US Secretary of State Tony Blinken on Wednesday said authoritarianism and nationalism are on the rise around the world with
governments becoming less transparent and losing the people's trust.
In a major foreign policy speech after becoming the top American diplomat, Blinken said the latest report 'Freedom in the World 2021' by Freedom House is "sobering".
The report, which is an annual country-by-country assessment of political rights and civil liberties, downgraded the freedom scores of 73 countries, representing 75 per cent of the global population.
Democracy has eroded in the United States as well, the report noted.
While still considered 'free', the United States experienced further democratic decline during the final year of the Trump presidency, it said.
The US score in 'Freedom in the World' has dropped by 11 points over the past decade, and fell by three points in 2020 alone.
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The changes have moved the country out of a cohort that included other leading democracies, such as France and Germany, and brought it into the company of states with weaker democratic institutions, such as Romania and Panama, Freedom House said.
Blinken, in his maiden foreign policy address, responded to the report by saying Democracy is under threat.
A new report from the independent watchdog group Freedom House is sobering. Authoritarianism and nationalism are on the rise around the world. Governments are becoming less transparent and have lost the trust of the people. Elections are increasingly flashpoints for violence. Corruption is growing. And the pandemic has accelerated many of these trends, Blinken said.
The more we and all democracies can show the world that we can deliver not only for our people, but also for each other the more we can refute the lie that authoritarian countries love to tell that theirs is the better way to meet people's fundamental needs and hopes. It's on us to prove them wrong, he said.
We will use the power of our example. We will encourage others to make key reforms, overturn bad laws, fight corruption, and stop unjust practices. We will incentivise democratic behaviour, he added.
But we will not promote democracy through costly military interventions or by attempting to overthrow authoritarian regimes by force. We have tried these tactics in the past. However well intentioned, they haven't worked. They've given democracy promotion a bad name, and they've lost the confidence of the American people. We will do things differently, Blinken said.
According to the Freedom House report, the government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the global democratic decline.
Repressive regimes and populist leaders worked to reduce transparency, promote false or misleading information, and crackdown on the sharing of unfavourable data or critical views. Many of those who voiced objections to their government's handling of the pandemic faced harassment or criminal charges.
Lockdowns were sometimes excessive, politicised, or brutally enforced by security agencies.
And antidemocratic leaders worldwide used the pandemic as cover to weaken the political opposition and consolidate power, it said.
In fact, many of the year's negative developments will likely have lasting effects, meaning the eventual end of the pandemic will not necessarily trigger an immediate revitalisation of democracy, the report said.
In Hungary, for example, the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbn took on emergency powers during the health crisis and misused them to withdraw financial assistance from municipalities led by opposition parties, it added.
In Sri Lanka, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa dissolved Parliament in early March and, with new elections repeatedly delayed due to COVID-19, ruled without a legislature for several months. Later in the year, both Hungary and Sri Lanka passed constitutional amendments that further strengthened executive power, he said.
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