In a world where democracy has long been celebrated as a symbol of progress and freedom, there is a growing concern that the robustness of this political system is waning.
According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), nearly half of the world’s countries are experiencing a decline in the vitality of their democracies. In its annual report, IDEA revealed that 85 out of 173 countries surveyed had suffered a decline in at least one key indicator of democratic performance in the past five years. This article will delve into the reasons behind this decline, the regions and countries most affected, and the broader implications of this troubling trend.
The Decline in Key Democratic Indicators
The setbacks in democratic performance identified by IDEA vary in nature and severity. They encompass issues such as flawed elections, curtailed civil rights, including freedom of expression and the right to assembly, and challenges to representation, participation, and the rule of law. In some countries, these declines manifest as a reduction in social group equality, as seen in the United States. In others, they are evident in restrictions on freedom of the press, as witnessed in Austria, or limitations on access to justice, as observed in the United Kingdom. These examples underscore the multifaceted nature of the challenges democracy is facing globally.
Democracy in Europe
Europe has long been considered a stronghold of democracy, but the IDEA report points out that several established democracies in the region are deteriorating. Countries like Austria, Hungary, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, and the United Kingdom are experiencing concerning declines in democratic performance. This is a significant shift in a region that has traditionally been seen as a model for democratic governance. While Europe remains one of the highest-performing regions, these internal challenges raise questions about the future of democracy in the continent.
Global Disparities in Democracy
While Europe grapples with its own democratic challenges, countries outside the continent face different issues. In countries like Azerbaijan, Belarus, Russia, and Turkey, democratic performance falls well below the European average. The implications of these declines are significant not only for the affected nations but also for the global democratic landscape.
Perhaps most alarmingly, IDEA notes that this is the sixth consecutive year in which more countries have experienced democratic declines than improvements. This trend is not limited to a specific region, as declines are observed in historically high-performing democracies in Europe, North America, and Asia. The reasons behind this widespread decline are complex and multifaceted.
Challenges to Democracy
Several factors are contributing to the decline in democratic values worldwide. IDEA suggests that this decline must be understood in conjunction with other global challenges, such as the cost of living crisis, climate change, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. These external factors place significant pressure on elected leaders and democratic institutions, making it even more challenging to maintain the integrity of democratic systems. The COVID-19 pandemic, in particular, has had a notable impact on democratic performance, exacerbating pre-existing issues and straining the abilities of governments to uphold democratic values.
Maintaining Hope in Democracy
Despite the sobering assessment of the state of democracy, IDEA Secretary-General Kevin Casas-Zamora maintains hope in the form of informal checks and balances within democratic societies. While formal institutions like legislatures may be weakening, there is hope that journalists, election organizers, and anti-corruption commissioners can collectively combat authoritarian and populist trends. These individuals and entities serve as vital safeguards, holding those in power accountable and defending the principles of democracy.
The Case of Pakistan
The decline of democracy in Pakistan serves as a poignant example of the challenges faced by democratic systems. Since the ouster of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, democratic values in Pakistan have come under threat. A sense of disillusionment has swept through the nation as citizens have lost confidence in the democratic system. The emergence of numerous political parties with transient goals, often formed overnight with the sole aim of toppling the largest political party from the previous regime, has further eroded faith in the democratic process.
The global decline in the robustness of democracy is a cause for concern. As the IDEA report highlights, the challenges facing democratic values are numerous and varied. Whether it’s the erosion of civil rights, limitations on freedom of the press, or the rise of authoritarian leaders, democracy is facing multifaceted threats across the globe. To counter these challenges, it is essential for societies to embrace informal checks and balances and for governments to remain committed to upholding the principles of democracy. Only through collective efforts can democracy emerge from this turbulent period and continue to serve as a beacon of hope and progress on the global stage.