Under assault from Covid restrictions, democracy around the world is losing the battle against authoritarianism, according to a new report.
The average global democracy score in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2021 Democracy Index recorded the biggest year-on-year fall since 2010 and the global financial crash.
The index provides a snapshot of the current state of democracy worldwide for 165 independent states and two territories – almost the entire population of the world – by gauging five key factors: elections, governance, political participation; political culture; and civil liberties.
In Europe, Spain led a slight, continent-wide democratic decline, with Madrid being downgraded from a “full democracy” to a “flawed democracy”.
The UK dropped two positions and 0.44 from its overall score in the index, edging closer to a “flawed democracy” classification. France was already in the “flawed democracy” group, along with the US.
Fears that the Covid pandemic are being exploited, particularly by authoritarian regimes to further erode civil liberties appear to have been borne out by the survey.
The authors, led by Joan Hoey, say the negative effect of Covid-19 on democracy and freedom is continuing, with an “unprecedented withdrawal of civil liberties among developed democracies and authoritarian regimes alike” in the second year of the pandemic.
They say that lockdowns, travel restrictions and the introduction of Covid vaccination passes for participation in public life has led to the “normalisation of emergency powers, which have tended to stay on the statute books” and have “accustomed citizens to a huge extension of state power over large areas of public and personal life”.
This year’s report is named “The China challenge”. It notes that even as China cements its status as a global superpower, the world’s most populous nation has become less democratic and less free.
In addition, less than half (45.7 per cent) of the world’s population now live in a democracy of some sort, which is a significant decline from 2020 (49.4 per cent).
Even fewer (6.4 per cent) reside in a “full democracy”; this level is slightly down from 6.8 per cent in 2020, after two countries (Chile and Spain) were downgraded to “flawed democracies”.
Latin America suffered a big setback in 2021. The change in the region’s score in 2021 was the biggest year-on-year decline experienced by any region since the start of the Democracy Index in 2006