Tumultuous year sees Pakistan slide down ‘Democracy Index’

Published February 16, 2024
Ranking of countries in Democracy Index 2023, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit. — X/TheEIU
Ranking of countries in Democracy Index 2023, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit. — X/TheEIU

KARACHI: Democratic standards across the world fell in 2023 amid the spread of wars, authoritarian crackdowns and declining levels of trust in mainstream political parties, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) said on Thursday.

Titled Age of Conflict, the study provides a snapshot of the state of democracy in 165 independent states and two territories, and basing its scores on a range of indicators, each country is classified as one of four types of regime: full democracy, flawed democracy, hybrid regime or authoritarian regime.

The top three places in the index are occupied by Norway, New Zealand and Iceland, while the bottom three countries are North Korea, Myanmar and Afghanistan.

While the number of countries categorised as democracies increased, the global average index score fell to 5.23 in 2023 from 5.29 the year before, its lowest level since the first study was published in 2006.

Country downgraded by EIU to ‘authoritarian regime’; declines 11 places in global ranking

A case in point is Pakistan, which has suffered the biggest regression in the Asian region — its score falling to 3.25, triggering a downgrade from ‘hybrid regime’ to ‘authoritarian regime’ and a decline of 11 places in the global ranking. It is worth noting that more than half of the 28 countries in the region recorded a decline in their scores (15), and only eight improved their scores.

Pakistan was among six states on the globe to have their classification changed — the others being Greece (which moved up to ‘full democracy’), Papua New Guinea and Paraguay (which improved from ‘hybrid regimes’ to become ‘flawed democracies’) and Angola (which was upgraded from its authoritarian classification to ‘hybrid regime’) — and the only Asian country to be downgraded so significantly.

While noting the fact that the country has gone to the polls, the EIU pointed out that: “Unsurprisingly, elections in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Russia — where opposition forces are subject to state repression — will not bring regime change or more democracy.”

One of the reasons for this decline can be found in the indicators ‘electoral process and pluralism’ and ‘functioning of government’, where the EIU notes that the “outsized political influence of the military… means that elections are far from being free, fair or competitive”.

Neighbourhood on the rise

While it is bleak in its outlook about Pakistan’s electoral process, the EIU offers a glimmer of hope with regard to neighbouring India, which is classified as a ‘flawed democracy’, saying that there, polls “at least allow for the possibility of change, although incumbents or anointed successors are likely to win in these too”.

However, it notes that incumbents are likely to retain power there, and the BJP — termed the biggest political party in the world with over 180m members — seemingly set to win another term after a decade in power.

“Mr Modi’s brand of Hindu nationalism has disquieted the country’s large Muslim minority but remains popular among the electorate as a whole,” it says of the Indian ruler.

In its detailed appraisal, EIU notes that India’s scores for ‘functioning of government’ and ‘political culture’ improved, but its ‘civil liberties’ score declined.

“The decline in the civil liberties score was due to the state’s failure to protect minority rights amid inter-ethnic violence in the north-eastern state of Manipur between the mainly Hindu Meitei and predominantly Christian Kuki ethnic communities that erupted in May 2023. The state government imposed an internet blackout when the violence began.”

“Meanwhile, an increasingly conformist and self-censoring media paid little attention to what was happening in Manipur, despite mass displacement of people and brutal murders. Media blackouts are also common in regions with secessionist movements, including [Indian-held] Kashmir, and regional governments increasingly justify curbs on freedom of speech on the grounds of challenging disinformation and safeguarding national security.”

China and India, the world’s most populous countries, are said to have recorded the biggest score improvements in the region in 2023. China is classified as an ‘authoritarian regime’ with a very low score (2.12) and rank (148th) in the Democracy Index, while India is classified as a ‘flawed democracy’ with a fairly high score (7.18) and ranking (41th).

“In the case of China, the improvement in two indicators—concerning the role of the military in politics and the representation of women in the country’s political institutions — reflects a formal rather than substantive improvement in democratic governance.”

Developed world ‘outnumbered’

On the economic front, however, EIU indicates a “shift in the balance of economic power in the world” over the past four decades, driven by China’s meteoric rise.

“This shift encompasses other economies in Asia, such as India, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand, four of which already rank among the G20 club of the top 20 richest nations in the world,” it says, adding that “developed Western economies are now in a minority, which is set to shrink further in coming decades”.

Western Europe was the only region to improve its score, moving ahead of North America. The study said it was the first time that North America has not placed as the world’s highest-scoring region.

On the US, EIU says: “A country crying out for change is the US. If the election comes down to a contest between … Joe Biden and … Donald Trump … a country that was once a beacon of democracy is likely to slide deeper into division and disenchantment.”

Published in Dawn, February 16th, 2024

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