By the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA)
Turkey ranks first among countries which democratic rule has decreased between 2010 to 2020.
The year 2020 has seen the world besieged by a pandemic that has claimed millions of lives. The stability that most of the world enjoyed after the Cold War has perhaps been permanently disrupted, and all nations are struggling to adjust to these abrupt changes. When the new millennium dawned, the 21st century was hailed optimistically as the century of democracy. The future looked bright, as many erstwhile authoritarian and hybrid regimes, such as Armenia, the Gambia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Tunisia, became democracies. The will of the people as the only legitimate form of authority seemed to be a popular and rapidly spreading ideal. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated a trend of increasing authoritarianism, across the globe, with many countries sliding back down the democratic scale. Myanmar, which had been a fledgling democracy just beginning to recover from decades of military rule, fell victim to a military coup, the leaders of which even cited faulty elections as the justification for their course of action. Perhaps the greatest blow to democratic ideals was the fall of the people’s government in Afghanistan, which has seen war being waged for the sake of preserving democratic principles. Significantly, the United States, the bastion of global democracy, fell victim to authoritarian tendencies itself, and was knocked down a significant number of steps on the democratic scale. Amid such geopolitical upheaval, the pandemic has raged on. Repeated outbreaks in different parts of the world simultaneously have made the disease all the more difficult to fight, and the toll it has taken has been grievous. However, even in this hour of despair, hope remains. Countries across the world have come together to fight this disease, and this has ushered in a period of unprecedented global cooperation. Popular protests for better government in countries like Sudan and Chile have led to important reforms. In Malawi, a landmark decision to annul fraudulent election results set an important precedent, one representing the victory of democratic, independent institutions over government pressure. Successful elections in Montenegro and Bolivia, as well as protests against government corruption in Bulgaria, are further examples of the resilience of democracy. The global urge for democratic governance thus clearly remains strong. However, the pandemic has emboldened several governments to double down on popular expression, and push for more direct control. An example of this tendency is Hungary, which passed several ordinances limiting citizens’ rights and giving more power to Viktor Orbán’s government—under the pretext of bringing the pandemic under control. In this time of crisis, International IDEA’s The Global State of Democracy Indices (GSoD) is a vital enterprise. The analysis and accompanying report, based on a robust methodology and a broad, multidimensional understanding of democracy, offers a critical assessment of the global context and seeks to galvanize the countries of the world to strive for better governance. The GSoD legitimizes an expanding purview of democracy, which is now no longer limited to just elections and political rights. The report analyses how countries are faring in terms of upholding democratic principles, including factors such as Basic Welfare, the Absence of Corruption and Social Group Equality. As the former Chief Election Commissioner of my own country, India, I have personally been witness to the changing times of global democracy. Despite India falling in the democracy ranks, I can personally attest that the spirit of democracy among the Indian people remains strong. Difficult times undoubtedly lie ahead. Democracy is on the back foot, and more countries are moving towards authoritarianism than at any other point since 1995. However, I am confident that democracy’s resilience, perhaps its greatest asset, will allow it ultimately to triumph.