Election Universe

Despite challenges and setbacks, democracy remains resilient – IDEA international publication

Despite challenges and setbacks, democracy remains resilient –  IDEA international publication
January 23 2018, 13:38

There is a persistent perception that democracy is on the wane. In fact, a report from Freedom House showed that 71 countries registered declines in political rights and civil liberties, with only 35 registering gains, marking the 12th consecutive year of decline in global freedom.

The report revealed that over the period since the 12-year global slide began in 2006, 113 countries have seen a net decline, and only 62 have experienced a net improvement.  More alarmingly, the study confirms that democracy faced its most serious crisis in decades in 2017 when its most fundamental principles — free and fair elections, the rights of minorities, freedom of the press, and the rule of law came under attack around the world.

Understandably, the dire situation has alarmed political observers around the world.  Yet a recent publication from the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) offers evidence that far from being on its death throes, democracy is actually very resilient.

“The Global State of Democracy: Exploring Democracy’s Resilience,” is an eight-part publication written by different experts which tackle the biggest issues affecting democracy.

Armend Bekaj, IDEA’s  Senior Programme Officer at the Democracy Assessment  Analysis and Advisory (DAAA) Unit, wrote the publication’s first chapter. Bekaj reviewed the last ten years and found little evidence of a substantial decline in democracy.

On the contrary, he found that the number of democracies has increased. Since 2005, there have been 39 transitions to democracy, including countries who have been electoral democracies for the first time and those those with previous democratic experience.

Moreover, the number and proportion of countries that are considered electoral democracies have increased in the same period from 46 countries in 1975 (30%) to 132 (68%) by 2016. This means that only 1/3 of countries are still under autocracy.

Bekaj does acknowledge that there are a number of countries struggling with challenges to democracy, which relate to issues of corruption, inequality social exclusion and suppression of liberties. He contends that citizens in these countries that are seeing some reversal see a crisis of legitimacy in democratic institutions, aggravated by an erosion of trust.

“Even mature democratic systems can corrode if they are not nurtured and protected. There is evidence of a growing disconnect between politicians and the electorate. Transnational challenges related to inequality, migration and globalization are complex problems that challenge democratic institutions to respond effectively to public concerns, causing a decline in trust and legitimacy in democratic governance,” Bekaj writes.

Despite this, Bekaj says that democracy has not experienced an overall global decline, even as progress has slowed down and in some places halted. He believes that most aspects of democracy have actually improved since 1975, and that most democracies are resilient over time.

Bekaj posits that recent democratic regressions have generally been short, and are followed by recovery when the democracy-friendly forces unite to push back, as in the case of Central African Republic, Georgia, Haiti, Honduras, Madagascar, Mali and Nepal.