Global democracy is again on the decline for the sixth year in a row–but signs are pointing to higher interest and enthusiasm in political participation especially among the youth, according to a new international report asking for urgent action to contain and reverse these losses.
Published on Nov. 2, the report by the Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) noted that at least half of the 175 countries they surveyed saw a democratic backsliding in 2023 in at least one of four indicators: representation, rights, rule of law and civic participation. This is the sixth year in a row that net losses were more than net gains since IDEA began keeping records in 1975.
Much of this, IDEA said, can be attributed to weakened elections, legislatures and judiciaries; diminished free speech and lack of respect for basic human rights. “In short,” IDEA Secretary-General Kevin Casas-Zamora
, “democracy is still in trouble, stagnant at best, and declining in many places.”
The report echoes similar studies pointing to a global pivot toward authoritarianism, with illiberal countries like China and Russia casting democracy as a “Western” value and promoting illiberalism
as another pathway to prosperity and social welfare.
In Asia, at least, the broader pattern of democratic decline has “mostly come to a halt,”
the report noted. But it is also slow to see a turnaround, with many Asian countries still below the global average in every category. The steepest declines were recorded in Myanmar and Afghanistan, both of which saw their governments seized by the junta and the Taliban respectively in 2021.
But there are snapshots of hope: for one, the defeat of the mighty United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party during the November 2022 election stood as an example
to its Southeast Asian neighbors whose polls were marred by irregularities.
Thailand also saw the highest voter turnout
in its history during its May 2023 parliamentary elections, handing a historic win to the progressive Move Forward Party.
The courts of Pakistan, Hong Kong, South Korea, India and the Philippines have also delivered landmark rulings that have either expanded the rights of women and LGBTQIA+ people or helped protect free speech.
These developments, the report said, show that the “gears of democracy” continue to turn around the world. But to keep its gains, both formal (e.g., the judiciary, anti-corruption agencies) and informal institutions (e.g., civil society, the media) must collaborate and “create openings for change in nondemocracies.”