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US joins annual list of 'backsliding' democracies, says report

It said that as of August 2021, 64 per cent of countries have taken an action to curb the pandemic that it considers "disproportionate, unnecessary or illegal."

Deteriorating Democracy, illustration: binay sinha
Illustration: Binay Sinha

Democracy is deteriorating across the world, with countries notably taking undemocratic and unnecessary actions to contain the coronavirus pandemic, an intergovernmental body said in its new report on Monday. “Many democratic governments are backsliding,” the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance said.

The 34-nation organisation added that as of August 2021, 64 per cent of countries have taken an action to curb the pandemic that it considers “disproportionate, unnecessary or illegal."

Autocratic regimes have become “even more brazen in their repression,” free speech has been restricted and the rule of law has been weakened, it said. In its flagship report on the state of democracy, Inter­na­tional IDEA said the number of backsliding democracies has doubled in the past decade, and mentioned in particular the US, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia.

“This is the time for democ­racies to be bold, to innovate and revitalise themselves,” International IDEA Secretary-General Kevin Casas-Zamora said. The report said that “the two years since our last report have not been good for democ­racy,” and the achievement reac­hed when democracy became the predominant form of governance "now hangs in the balance like never before.” 

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“Overall, the number of countries moving in an authoritarian direction in 2020 outnumbered those going in a democratic direction,” the report said, adding that in the past two years, the world has lost at least four democracies, “either through flawed elections or military coups.”

It said more than 80 countries have seen protests and civic action during the pandemic despite often-harsh government restrictions. However, pro-democracy movements have met repression in Belarus; Cuba; Eswatini, previously known as Swaziland; Myanmar; and Sudan. 

In Asia, International IDEA said, Afghanistan, Hong Kong and Myanmar have suffered from “a wave of growing authoritarianism.” But democratic erosion has also been found in India, the Philippin­es and Sri Lanka. 

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“China's influence, coupled with its own deepening autocratisation, also puts the legitimacy of the demo­cratic model at risk,” the report said. 

The report also noted that half the democracies in the Americas have suffered democratic erosion, with notable declines in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador and the United States.