There is less and less democracy, and liberal values are being challenged – also in Western countries. Are we facing a democratic crisis or a natural change?
- What is democracy?
- How did democracy spread?
- What is the status of democracy in the world today?
- Is there cause for concern?
According to the independent American organization Freedom House, there are many indications that 2018 will be the thirteenth year in a row of democratic decline worldwide. We are seeing more and more authoritarian regimes and fewer democratic countries. For example, Russia and China have become more authoritarian while so-called “illiberal democracies” are emerging in Turkey as well as in the EU countries Hungary and Poland. This is happening in parallel with Donald Trump challenging democratic institutions, and especially the press , in the United States. The Americans are also no longer an international flag bearer for democracy and have withdrawn from various international co-operation platforms, including the UN Human Rights Council.
In other words, these are challenging times for liberal democracy, and many are questioning democracy’s ability to survive. But what exactly is the status of democracy globally? To shed light on this question, it is important to understand the historical starting point for the development of democracy and thus be able to see today’s challenges in a broader perspective.
2: What is democracy?
Democracy as we know it today is in many ways a modern form of government. Although the principle of democracy dates back to ancient times, it was not until the 19th century that a broader section of the population in Europe and America gained co-determination. From the beginning of the 20th century, men over a certain age were allowed to take part in national elections. Women had to wait even longer and, for example, did not get full voting rights in Switzerland until 1971.
Democracy is a form of government in which the people, understood as the country’s adult inhabitants, elect representatives who formulate the laws and make important political decisions, according to Store norske leksikon. Another important characteristic of a democracy is that the citizens themselves can participate in and shape policy, among other things through the establishment of parties, organizations and interest groups.
In this article, we use the term liberal democracy . Such a system is characterized not only by democracy, but also by the following:
- Distribution of power, where competition for power takes place through free and fair elections
- Ruleof law with laws and courts that limit the authority’s exercise of power
- Open society where citizens have access to information
- Free and independent media
- Individual freedom and equality in the form of inalienable civil and political rights, including the right to life, freedom from torture, freedom of religion and expression, the right to participate in elections, freedom of assembly, property rights and privacy.
If we use these criteria, only 19 countries are considered complete democracies, according to The Economist Intelligence Unit’s democracy index from 2017 . Of these, Norway is ranked at the very top. 57 countries are characterized as democracies with shortcomings, 39 are hybrid regimes and 52 are authoritarian regimes.
3: The story of democratization
The American political scientist Samuel Huntington explained in the early 90’s the spread of democracy in the form of three waves: The first wave started with democracy in the USA and spoke at most 29 democracies before the First World War. After World War II, a new wave came with the democratization of countries such as Germany, Japan and Italy in addition to countries that were decolonized in Asia and Africa. From 1974-1989 came the third and final wave of democratization, according to Huntington. During this period, countries in Southern Europe (Greece, Spain, Portugal), South America (Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay) and Central Europe (Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland) received a change from authoritarian regimes, including military dictatorship, to democratic governance.
According to SPORTSQNA, Liberalism as an ideology was further strengthened in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The end of the Cold War led to many authoritarian states losing support from both the West and the Soviet Union. In addition, Western liberal democracies used economic sanctions to pressure authoritarian regimes , already plagued by economic crises, to further democratize. Countries such as Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Cambodia, Cameroon, Kenya, Mozambique, Russia, and Tanzania established multi-party elections during the 1990s. In other words, the decade was a “perfect storm for dictatorships” , and many countries were forced to democratize. The only problem was that the liberal principles were not necessarily institutionalized.
Many talked about a fourth wave of democracy in connection with the Arab Spring, the common term for popular riots that occurred in several countries in North Africa and the Middle East from 2010 to 2011. But an unsuccessful democratization process in Egypt and ongoing conflicts in Yemen, Syria and Libya led until the Arab Spring was short-lived. Egypt today appears even more authoritarian and anti-democratic than when former President Mubarak was forced to step down in 2011. Tunisia, where the Arab Spring began when a vegetable seller set himself on fire, is the only country that has had a positive democratic development . Most important in this work has been a good dialogue between the parties, an active civil society and the ability to reach common solutions, which led to the so-called Tunisian Quartet was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015. The advantage of the process in Tunisia was that it came from within. In contrast, democratization in the 1990s was often imposed by other countries, creating fertile ground for illiberal democracy.