The World is moving towards Autocracy
Spoiler: Even if there just as many democracies as autocracies, less than 20% of the World’s population lives in democratic countries. Varieties of Democracy and Freedom House have recently published their annual reports. Democracy and freedom in the world have declined. While Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) finds that in 2022 a record of 42 countries were autocratising, Freedom in the World (FIW) reported the smallest increase of countries where democracy declined. Is the bottom reached or will it get worse in the future?
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The conditions of democracy has deteriorated mostly outside of Europe, but also within Europe. belarus and muscovy are not the only European countries with this problem as Hungary shows.
As I wrote in this previous post,
the share of World population living in democracies is decreasing according to the Economist’s Democracy Index. Freedom House and Varieties of Democracy have now published their annual reports. Both reports are depressing. According to Varieties of Democracy the level of democracy is back to the 1986 level, i.e. before the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Advances in global levels of democracy made over the last 35 years have been wiped out.
72% of the world’s population – 5.7 billion people – live in autocracies by 2022.
There are now more dictatorships than liberal democracies in the world. The backlash of democracy has been especially bad in the Asia-Pacific region which has reversed back to 1978 conditions for democracy. but conditions have also deteriorated in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America where situations now are in par with the end of the Cold War.
The developments in terms of number of countries and shares in the populations can be seen below.
Source: Varieties of Democracy. https://www.v-dem.net/documents/29/V-dem_democracyreport2023_lowres.pdf
Liberal democracies are countries characterised by Rule of Law, Freedom of Expression, Freedom of the Press, judicial indepence, free and fair elections, and restrictions on governments protecting civil rights and minorities from persecution. At the other end of the spectra are closed autocracies, i.e. dictatorships, which are human rights’ black holes. Most of these are found in Asia while liberal democracies are found in North America, Northern and Western Europe and Austrailia & New Zealand. Region’s median values of Rule of Law vs Freedom of Expression are plotted in the figure below.
Source: Varieties of Democracy.
Plotting indicators for judiciary independence, media freedom, or clean elections provide the same picture. Central Asia consists of former Soviet Republics, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. These countries are either closed or electoral autocracies.
Rulers aiming for autocracy don’t want people, journalists, civil society organisations and the academia to dicuss, scrutinise, and critisize their efforts to undermine democracy. Therfore, governments in autocratising countries have in general attacked the media, civil society organisations, and academic and cultural freedom of expression. Those measures enable the autocratisers to abuse their powers and force through political decisions that strengthen and enrich themselves. Since they want to remain in power for as long as possible, manipulating and rigging elections are also included in the autocratisers’ toolboxes.
The development is confirmed by Freedom House whose report concludes that freedom declined for a 17th consecutive year in 2022. Freedom House is less pessimitic than Varities of Democracy. According to FIW, the deterioration of rights and freedoms appeared to slow substantially: only 35 countries declined, as compared to 60 in 2021, and over 70 in 2020. Democratic gains showed up in two ways: more competitive elections and a rollback of pandemic-related restrictions of freedom of assembly and freedom of movement. Colombia and Lesotho, managed to transform from Partly Free to Free.
Orbán, the autocratiser.
In democracies that go rogue, the governments at least attack or take control of the media , the judiciary, the civil society organisations and manipulates the elections. Freedom House and Varieties of Democracy agree on this autocratic roadmap. Hungary under Orbán provides a perfect example of how this is done according to Freedom House.
The victory of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party in Hungary’s April 2022 elections was facilitated by his government’s campaign since 2010 to systematically undermine the independence of the judiciary, opposition groups, the media, and nongovernmental organizations. Among other advantages, Fidesz benefited from legislative changes it had pushed through two years earlier, which raised the vote threshold that parties must reach to enter the parliament.
The Hungarian development towards autocracy can also be graphed. Orbán’s attacks on the media, the civil society, freedom of expression have enabled him to manipulate the elections in his favour.
Source: Varieties of Democracy. https://v-dem.net/data_analysis/CountryGraph/
Silencing the media and hampering freedom of expression enables Orbán and his cronies to also enrich themselves by for example abusing public procurement. The Hungarian public procurement process is rigged in favour of people connected with the regime. Large contracts are given to firms after what is called “negotiated procedures”. These procedures allow the government to strike a deal with any company without going through an open competition. And to make matters worse, most of the open tenders for procurement in Hungary only involves a single bidder.
A fact-finding mission by the OCCRP in co-operation with other organisations for Freedom of the press focused its report on how the Orbán regime has repressed free media in Hungary, concludes that
“The regime survives and feeds itself by channeling EU funds … into the control of party loyalists and people who support the regime,”
A lot of EU funds is feeding Orbán and his cronies:
In the eyes of many observers, the bloc is already guilty of subsidizing Orbán’s anti-democratic turn despite multiplemajor journalistic investigations and years of analysis explaining how his patronage networks exploit incoming European money. For example, a company run by Orbán’s son-in-law received contracts partially funded by the EU to install LED streetlights in Fidesz-run towns across Hungary. In another sector, the government has auctioned vast tracts of state land to Orbán’s’s family members and associates, helping them qualify for EU agricultural subsidies.
The above confirms what I found when I wrote this post three years ago.
What does the future hold?
The Orbán exemple shows the deficiences of the EU Treaties. Once inside the EU, governments that have violated EU’s fundamental values, can get away with it if European Council fails to gather the necessary support for an Article 7 decision. The EU Treaty need to be revised in order to make it possible to throw Hungary out of the EU unless Orbán loses the next elections.
In other countries, constitutional changes need to be made, making it more difficult for democratically elected governments to implement changes of the constitution and legislation that restricts fundamental democratic rights. Changes to the Swedish constitution can be made if the parliament decides on the change twice on the condition that there has been an election between the two votes on the change. As written now, however, this change can be made not only for the regular elections that take place every four years, but also for elections forced by resigning governments between the regular elections.
Violence and war are also two means for autocratic governments and autocratisers. As pointed out by Freedom House, last year’s declines of freedom were in many cases associated with violence such as the coup in Burkina Faso. Paradoxically enought, prevention of coups as in Peru, may also lead to autocratic changes. The Peruan president Castillo tried to suspend the Congress to avoid an impeachment. Since his attempt was unconstitutional, he was removed according to the country’s constitution. His removal was however unacceptable for his supporters who went out on large demonstrations. The vice-president reacted with the implementation of a state of emergency that granted special powers to the security services. Restrictions of the right to freely assembly and other restrictions led to Freedom House downgrading Peru to Partly Free.
One of the motives for the little psychopath’s genocidal war against Ukraine, was the Ukrainian people’s want for democracy and freedom. The Maidan revolution was the manifestation of the Ukrainian people’s desire for democracy and freedom. Instead of an autocratic and corrupt society, the Ukrainians wanted a society characterised by rule of law, free and fair elections, freedom of expression and those values that the EU stood for. The little psychopath in the kremlin could not accept that, in fact he feared that those ideas would spread to muscovy. As a response to the Maidan revolution, he started the war against Ukraine.
China, which invaded Tibet many years ago, recently turned Hong-Kong into a an autocracy. And the communist regime wants to force democratic Taiwan to be part of China. The communist has threatened Taiwan for a long time and recently become more aggressive in terms of military threats. China is also making aggressive claims on several islands and territorial waters against its neighbouring countries in the South-China Sea. If muscovy succeeds in Ukraine, China may go for war against its neighbours.
The rise of autocratic countries with aggressive ambitions need to be responded. Democratic countries need to form alliances. These alliances should not only be military, but also encompass co-operation in trade, free movements of capital, labour and ideas. Democracies have the advantage. Life in democracies is not only freer but also more prosperous for the majority of people. Life in autocracies is only free and prosperous for the elite and its security forces.
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