Half of the world's democracies are in a state of decline amid worsening civil liberties and the rule of law while already authoritarian governments are becoming more oppressive, an intergovernmental watchdog group said on Wednesday.
In its annual report, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), which is based in Stockholm in Sweden, said democratic institutions were being undermined by issues ranging from restrictions on freedom of expression to increasing distrust in the legitimacy of elections.
Several factors, such as Russia's war in Ukraine, rampant inflation, a looming global recession, the climate challenge and the Covid-19 pandemic provided significant challenges.
IDEA bases its Global State of Democracy Indices on more than 100 variables, including measures such as freedom of expression, and personal integrity and security, which are then grouped and aggregated into broader categories. Its latest study on the state of democracy relies on data compiled since 1975.
The report said the number of "backsliding" countries – those with the most severe democratic erosion – has never been so high and included Poland, Hungary and the US, with its problems of political polarisation, institutional dysfunction and threats to civil liberties.
In Europe, almost half of all democracies have suffered erosion in the last five years, it said. However, democratic values and institutions are increasingly seen as a fundamental bulwark against Russian aggression, especially in Ukraine, but also in most countries in the region.
The IDEA added:
It said democracy globally was under threat from challenges to the legitimacy of credible election results, restrictions on online freedoms and rights, intractable corruption, and the rise of extreme right parties.
The report found that authoritarian governments were engaging in ever more repression of dissent, and that more than two-thirds of the world's population now lived in "backsliding" democracies or under authoritarian rule.
Globally, the number of countries moving towards authoritarianism was more than double the number moving towards democracy measured over the past six years.
On a positive note, Africa remained resilient in the face of instability. Countries including the Gambia, Niger and Zambia all saw improvements in democratic quality.