How is democracy around the world? Political participation is increasing again, as is the proportion of women in politics, according to the index of democracy. But the list of incomplete democracies is long.

“Worldwide, we see a real improvement in the political participation of women, not only in politics, but also in the economy,” says Fiona Mackie of the Economist Intelligence Unit  (EIU). She is editor-in-chief of the Democracy Index of the British magazine The Economist and head of the American analysis department.

However, despite the women’s quota and more women’s deputies in many parliaments worldwide, women are still in the minority and far from a 50 percent share. “Unfortunately, a 20 percent women’s representation is enough to call a parliament comparatively equal,” Mackie points out.

World mostly undemocratic

The Democratic Index of the British Economist Intelligence Unit annually assesses the democratic conditions in 167 countries.

In each case, to measure the degree of democracy and classify a country into one of four regimes, it awards points in five categories: electoral procedures and pluralism, government practices, political participation, political culture and citizenship. Depending on the number of points obtained, a country is therefore considered as complete or incomplete democracy, as a hybrid of autocracy and democracy or as an authoritarian regime.

The list of “incomplete” democracies is the largest group in the EIU index: 55 countries, which together make up a good 43 percent of the world’s population, are included. The US is still in the ranking of this group behind South Korea, Japan, Chile and Estonia and just before the African island nation of Cape Verde and Portugal.

“Damaged” US Democracy 

Since 2016, the EIU Index has labeled the US “incomplete democracy” – not least because dissatisfaction with government work among the population is growing and trust in public institutions is shrinking. The polarization of society, as well as the foreign and domestic policies of US President Donald Trump  , have been negative in the assessment of political culture. In contrast, the Index rates the higher proportion of women in the US Congress after the latest elections. This, in turn, has a positive effect on the category “political participation”.

Western Europe: a mixed picture

The democracies of many European countries such as France, Belgium and Italy were also classified as “incomplete”. Although index values ​​in  Western Europe have  fallen slightly for the third year in a row, “there is no reason to declare democracy dead in Europe,” says Index chief editor Mackie. After all, seven Western European countries are among the top ten in the ranking of democratic development.

Icon Image |  Referendum in Italy to change the constitution (picture-alliance / dpa)
Europe gives a mixed picture when it comes to democracy

“Yes, there is a problem with democracy that we have seen over the past few years, but there are also positive signs, such as growing political participation,” Mackie said.

This does not only mean turnout, but also political engagement in the population, be it in political parties, in civil society organizations or in street protests, Mackie says, pointing to the differentiated coverage of data that feed into the Democracy Index.

Stronger civil society

Also globally, the EIU index registers a growing political participation in the population. “We have seen new forms of participation, including through social media, and a broad action movement using legal means, which has increased more than involvement in traditional political systems,” Mackie said.

Political scientist Julia Leininger also rates the growing commitment of civil society as a positive trend. She heads the program “Transformation of Political (Dis) Order” of the German Development Institute, DIE, in Bonn.

There are protest movements in the US and Hong Kong, for example, where people demonstrate against governments, but also in many other parts of the world. “We see this especially in Africa, where there are many local protests, and that has another dimension because there are few institutions people can turn to.”

Unpredictable development

However, the positive trends – a stronger civil society and the increased participation of women in politics – can not hide the fact that only 20 countries were given the title of “complete democracy”. More than half of the world’s population lives in dictatorships or in countries with a mixture of autocracy and democracy.

In addition, it is questionable: the more possibilities there are to express oneself critically, for example on the Internet and via social media, the more sophisticated the digital control  options of authoritarian regimes become.

“China also exports a lot of software, for example to Africa, to control people,” observes DIE expert Leininger.

Germany exhibition scared.  A German emotional state?  in the House of History in Bonn (picture alliance / dpa)
Digital surveillance is increasing worldwide

Mackie from the EIU confirms this development. “We are deeply concerned that the increased commitment (civil society, editor’s note) will be combated by restrictions on civil rights, and we see an unpredictable mix that could lead to instability in 2019.”

Influence on development aid

The EIU index is just one of many indices that measure the degree of democracy of states. It is based not on self-collected data but on freely available information and on evaluations by 60 economist country experts. These in turn have access to around 200 correspondents around the world.

Although the EIU index does not meet any scientific standards, “you get an idea of ​​where the societies are and what the democracies look like,” says DIE policy researcher Leininger.

Democracy measurement is more than just an academic exercise. Many aid agencies and governments use country classification to assess where grants and support are best spent. According to a Washington Post article, Freedom House’s “Freedom of the World” index is the benchmark for most US aid agency decisions.

The non-governmental organization Freedom House divides countries into three categories rather than four: “free”, “partly free” and “not free”. As a result of this distribution, 39 percent of all countries are considered “free”, with the EIU index only 12 percent.

Insecure future

Overall and globally, there is no reason to be all-clear, according to Mackie of the EIU.

“We would like to be pleased with the growing political commitment and the fact that global democracy values ​​have not fallen for the first time in three years,” says Mackie. “However, we are concerned overall and do not see trends as the beginning of the end of the global decline in democracy, but merely as a break.”

The next EIU Index is scheduled for early 2020 and, as it has been since 2006, will continue to look at global democracy development.

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