Democracy in ‘crisis’ around the globe, says US think tank

By on 24/01/2018
Illustration by KAL from the 2018 Freedom of the World report (Image courtesy: “Freedom House / Freedom in the World 2018").

Political freedom declined around the world in 2017 as the United States retreated from its traditional role as a champion of democracy, according to Washington DC-based think tank Freedom House.

For the 12th consecutive year, there was a worldwide deterioration in political rights and civil liberties, with conditions worsening in 71 countries and improving in just 35, its report Freedom in the World 2018 found.

Countries that were previously progressing towards greater democracy have seen dramatic declines over the past decade, with Turkey dropping 34 points in the 100-point index to score 32, Venezuela falling 21 points to score 26 and Hungary dropping 20 points to score 72.

Meanwhile, China and Russia were increasing repression at home and stepping up efforts to extend their influence abroad, the report states.

Totalitarianism on the rise

Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House (Image courtesy: “Freedom House / Freedom in the World 2018″).

“Democracy is facing its most serious crisis in decades,” said Michael J Abramowitz, president of Freedom House. “Democracy’s basic tenets – including guarantees of free and fair elections, the rights of minorities, freedom of the press, and the rule of law – are under siege around the world.”

Within the United States, a gradual five-point decline in political rights and civil liberties after 2010 accelerated sharply in 2017, with the country falling three places to score 86 out of 100, the survey shows. This was due to growing evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election campaign, violations of basic ethical standards by the Trump administration and a reduction in government transparency, the report states.

Democratic institutions under pressure

“The core institutions of American democracy are being battered by an administration that has treated the country’s traditional checks and balances with disdain,” said Abramowitz.

“President Trump himself has mingled the concerns of his business empire with his role as president, appointed family members to his senior staff, filled other high positions with lobbyists and representatives of special interests, and refused to abide by disclosure and transparency practices observed by his predecessors.”

Abramowitz said the Trump administration has also made a sharp break from the political consensus of the last 70 years by casting aside democracy as the animating force behind American foreign policy.

The flame flickers

The offices of Freedom House in Washington DC (Image courtesy: AgnosticPreachersKid).

“The hastening withdrawal of the United States from its historical commitment to supporting democracy overseas makes the challenge posed by authoritarian regimes all the more powerful and threatening,” he said.

Of the 195 countries involved in the 2018 study, 45% were rated free, 30% partly free and 25% not free. The five top-scoring countries were Finland, Norway, Sweden, Canada and Netherlands, while the bottom five were Syria, South Sudan, Eritrea, North Korea and Turkmenistan.

About Liz Heron

Liz Heron is a journalist based in London, who specialises in international news. She worked on daily newspapers for 16 years, reporting extensively on both general news and education. She was Education Editor of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and has contributed to a wide range of British media including The Independent, The Guardian and the BBC.

One Comment

  1. Dave Cooper

    25/01/2018 at

    If Freedom House are looking for a Democratic Crisis maybe they should look at the White House first.

    Democracy seems to have been replaced with “the last man to speak to the President, before he speaks”

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