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FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden talks virtually with service members, from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building's South Court Auditorium at the White House, during an event with first lady Jill Biden, in Washington, U.S., December 25, 2021. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

WHEN United States President Biden called the virtual Summit for Democracy earlier this month, he recognised in his closing speech that “Democracy is what makes it possible for hope and history to rhyme”, but also that democracy must deliver and be accountable.

This last view coincides with China’s White Paper on China: Democracy that Works – “there is nothing wrong with democracy per se.

Some countries have encountered setbacks and crises in their quest for democracy only because their approach is wrong.”

So who is right?

The American think tank Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2021 report “Democracy Under Siege”, noted that since 2005, their democracy score declined for 15 years in a row.

Swedish V-Dem Institute’s Democracy Report 2021 “Autocratisation Turns Viral” noted that autocracies are now home to 68% of world population and that “the level of democracy enjoyed by the average global citizen in 2020 is down to levels last found in 1990.”

The British Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), which publishes a Democracy Index 2020, divides countries into five categories: electoral process and pluralism, the functioning of government, political participation, political culture, and civil liberties.

Based on these, countries are divided into four types: full democracy, flawed democracy, hybrid regime and authoritarian regime.

In 2020, the EIU found that 75 out of 167 countries live in some sort of democracy, of which only 8.4% of the world live in full democracy.

Not surprisingly, the rich countries of North America and Western Europe are in the category of full or flawed democracies, but since 2016, the US has been classified under flawed democracy, with France, Belgium, Italy, and Portugal in the same category.

In essence, all three studies suggest that democracy has been declining across Sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East, Latin America, with India rated by V-Dem as an “electoral autocracy”.

Japanese Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry (REITI) visiting fellow Yusuke Narita recently examined “The Future of Democracy: Superiority is waning and headed for collapse.”

He noted that since the Arab Spring democratic movement in the Middle East fizzled out after 2011, democracy has suffered defeat after defeat.

Using the V-Dem Institute’s democracy index, he correlated democracy with gross domestic product growth rate between 2001-2019 and found that democracies have remained stagnant in growth, whereas non-democracies have achieved remarkable growth.

He concluded that “the lost two decades of democracies” is a truly global phenomenon.” Furthermore, he also looked at the impact of Covid-19 and found that “in democratic countries, the number of deaths from Covid-19 are higher, and the economic downturn in 2020 compared with 2019 was steeper in democracies than in autocracies.”What he feared was that “democracies are malfunctioning in crises as well as in normal times.”


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