Democracy is being degraded around the world because people are losing faith in the legitimacy of elections and see freedom of expression being stymied, among a range of other problems, according to a global body founded to promote democracy worldwide.
The 34 member-country International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, or International IDEA, said in a report that the decline in democratic rule is being fueled by efforts to undermine credible election results, widespread disillusionment among youth over political parties and their out-of-touch leaders as well as the rise of right-wing extremism that has polarized politics.
The Stockholm-based organization said in its annual Global Report on the State of the Democracy that the number of countries moving toward authoritarianism is more than double those moving toward democracy and that authoritarian regimes worldwide have deepened their repression, with 2021 being the worst year on record.
Authoritarianism is gaining in countries like Afghanistan, Belarus, Cambodia, the Indian Ocean island nation of Comoros and Nicaragua.
The 64-page report that measures democratic performance in 173 nations, concluded that progress within democratically-run countries has stalled over the last five years.
International IDEA Secretary-General Kevin Casas-Zamora said its essential for democracies to now push back against a “toxic mix” of crises ranging from the skyrocketing cost of living to fears over nuclear war climate change that are confronting them.
“Never has there been such an urgency for democracies to respond, to show their citizens that they can forge new, innovative social contracts that bind people together rather than divide them.” he added.
In Europe, democratic rule in 17 countries has eroded over the last five years, affecting 46% of the high-performing democracies, the organization said.
In Asia and the Pacific, democracy is receding while authoritarianism solidifies. Although over half of the region’s population lives in democracies, almost 85% of that number lives in countries were democracy is weak or backsliding. Even democracies such as Australia, Japan and Taiwan are suffering democratic erosion.
The report also noted that three out of seven backsliding democracies are in the Americas, pointing to weakening institutions even in longstanding democracies. A third of democracies in that region have experienced declines including Bolivia, Brazil, El Salvador and Guatemala.
In the United States, threats to democracy persist following the presidency of Donald Trump, illustrated by Congress’s political paralysis and the rolling back of long-established rights.
“The world is at a critical crossroads,” International DEA said, adding that efforts are underway to revive democratic rule through “appropriate and corresponding mechanisms.” Those include reforming existing democratic institutions and rethinking the ‘social contract’ between citizens and government in a way that responds to new and evolving public needs and demands.