Democracy Retrenches Globally, Collapses Locally

Photo: Follow My Vote

The Economist Intelligence Unit just published the tenth edition of its annual Democracy Index, where they evaluate the degree of “freedom” of 165 independent states that reunite most of the world’s population. Results are discouraging, as the report shows an increasing trend toward authoritarianism around the world, with Venezuela sharing one of the worst positions overall.

To measure something as abstract as freedom, The Economist uses a 0 to 10 scale that classifies states into four categories: Full democracy, flawed democracy, hybrid regime and authoritarian regime. Five items are evaluated for every country: elections, civil liberties, functioning of the government, political culture and political participation. According to the report, only 19 countries around the world can be labelled as full democracies (a way too small 4.5% of the world population), while 52 fall on the authoritarian basket. Venezuela, as expected, is one of these. For the first time.

Located one-hundred and seventeen places behind Norway (another oil-giant that happens to be the most democratic country in the world), Venezuela shares an overall 3,87 score with Jordan, way below the Latin American average of 6,26 and losing more than 0,81 points compared to last year’s report.

We are still way above North Korea’s 1,08, though, world champion of authoritarianism.

Yay!

Venezuela’s decline is remarkable because it shifted from a “hybrid regime” to an “authoritarian regime” for the first time since The Economist publishes this rank, joining Cuba in the small Latin American Authoritarian Club. The authors argue that “Venezuela’s continued slide towards dictatorship,” reflected in the Government’s effort to sideline the Parliament, the imprisonment of disenfranchised opposition leaders and its violent control of last year’s protests, was the main reason for such result. The freedom of speech, another marker that fell globally last year, considered “the most important liberty of all”, also reflects Venezuela’s authoritarian character, with La Patria de Bolívar raking 109 in the world, its media categorised as “largely unfree.”

“Venezuela’s continued slide towards dictatorship,” reflected in the Government’s effort to sideline the Parliament, the imprisonment of disenfranchised opposition leaders and its violent control of last year’s protests, was the main reason for such result.

The report is also interesting because it contrasts the regional trend, with Latin America having the greatest number of “flawed democracies” in the world (16) and even having a full democracy (Uruguay), being the most democratic region of the undeveloped world.

Another remarkable case is the United States, categorised as a “flawed democracy” for the first time ever in 2016, due to “a serious decline in public trust in U.S. institutions”, following Donald Trump’s victory. Although still ranking 26th in the world, with a solid 9,16 overall score, The Economist argues that “[Trump’s] attempts to address the concerns of his voters have resulted in a further polarisation of US politics, resulting in a decline in the score for social cohesion in the 2017 Democracy Index.” According to them, this polarisation and the “bitter partisanship” that compromises the proper functioning of the U.S. Government are the most serious threats for the American democracy in the near future.

Western Europe remains another bastion for democracy, with fourteen full democracies, six flawed democracies and only one hybrid regime (Turkey). However, “the underlying problem of mainstream parties’ failure to address the concerns and insecurities of younger and working-class voters” is seen by the authors as a threat that “will continue to sustain anti-establishment sentiment for the foreseeable future” in the region. Spain’s 0,22 points drop compared to last year, following the Government’s treatment of the Catalonian crisis was the most remarkable feature of the region.

According to scholar Larry Diamond, the current trend reflects a “disappointment in traditional democracies” and the “elites” that represented them, a phenomenon particularly visible in developed, Western countries and that, according to the authors, explains Brexit and the 2016 U.S. Presidential election but we Venezuelans experienced it first hand over two decades ago.

Democracy must be taken seriously, and never for granted.

You can read The Economist’s full report and a detailed explanation of its methodology here.

Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.