Democracy Decline in the World

The emergence of countless populist leaders and groups has compromised democracy around the globe, through its vehement rejection of pluralism and opposition to power limitations – thus conveying their
individual interests, generally at the minorities’ cost.

After all, what is, truly, democracy? In an etymological sense, analyzing its provenance from the Greek term dēmokratia, it translates into “governance by the people”. Initially corresponding to political system
existent in the 5th century BC, in Greek city-states (specially Athens), the term “democracy” has come to evolve with the elapse of History, transforming and adapting itself – however maintaining, essentially, the
same meaning: the form of government that implies the control of the population by the majority of its members, where the people have the authority of deliberation and formulation of legislation.

This transition of the international system, in an antidemocratic direction, has intensified with the spread of attacks against democratic institutions, mainly in the regions of Europe and Eurasia, truly challenging

Let us step into the phenomenon that has been called democratic backsliding (or, in a simplified way, autocratization). Although democracy remains the most popular form of government around the world, with 98 out of 165 analyzed countries respecting this type of regime, some factors have come into play to contribute to a gradual and indubitable recession in the direction of a wider implementation of autocratic regimes. Amongst these: the lack of public support, economic inequalities and social tensions, populist
politics and the external influence of power politics – the so-called Machtpolitik.

Despite the regime changes through coup d’etat being now way less common, having drastically reduced in number after the end of the Cold War,democratic backsliding has come to grow in more subtle ways, a lot of them occurring in weakly institutionalized democracies, democracies considered recent and vulnerable to instabilities (that may have emerged during the third democratization wave, in the final years of the 20th century). Any sort of threat to the political institutions that comprise the foundation of democracy, from the affectation of pacific power transitions or voting rights to more “indirect” issues, that end up having a domino effect – the violation of individual rights and threats to freedom of expression –, deteriorate, with time, the efficiency and sustainability of democratic regimes.

All these instabilities impose an accentuated risk in national crisis situations, as can be illustrated with an extremely recent example experienced in some countries: in the eventuality of the declaration of an
emergency state, the imposition of autocratic rules and limitations considered disproportionate to the severity of the crisis (or that stay in place after the situation alleviates) correspond to a decadence of the prevalence of democracy in the international system.

The case of the Covid-19 pandemic wasn’t an exception, having several violations of international norms been reported – some of them major, in 9 democratic countries, and others moderate, in 23. Far from
surprisingly, 55 autocratic regimes incurred in major or moderate international norm violations. The biggest example concerns the containment measures (direct control of public circulation) and the limitation of media freedom, the latter as a means of concealing action failures in response to the public health matter in certain countries.

The dangers of democracy decline may hide in its silent evolution, being relatively difficult to pinpoint the exact moment at which a government becomes truly autocratic, seeing as this process is slow and
gradual. Regardless of the world being still more democratic than in the 1970s and 1980s, the global decline in liberal democracy is unquestionable and has been steep over the last decade – the democracy level experienced by an average world citizen is comparable to levels seen around 1990.

Countries in the process of autocratization (red) or in the process of democratization (blue), in a
substantial and significant manner (2010-2020); according to V-Dem Institute.

Notwithstanding this abrupt democracy decay – that demands, without a doubt, the reformulation of countless social contracts so as to adapt them to the constant changes of the international panorama, always keeping in mind the respect for civil and political individual rights – the future might be promising, with the already evident emergence of social contract renegotiation movements, conducted by both governments and populations (Take Sri Lanka as an example, with uprising against the Rajapaksa government, resulting in the cutting-through of some ethnical and sociopolitical cleavages).

Democracy Tracker
Freedom House

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