There has been a decline in democratic tenets in several countries with the most worrying examples of “democratic backsliding” seen in India, Brazil, and the United States, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance said in a report published on Monday.
The report defined “democratic backsliding” as the “sustained and deliberate process of subversion of basic democratic tenets by political actors and governments”.
The report, titled Global State of Democracy 2021, said that the number of countries where “democratic backsliding” happened and the nations that were moving towards authoritarianism in 2020, was higher than those heading towards democracy.
Read the full report here.
The report said that among all countries, most democratic violations during the pandemic took place in India.
These included harassment, arrests and prosecution of human rights activists, journalists, students, academics and those critical of the government and its policies, excessive use of force to enforce Covid-19 regulation, harassment of Muslim minorities and internet shutdowns and lockdowns, especially in Kashmir.
The report said that India imposed the highest number of internet shutdowns last year. Another report, released by digital rights and privacy organisation Access Now in March had also noted that last year, India had the highest number of internet shutdowns – 109 out of the total 155 globally.
Several human rights activists, including the accused persons in the Bhima Koregaon case, have been languishing in jail for a long period of time without trials. Tribal rights activist Stan Swamy had died in custody in July while awaiting trail.
Multiple states governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party have passed anti-conversion laws to penalise “love jihad” and allegedly target Muslims.
The pejorative term has been coined by the right-wing groups to push the conspiracy theory that Muslim men lure Hindu women into marrying them with the sole purpose of converting their brides to Islam.
The Global State of Democracy 2021 report also said that religion has been used a political weapon in India.
“In India, the government has used laws against cow slaughter and anti-conversion to target Muslims while sedition and counter-terrorism laws have been used to target human rights defenders, student activists, academics, opposition members and other critics,” the report added.
In the report, former Chief Election Commissioner of India SY Quraishi said that he has been witness to the change of global democracy. But, he added that despite India’s poor ranks in terms of democracy, its spirit remains strong among the people.
“Democracy is on the back foot, and more countries are moving towards authoritarianism than at any other point since 1995,” he said. “However, I am confident that democracy’s resilience, perhaps its greatest asset, will allow it ultimately to triumph.”
- India has turned into an ‘electoral autocracy’, says Swedish institute
- India loses its status as ‘free’ in Freedom House’s 2021 report
The report pointed out that electoral integrity has faced increased questioning even in established democracies. It cited the example of former US President Donald Trump’s “baseless allegations” during the 2020 US presidential election.
It noted that Myanmar, that was recovering from military rule, fell victim to a military coup. The agency pointed out that the leaders of the coup cited faulty elections to justify their actions.
“Perhaps the greatest blow to democratic ideals was the fall of the people’s government in Afghanistan, which has seen war being waged for the sake of preserving democratic principles,” the report said.
It added: “Significantly, the United States, the bastion of global democracy, fell victim to authoritarian tendencies itself, and was knocked down a significant number of steps on the democratic scale.”
Other findings and methodology
The report said that 20 countries were moving towards authoritarianism and seven nations were heading towards democracy. It added that these “negative trends” had become more serious and added to concerns with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Over the past two years, some countries, particularly Hungary, India, the Philippines and the USA, have seen a number of democratic attributes affected by measures that amount to democratic violations – that is, measures that were disproportionate, illegal, indefinite or unconnected to the nature of the emergency,” the report said.
As much as 70% of the world’s population lives either in non-democratic regimes or in “democratically backsliding” countries, the report noted, adding that only 9% of the population was living in high-performing democracies.
The report is based on events that have impacted the global democratic governance since the start of the pandemic. The information for the analysis was collected from various sources, including from two of International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance indices.
The international organisation’s Global Monitor provides data on measures taken on the coronavirus pandemic in 165 countries. The Global State of Democracy has data on democratic quality for the same countries, based on 28 aspects of democracy up until the end of 2020.
“Both data sources are developed around a conceptual framework, which defines democracy as based on five core attributes: Representative Government, Fundamental Rights, Checks on Government, Impartial Administration and Participatory Engagement,” the report said. “These five attributes provide the organizing structure for this report.”