations are hybrid regimes, six are imperfect democracies, and just one country, Mauritius, is considered a genuine democracy.
Hence, global democracy is declining two years after the virus ravaged the planet. Every region’s worldwide score fell, with the exception of Western Europe, which stayed unchanged. Out of the 167 countries, 74 (44%) saw their democracy score fall.
Democratic Fallacy: What future looks Like?
The ability of democracies throughout the world to provide critical public goods to their citizens and narrow the gap between societal expectations and institutional performance is under threat. These difficult problems existed even before democracies were forced to face the grotesque imbalances within and between nations exposed by the epidemic, as well as the subsequent inflation, shortages, and risks of a worldwide economic crisis. This graph illustrates both the total number of democracies and their status. According to the most recent data, democracy is in decline, compounding a decade defined by more degradation than democratization. There are several sources of political and economic instability, such as rising food and energy prices, soaring inflation, and an imminent recession. Democracy appears to be evolving in a way that does not reflect rapidly changing needs and objectives. Even in democracies that are operating at a medium or high level, there is minimal improvement. The globe is far behind in developing democratic societies.
Despite this, the West has maintained its hegemony in the global order. Likewise, highly developed and some former colonial powers have been unable to turn their governments into fully-fledged democracies. Another finding in the paper is that certain stable democracies and long-standing democracies lost their positions between 2021 and 2022. Australia, for example, dropped six positions, South Korea eight, Israel six, the United States four, Italy three, Brazil four, and Singapore four. It may be claimed that these nations have seen an increase in ultranationalist politics. In these countries, political culture and the function of government are being questioned.
Bangladesh demonstrated great success in foreign policy, economics, environment, and agriculture, thanks to more than a decade of political stability, a suitable political environment for economic activities, and the visionary leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. However, Bangladesh earned just 6.07 in this component, which is required to be at a higher level that might improve its position and move it to the next category of an imperfect democracy. Another interesting fact is that Bangladesh is not one of the 110 countries invited to US President Joe Biden’s virtual Summit for Democracy which reveals that Bangladesh’s democratic journey is being undermined by the West.
The world is at a critical crossroads. Democracies are fading or stagnating in the face of a constantly changing global situation. Even previously regarded ‘established’ democracies have weaknesses that cannot be overlooked. Hence, democratic regimes must establish a persuasive argument for their ability to provide what people require.
[Header image: the 2022 Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index map, via Wikimedia Commons]
*Saume Saptparna Nath is a Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs, Dhaka, Bangladesh. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.