The number of countries moving towards authoritarian regimes is more than double that moving towards democratic systems in the last five years, according to a study on the global state of democracy published yesterday by the International Institute for Democracy (IDEA). Half of the 173 countries evaluated suffer democratic erosion.
The study classifies countries into three types of political regimes: democratic (104), authoritarian (49) and hybrid (20). It also classifies democracies according to their practice, based on factors such as fundamental rights or representativeness. The invasion of Ukraine has cost the Russian Federation to go from being considered a hybrid regime to an authoritarian one in the last year.
Half of the democracies are experiencing major erosion in relation to civil liberties, government controls and fair elections. Sometimes it is the elected leaders who blow up the institutions from within. Brazil, El Salvador, Hungary and Poland are falling sharply, while India, Mauritius and the United States are doing so more moderately.
The case of the latter is particularly worrying, due to its global impact. “America is on the verge of democratic bankruptcy: Republicans are working to discredit the election results using violence. We see a decline in sexual and reproductive rights, and the levels of polarization are worse than ever. In addition, the change of administration has not stopped this deterioration”, denounces Kevin Casas-Zamora, general secretary of IDEA.
Authoritarianism is entrenched in the Asia-Pacific region, where only 54% of the population lives in a democracy and almost 85% lives in a weak or receding democracy. In addition, authoritarian regimes have increased repression. Rising tensions in Taiwan and the suppression of democracy in Hong Kong make China, which has the world's second-highest GDP, one of the main challenges to global democracy.
“The price authoritarian leaders pay today is much less. In addition, Western democracies have been weakened by mistakes made in events such as the Iraq war, the financial crisis of 2008 and the experience of Trump in the United States”, says Casas-Zamora, to explain that 46% of European democracies have suffered deterioration.
The erosion of democratic systems in the West and their inability to meet social demands pave the way for leaders like Xi Jinping. “Liberal democracy today has competitors from credible forms of government that it did not have 30 years ago. That is why today China is giving the message, in a very conscious way, that its model of government is superior and that it is a credible development model that hopefully other countries will adopt. This message is very attractive for developing countries”, declares the general secretary of IDEA.
China, with its zero covid policy, has exhibited its management of the pandemic as proof that its political system is superior to democratic models. But the wave of protests unleashed last weekend in the most important cities of the country poses a challenge for the Xi Jinping government.
“Some believe that an authoritarian system like China's is much more effective at making decisions in times of crisis. Of course, if no one is consulted, making decisions is faster and easier. But the propensity for error is much higher. In addition, these systems do not have the ability to self-correct”, says Casas-Zamora.
“In a democracy, every four or five years you can change the course of policy. In an authoritarian country like China it is like playing roulette: you can play Lee Kuan Yew, and you will do very well, or you can play Pol Pot, and you will do very badly; you may stay locked in the room with him without the possibility of correcting the course ”, concludes the general secretary of IDEA.
The number of protests around the world has more than doubled between 2017 and 2022. The study includes the repression exerted against the protests carried out by women against 40 years of "theocratic dictatorship" in Iran, the fight against repression in Burma after the coup d'état and the controversy derived from the complaint about the violation of human rights of foreign workers in the works for the World Cup in Qatar.