Still healing from Covid-19, democracy’s resilience lights path to democratic renewal
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.
A snap vote in the pandemic shows Canada as one of a kind
On 15 August, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for a snap election. This September election, a full two years before the next elections were due, was an opportunistic move. As leader of the Liberal Party, Trudeau had been governing with a plurality (but not a majority) of the seats in the House of Commons since 2019. In the summer of 2021, the Liberal Party was polling well, and the election call was an attempt to translate that polling support into a majority government. The context of the pandemic made this election unique in Canada, and in rare company in the world. Very few national elections have been held by choice during the pandemic. In fact, International IDEA’s pandemic election tracking shows that many elections were postponed early in the pandemic, with most of those being held later in 2020. However, the Canadian election that took place on 20 September 2021 is one of only five national elections that was moved forward to take place during the pandemic (the others are Bermuda, Croatia, North Macedonia, and Kosovo). There had been some indications that an autumn election was likely as early as the beginning of the year, including a cabinet shuffle in January, and much speculation from polling firms and pundits in July. But as the fourth wave of the pandemic began to manifest itself in Canada (especially in the western provinces), the actual election call came as an unwelcome surprise to many voters who felt that a vote during the pandemic was an unnecessary risk. Even so, the Liberal Party’s political justification – that the government needed a new mandate from Canadians to pass the kind of legislation that would guide a successful pandemic recovery from the pandemic – was not unreasonable. The conduct of the election itself benefitted from the successful examples of provincial and territorial elections that had been held in the preceding year and a half in New Brunswick, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador, the Yukon, and Nova Scotia. The 2021 election saw huge growth in the use of early voting and postal voting, as Canadians who might be cautious about public gathering places chose safer ways to vote. Nearly one million Canadians voted by mail (20 times higher than in the last election), while another 5.8 million voted early. With 99.96 per cent of the votes counted, turnout stood at 61.98 per cent. While this is the lowest turnout in a decade, it is still reasonably high when the context of the election is considered. This speaks to both the success of special voting arrangements, and the sense of civic duty that motivated many voters despite widespread dissatisfaction with the decision to call an election at all. The outcome of the election must have come as a disappointment to the Liberal Party. The next Parliament will look much like the previous one, with seat counts for the major parties largely unchanged, and the Liberal Party back in power in a minority government. In a globally comparative context, it will be interesting to see if the argument that legislating the recovery from the pandemic is a justification for new elections (at least in those countries where there is some flexibility on election timing).