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Democracy Notes

Still healing from Covid-19, democracy’s resilience lights path to democratic renewal 

PUBLISHED:
Thursday, 25 November, 2021
The Global State of Democracy

Today, International IDEA launches the third edition of its Global State of Democracy Report. The latest data are stark, showing a concerning decline in the strength of democracy around the world.  

The world is becoming increasingly authoritarian. For the fifth consecutive year, there are more countries moving towards authoritarianism than in the direction of democracy. Since 2016, the number of countries moving away from democracy is about three times the number moving towards it. Add to this a decline in the total number of democracies around the world, along with increasingly brazen tactics of repression within authoritarian regimes, and you have a perfect storm.  

In the eye of that storm is the state of governance within existing democracies. At no point in the past decade have there been more backsliding democracies than there are today. Seven countries-- Brazil, Hungary, India, the Philippines, Poland, and Slovenia and the United States –have experienced declines in the average of our measures of Checks on Government and Civil Liberties over five years. This is concerning, mostly because it demonstrates that democratically elected leaders can and do dismantle the building blocks of democracy from within.  

The pandemic has preyed on weaknesses in all countries, though it has had the most severe impacts in places that were already ailing. Just as for individuals, countries that had pre-existing conditions suffered the most from the effects of Covid-19. Even the most established democracies, however, were not spared. In fact, International IDEA’s Global Monitor of Covid-19’s Impact on Democracy and Human Rights shows that almost half (45 percent) of all democracies experienced at least one instance of a government response that was disproportionate, unnecessary, illegal or indefinite.  

Right now, more than two-thirds of the world’s population live under either democratically backsliding or authoritarian regimes, with only nine per cent of people living in high-performing democracies. 

Still, hope springs eternal. Many democracies showed resilience, introducing or expanding democratic innovations and adapting their practices and institutions in record time. Countries around the world learned to hold elections in exceedingly difficult conditions, and they rapidly activated special voting arrangements (like mobile voting, postal voting, early voting and proxy voting) to allow citizens to continue exercising their democratic rights. ​ 

Moreover, protest and civic action are alive and well. Pro-democracy movements have braved repression in places such as Belarus, Myanmar, Eswatini and Cuba and global social movements for tackling climate change and fighting racial inequalities have emerged. Strikingly, more than three quarters of countries have experienced protests during the pandemic despite government restrictions. 

What can we do? 

International IDEA proposes a three-point agenda for democratic renewal: 

Deliver: Governments must deliver a new social contract that closes the gap between what people want and what governments currently deliver by designing responsive, inclusive, accountable, transparent institutions, oriented towards achieving sustainable development. 

Rebuild: Bring existing institutions into the 21st Century by updating practices in established democracies, building democratic capacity in new democracies, and protecting electoral integrity, fundamental freedoms and rights, and the checks and balances essential to thriving democratic systems. ​ 

Prevent: Prevent rising authoritarianism and democratic backsliding by investing in education at all levels of schooling, by supporting independent civil society and media, and by addressing the behaviours that contribute to the spread of disinformation. ​ 

This is the time to be bold for change. Join us in the call for a renewal in the promise of democracy. 

About the author

Head of Democracy Assessment
Seema Shah

Dr Seema Shah is the Head of International IDEA's Democracy Assessment (DA) Unit , which produces a biennial 'Global State of Democracy' report, an annually updated Global State of Democracy Indices and a EU-co-funded Covid-19 Global Monitor on Democracy and Human Rights.