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Democracy in Steep Decline Around the World

Author: Joshua Kurlantzick, Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia
July 15, 2011
The National

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Over the past six months, the world has watched as the Middle East, a region that long seemed immune to democratic change, has risen up.

The popular movements in the region have inspired democrats from around the globe. In China, online activists have called for a "Jasmine Revolution" designed to press the Communist Party to open up. While in Africa, reformers have called for their own "African Spring".

But the Arab Spring is, in many ways, a mirage. Several nations in the region may eventually make the transition to democracy - this is hardly assured - but in reality, democracy is faltering throughout the developing world, from Asia to Latin America, from Africa to the former Soviet states.

In its annual survey, the monitoring group Freedom House, which uses a range of data to assess social, political and economic freedoms, found that global freedom plummeted for the fifth year in a row in 2010, the longest continuous decline in nearly 40 years. In fact, there are now fewer elected democracies than there were in 1995.

A mountain of other evidence supported Freedom House's findings. One of the other most comprehensive studies of global democracy, compiled by Germany's Bertelsmann Foundation, uses data examining the ability of democracies to function, manage government and uphold freedoms to produce what it calls the Transformation Index.

The most recent index found "the overall quality of democracy has eroded [throughout the developing world] ... the key components of a functioning democracy, such as political participation and civil liberties, have suffered qualitative erosion ... these developments threaten to hollow out the quality and substance of governance". The index concluded that the number of "highly defective democracies" - democracies with institutions, elections and political culture so flawed that they no longer qualified as real democracies - had roughly doubled between 2006 and 2010.

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