Halfway to 2018, democracy stands firm to constant challenges around the world. Larry Diamond, one of the world’s leading democracy scholars, claims we have been going through a “democracy recession”.

According to the author, among the leading indicators that democracy plummeted are declining of popular participation in politics, weaknesses in the functioning of government, deterioration of trust in institutions while growing influence of unelected and unaccountable expert bodies, and the erosion of civil liberties.

However, data-driven reports on the current state of democracy and comparative global rankings can still offer some hope and optimism. That is the case, particularly on election integrity issues such as political participation, gender equality, voting accessibility, among others. Two of these referential studies are The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index and The Global State of Democracy research by The Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA).

The Democracy Index

Since 2006 the EIU has published its Index, which measures democracies’ strength around the world through five categories and at least 60 indicators. The groups include the electoral process and pluralism, the functioning of government, political participation, democratic political culture and civil liberties.

Unfortunately, according to the results, democracy seems to be retreating. Almost one-half (49.3%) of the world’s population lives in a democracy of some sort, but only 5% enjoys a full democracy. This adds up to only 19 countries, mostly European. Conversely, a third of the world population still lives under an authoritarian regime. Out of the 167 nations studied, 89 received a lower score than the year before.

The index offers critical information on what might be harming democratic growth. A mix of factors that are taking place, include the rise of populism and the lack of public participation in politics.

Voters, especially young ones, are losing interest in elections and politics because they feel left out of the conversation. Hence the relevance to foster civic participation by offering election stakeholders the opportunity to engage, co-create, and be heard. Interestingly enough, the first category of the index is whether elections are considered fair or not (deemed as the keystone of democracy).

The Global State of Democracy

International IDEA’s research explores democracy’s resilience. It scrutinises global and regional trends and challenges since 1975, based on the Institute own indicators (GSoD indices). According to the analysis, democracy continues to be in demand and has shown resilient properties over time. It has made considerable progress over the last 40 years, especially on free elections, respect for fundamental rights and control of the government.

However, regarding election integrity issues, the report gives evidence of a growing disconnect between politicians and the electorate. “Party systems in established democracies are under threat, and traditional political leadership is caught between the centralization of policy decisions on the one hand and disaffected voters on the other hand.” Other critical factors are also evaluated such as the damaging influence of big money in politics, the imbalances created by inequality, and the need to promote and facilitate peacebuilding processes.

From a positive standpoint, the study examines how public trust in political parties, parliamentary institutions and political leaders can be restored, while also tackling transnational challenges that cause a decline in trust and legitimacy in democratic governance.

On the way to better election integrity

One of the latest surveys by Pew Research Centre on global attitudes towards democracy has also exposed a detachment between “still generally high levels of public support across the globe and a deep popular disappointment with the functioning of democracy and systems of political representation.”

Even though the statistics reveal some definite highlights, the gap between political representatives and electorates it is in fact widening. And the matter directly affects the citizen’s enjoyment of fundamental democratic rights, the relative robustness of democracy in their countries, and the advance of election integrity in the global panorama. There has never been a better time to evaluate and co-create best practices, recommendations and policies improvements across democracies.

 

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