Democracy is declining at a rapid rate with countries moving towards more authoritarian ruling. A think tank called “Freedom in the World” shows that 2018 was the 13th year in a row where freedoms are decreasing around the world.
In 2018 alone, 68 countries have declined in relation to political and civil rights. “More authoritarian powers are now banning opposition groups or jailing their leaders, dispensing with term limits, and tightening the screws on any independent media that remain,” the report stated. The rise in far-right leadership is spreading across Europe with press freedom and legal protection of migrants deteriorating.
Hungary, for example, abolished the independent judicial control on the government, Orban effectively now controls the whole of Hungary’s media. Hungary’s status has fallen from “free” to “partly free” and it is clear to see their decline in civil rights is one of the worst we have seen for a country inside the European Union. We have seen similar with changes in relation to Serbia with their President Aleksandar Vucic using extra-constitutional powers at an alarming rate as well as election irregularities. The National People’s Congress in China abolished a two-term limit for the president, allowing Xi Jinping to rule for as long as he wants.
A number of countries that turned to democracy after the Cold War have now sunken into corrupt, populist governments, anti-liberal movements and disregard to law. Scarily, even the established democracies have been taken over by populist movements that dismiss the ideas like the separation of powers.
The aftermath of the Cold War, led new countries moving to democracy in the 1970s but after the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) and the Soviet Union (1991) dismantling, we saw an unprecedented rise of democratic states across the world. According to the independent body Freedom House we saw from 1988 to 2005 a drop in countries that were not free (from 37% to 23%). However, between 2005 to 2018 this has increased to 26% with less free countries.
The rapid expansion of democracy in the 1990s and early 2000s has been halted dramatically most notably with the states that are economically struggling and having increasingly ethnic conflicts. The shift in power on the global stage can be attributed towards democracy’s demise. China’s GDP per capita has increased 16 times between 1990 to 2017 with globalisation allowing the opportunity to accumulate huge amounts of wealth. However, the disparity in the distribution of wealth has led to the low to medium skilled workers in democracies gaining little from the technological advancements. This has created increasing anger across Europe in particular with rising economic inequality and a lack of identity. The centre ground which has largely dominated democracies has failed to adapt to these changes and this has inadvertently created opportunities for parties on the left and right. They have shown that the elites as the biggest gainers in recent years whilst low-middle class people have seen a destruction to their living standards and national traditions.
That is why we are seeing populist movements on the right that affirm national sovereignty, animosity to immigration as an effective approach to seize political support. Right across Europe from Italy to Austria, anti-liberal movements have won elections by reinforcing closed national identities as majorities battle against the current global structure. They have been to build and launch damaging attacks to parties that have created policies to protect minorities against misconduct and stop an accumulation of power.
This damages democracy greatly as by dismissing attitudes about civil and political rights, it universally weakens democracy. An example of this, is anti-liberal parties attacking the media which has led to a more divided press, with some even been control by political groups. There are rising threats against journalists across the world as authoritative leaders refuse to acknowledge such threats.
Elections are just another way where democracy has been compromised. One example can be looked at are the term limits for leaders which have been considered an important part of democracy. Freedom House has found that 34 countries have tried to change term limits and 31 have been successful. In particular countries in the regions of Africa, old Soviet Union and Latin America have had their term limits changed the most.
Populist leaders have appeal to tradition national values in democracies and can often use it as a way to violate human rights as they demise the importance of global individual rights. By alienating institutions such as the United Nations without any real alternative, governments are able to undermine the underlying international structure that constrains authoritarian leaders.
Major democracies are struggling and more than ever it needs defending. Traditional powers who instilled democracy with the ideology of ensuring peace and freedom for all are in considerable trouble.