Democracy at risk as more countries ‘slide towards authoritarianism’

Large democracies such as the United States, Brazil and India have witnessed ‘democratic erosion’

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
Monday 22 November 2021 12:48
<p>File photo: U.S. voters queue to cast their ballots in North Carolina in last year’s elections </p>

File photo: U.S. voters queue to cast their ballots in North Carolina in last year’s elections

Democracy is under threat across the world with a large number of countries sliding towards authoritarianism amid the Covid-19 pandemic, a Stockholm-based intergovernmental body said in a new report.

Authoritarian regimes are growing in number, and their leaders are acting ever more brazenly, according to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA).

The coronavirus pandemic has provided additional tools and justification for repressive tactics and the silencing of dissent in countries as diverse as Belarus, Cuba, Myanmar, Nicaragua and Venezuela, the report said.

"More countries than ever are suffering from democratic erosion," International IDEA said in its 2021 study on the state of democracy, relying on data compiled since 1975.

"In fact, 70 per cent of the global population now live either in non-democratic regimes or in democratically backsliding countries," the report said.

Right-wing leaders weaponising the pandemic to silence critics, large scale crackdowns on dissent, and disinformation used to divide societies are mainly to blame for the rise in authoritarianism, the report said.

The 34-nation organization said that as of August 2021, 64 per cent of countries had taken actions to curb Covid-19 that it considers “disproportionate, unnecessary or illegal".

“Many democratic governments are backsliding,” the institute warned, adding that the situation is worsening in non-democratic countries. Autocratic regimes have become “even more brazen in their repression", by restricting free speech and weakening the rule of law, it said.

According to the report, the number of countries heading towards authoritarianism in 2020 outnumbered those nations going in a democratic direction. In the past two years, the world has lost four democracies, either through “flawed elections or military coups”, International IDEA said.

The number of backsliding democracies has doubled in the past decade with Hungary, Poland, Slovenia and Serbia showing the greatest erosion in democracy in Europe. Turkey has seen one of the largest declines between 2010 and 2020.

Large democracies such as the United States, Brazil and India are witnessing 'democratic erosion', the report found. Former US leader Donald Trump and current Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro questioned the validity of election results in recent years. In the world's largest democracy India, minorities have been persecuted while government critics face arrest and prosecution.

"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," Dr SY Quraishi, India's former chief election commissioner, wrote in the report.

Afghanistan fell into authoritarianism after the Taliban took Kabul on 15 August in the wake of the US military withdrawal, drawing to an end two decades of war with the militants.

Elsewhere, Myanmar's democractic collapse was marked by the 1 February coup. Mali has suffered two coups since 2020, and in Tunisia, the president has dissolved parliament and assumed emergency powers.

“This is the time for democracies to be bold, to innovate and revitalize themselves,” International IDEA Secretary-General Kevin Casas-Zamora said in a statement.

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