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THE PRESENT STATUS OF DEMOCRACY: CHALLENGES AND FUTURE PROSPECTS

Author: Sanjana Shikhar, II year of B.A.,LL.B.(Hons.) from Faculty of Law, Banaras Hindu University.


INTRODUCTION

Democracy is a type of government in which the people have the power to debate and decide on laws, as well as to elect governing authorities.[i]This articletitled, “The present status of global democracy: Challenges before the contemporary democracy and future prospects” aims to give the readers a detailed knowledge about the present condition of democracy in the world, the challenges which it has to face and an insight into what can the future be. The present status of democracy would be analyzed with the help of a report named, The Freedom in the World 2021.


In 2020, as the world was ravaged by a deadly virus, economic and physical instability, and violent conflict, democracy's defenders suffered major losses in their fight against authoritarian opponents, tipping the international balance in favor of tyranny. In many cases, incumbent authorities used force to crush opponents and settle scores, sometimes in the name of public health, while activists were subjected to harsh prison sentences, torture, or murder.


These withering blows marked the 15th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. Since the downward trend began in 2006, the countries that are deteriorating exceed those that are improving by a large margin.The long democratic downturn is becoming worse.


Long-term democratic failure has become increasingly global in reach, affecting both those living under the cruel dictatorships and those who live in long-established democracies.Last year, about 75% of the world's population resided in a country that was deteriorating. Accusations of democracy's inherent fragility have surfaced as a result of the continuous deterioration.


As COVID-19 spread throughout the year, governments across the democratic spectrum used excessive monitoring, discriminatory limits on freedoms including mobility and assembly, and arbitrary or violent enforcement of such restrictions by police and non-state actors on a regular basis. Waves of false and misleading information, some of it deliberately manufactured by political leaders, flooded several countries' communication systems, concealing reliable data and putting lives in danger.


THE PRESENT STATUS OF GLOBAL DEMOCRACY

We would be analyzing the present status of democracy by the following report:

India's rating has been reduced from 'Free' to 'Partly Free' in the Freedom in the World 2021 report.

  • The research indicated that roughly 75 percent of the world's population lived in a country that had deteriorated in the previous year, pointing to a fall in global democracy during the last 15 years.

  • Finland, Norway, and Sweden are the most free countries in the world, with a score of 100, while Tibet and Syria are the least free, with a score of 1.[ii]

Key findings of the report:

  • The 15th straight year of deterioration in worldwide freedom was documented in the 2021 edition of Freedom in the World, which covered the events of 2020. Only 28 of the 195 independent countries analyzed in the report improved their aggregate score, the largest margin of improvement in the 15-year period. There are presently 54 Not Free countries, which represent for 38% of the global population, the largest share since the fall began.

  • As a result of India's demotion to Partly Free, less than 20% of the world's population now resides in a free country, the lowest proportion since 1995.

  • Why The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the demise of democracy. The health crisis was associated to 42 score decreases in 36 nations and territories.

  • Democratic hope's beacons are being extinguished. In 2019, there were major pro-democracy protests in 39 nations and territories, according to Freedom House. In 2020, 23 of them (almost 60%) had a drop in their net score.

  • The United States, which remained Free, dropped three points in 2020, resulting in a total loss of 11 points on the report's 100-point scale during the prior decade.[iii]

Democracy's defenders suffered substantial additional blows in their fight against authoritarian opponents in 2020, as the world was ravaged by a lethal virus, economic and physical instability, and violent conflict, tilting the worldwide balance in favor of tyranny.In many cases, incumbent authorities used force to crush opponents and settle scores, sometimes in the guise of public health, while besieged activists faced harsh prison sentences, torture, or murder in the absence of effective international support.


Authoritarian actors grew bolder in 2020 as major democracies turned inward, according to Freedom in the World 2021, Freedom House's annual country-by-country assessment of political rights and civil liberties released today. This contributed to the 15th consecutive year of decline in global freedom.


The percentage of nations classified as Not Free has risen to its greatest level since the deterioration of democracy began in 2006, and countries with declines in political rights and civil liberties exceed those with advances by the widest margin in the 15-year timeframe. The survey reduced the freedom scores of 73 countries, which account for 75% of the world's population.[iv]Authoritarian governments like China, Belarus, and Venezuela are among those affected, as are unstable democracies like the United States and India.


THE SHIFTING INTERNATIONAL BALANCE

India, the world’s most populous democracy, dropped from Free to Partly Free status in Freedom in the World 2021. Throughout the year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government and its state-level supporters continued to crack down on opponents, including a ham-handed shutdown in reaction to COVID-19, which resulted in the unsafe and unplanned displacement of millions of internal migrant workers. Muslims were disproportionately blamed for the spread of the illness. Modi and his party are regrettably leading India toward authoritarianism, rather than functioning as a champion of democratic practice and a counterweight to authoritarian influence from nations like China.


Massive pro-democracy uprisings in Belarus and Hong Kong, for example, were greeted with ruthless repression by administrations that mostly ignored international criticism. The military attack by the Azerbaijani state in Nagorno-Karabakh has put recent democratic advances in Armenia in jeopardy, while the armed conflict in Ethiopia's Tigray Region has destroyed hopes for the country's nascent political openness since 2018. In each of these examples, an autocratic neighbor played a role: Moscow supplied a backstop for the Belarusian dictatorship, Beijing pushed for repression in Hong Kong, Turkey's government assisted its Azerbaijani counterpart, and Ethiopia's leader sought backing from Eritrea.[v]


In 2020, the rule in China, the world's most populous dictatorship, had a far-reaching negative impact that extended far beyond Hong Kong. Beijing stepped up its global disinformation and censorship campaign in response to the impact from its cover-up of the corona virus outbreak, which delayed a quick global response in the early days of the pandemic. Its tactics also included growing intervention in foreign democracies' domestic political discourse, as well as transnational extensions of mainland China's human rights abuses. The Chinese regime has gained clout in multilateral institutions such as the UN Human Rights Council, which the US abandoned in 2018. Beijing has pushed a vision of so-called noninterference that allows abuses of democratic principles and human rights standards to go unpunished while the formation of autocratic alliances is promoted.[vi]


In Venezuela, where the country's score has dropped by 40 points in the last 15 years, some hope surfaced in 2019 when opposition leader Juan Guaidó appeared to pose a genuine threat to tyrant Nicolás Maduro's reign. Many democratic states accepted Guaidó's standing as interim president under the constitution, noting the illegitimacy of the presidential election that maintained Maduro in power. Maduro regained control in 2020, while government opponents continued to experience extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, and arbitrary incarceration. Despite an opposition boycott, tightly controlled National Assembly elections took place, resulting in a new assembly with a majority of the ruling party. The old opposition-led legislature clung to power despite its diminished electoral legitimacy, extending its own tenure.


"This year's findings show indisputably that the authoritarian tide has not yet been turned back," said Sarah Repucci, vice president of research and analysis at Freedom House."If we are to reverse 15 years of accumulated declines and construct a more free and peaceful world, democratic governments will have to act in solidarity with one another, as well as with democracy advocates and human rights defenders in more restrictive circumstances.[vii]


A NEED FOR REFORM IN THE UNITED STATES

While still considered Free, During Trump's final year in office, the United States' democratic status deteriorated even further. Over the last decade, the United States' score in Freedom in the World has declined by 11 points, with a three-point drop in 2020 alone.[viii]


The United States' current score is the result of several developments in 2020. By dismissing inspectors general, prosecuting or firing whistleblowers, and attempting to control or modify information on COVID-19, the Trump administration harmed federal transparency. While most protests were peaceful, there were high-profile episodes of violence, police brutality, and deadly clashes with counter protesters or armed vigilantes throughout the year. The number of journalists imprisoned and physically assaulted has risen dramatically, primarily as a result of their coverage of protests. Finally, the outgoing president's startling attempts to overturn his election loss—which culminated in his inciting rioters to attack the Capitol as Congress met to affirm the results in January 2021—put electoral institutions under extreme strain. Furthermore, the crisis harmed the US's international credibility and highlighted the dangers of political divisiveness and radicalism in the country.


” The vulnerability of American democracy should serve as a wake-up call for many Americans,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House. "Authoritarian governments, especially China, promote their interests around the world, whereas democracies are torn and preoccupied by internal difficulties." For freedom to triumph on a global scale, the United States and its allies must band together and fight for democracy at home and abroad.President Biden has committed to restore America's international leadership role as a strong defender of democracy and human rights, but in order to do so, the country must confront the flaws in its own democratic system.”[ix]


"Americans should be glad that the courts and other vital institutions stayed the course during the post-election crisis, averting the worst-case situations," according to Abramowitz. "However, the Biden administration, the next Congress, and American civil society must work together to strengthen and expand all Americans' political and civil liberties.When the United States acts as a constructive role model for others, everyone benefits, and the country benefits greatly from a more democratic globe.”[x]


The erroneous narrative that democracy is in decline because it is incapable of meeting people's needs has been promoted by freedom's foes. Under truth, democracy is in peril as a result of its most renowned exemplars failing to safeguard it. Global leadership and democratic state solidarity are urgently required. Governments that recognize the importance of democracy, including the new administration in Washington, must work together to deliver on its advantages, challenge its opponents, and support its defenders. They must also build their own houses in order to strengthen their institutions and maintain their legitimacy in the face of politicians and other players prepared to trample democratic norms in the chase of power. If free civilizations do not take these essential measures, the globe will become increasingly hostile to the ideals they cherish, and no country will be immune to dictatorship's harmful effects.


THE EFFECTS OF COVID-19

The global democratic crisis was aggravated by government responses to the COVID-19 epidemic. Repressive regimes and populist leaders attempted to limit openness, promote false or misleading information, and suppress the dissemination of negative data or critical viewpoints. Many people who spoke out against their government's handling of the pandemic were harassed or charged criminally. Security services were occasionally overzealous, political, or cruel in their application of lockdowns. Antidemocratic governments utilized the pandemic as a cover to weaken political opposition and consolidate power around the world.


Official responses to COVID-19, however, have established the framework for government excesses that could undermine democracy for years to come, meaning that the conclusion of the epidemic will not necessarily result in a swift restoration to democracy. The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted a shift in norms and the adoption of problematic legislation that will be difficult to reverse once the virus has been contained, similar to the response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when the US and many other countries dramatically increased their surveillance activities and limited due process rights in the name of national security.


During the health crisis in Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's government took on emergency powers and used them to withhold financial aid from municipalities governed by opposition parties. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka dissolved Parliament in early March and ruled without a legislature for several months while new elections were continually postponed due to COVID-19. Both Hungary and Sri Lanka implemented constitutional modifications later in the year that elevated executive power even more.[xi]


Indonesia's pandemic response relied heavily on the military and other security services. Several military personnel were nominated to key roles on the country's COVID-19 task team, and the military assisted in the development of emergency hospitals and the procurement of medical supplies. The military's rising influence over civilian government has been a source of concern for observers in recent years, and its strong engagement in the health crisis threatened to accelerate this trend. Meanwhile, constraints on freedoms of expression and association have been harsher over time, bringing the country's score into the Partly Free category.[xii]


As countries around the world enter recession and millions of people lose their jobs, the public health crisis is causing a major economic crisis. The virus and its economic impact are disproportionately affecting marginalized populations, exacerbating income inequality and other inequalities. In general, countries with higher financial disparities have fewer protections for basic rights, implying that the pandemic's economic consequences could be bad to democracy. Political instability and a deepening of democratic collapse followed the global financial crisis of 2008–09.


The COVID-19 epidemic isn't the only ongoing global calamity that could speed the decline of democracy. Climate change might have a similar long-term impact, with mass displacement stoking conflict and more nationalist, xenophobic, and racist policies being implemented. Other, less anticipated catastrophes, such as new health emergencies, could also occur. Democracy's proponents must draw lessons from 2020 and prepare for emergency responses that protect all people's political rights and civil liberties, particularly the most marginalized.[xiii]


CHALLENGES TO DEMOCRACY

The following are the challenges to contemporary democracy:

1) Polarization

While some partisan polarization is beneficial to democracy, intense polarization, in which political opponents regard each other as existential enemies, allows incumbents to justify abuses of democratic norms to restrain the opposition and encourages the opposition to use "any means necessary" to (re)gain power, is one of the key drivers of democratic decay in new and established democracies. Political polarization poses a significant threat to democratic accountability if citizens remain loyal to a political party despite it violating major democratic standards.


2) Challenge of sustaining multiethnic democracies

One of the most pressing issues confronting democracies of all kinds today is how to maintain multiethnic democracies. The expanding ethnic diversity of both new and old democracies, spurred in part by immigration, has inspired various varieties of right-wing populism and increased political fragmentation. As a result, both right-wing and left-wing parties are having difficulty. Right-wing parties may be motivated to use issues of cultural variety to gain power, which could result in ethnic minorities' representation being limited and uneven, reducing democracy's quality. This similar politics has produced heated debate among left-wing parties in recent years about whether the welfare state can accommodate racial diversity.[xiv]


3) Globalizationand economic inequality The threat of economic disparity, which is typically driven by global economic forces, to the survival and viability of democracy is the third key subject. Uneven economic resources diminish democracy's quality through voting, institutional architecture, campaign money, and the media, to name a few harmful and indirect ways.


4) The causes of populism and its consequences for democracy The rise of populist parties and movements from Latin America and North America to Western and Eastern Europe has received increasing attention in recent years. The complicated link between populism and democracy is a difficult and significant academic issue. Many populist outsiders rise to power by speaking on behalf of "the people," yet they frequently do it in ways that appear to contradict liberal democratic principles.


5) Debates over institutional solutions Another point of contention is whether institutional improvements can help solve some of the difficulties that plague established democracies. Constitutions, electoral systems, and other democratic institutions from the early twentieth, nineteenth, and even eighteenth centuries can still be found in many Western democracies. For many citizens, the age of these institutions is a source of pride. Existing institutions, on the other hand, may be inadequate to meet the issues that contemporary democracies face. [xv]


FUTURE PROSPECTS OF DEMOCRACY: THE RESILIENCE OF DEMOCRACY

Despite the numerous losses to freedom recorded by Freedom in the World in 2020, people all across the world remained determined to fighting for their rights, and democracy demonstrated its extraordinary endurance. Several countries staged successful elections, independent courts provided checks on presidential overreach, media investigated government indiscretions in even the most oppressive conditions, and activists continued to call out undemocratic abuses.


Judges in Malawi, for example, overcame bribery efforts and pressure from the existing administration to call for new elections following a tainted election in mid-2019.[xvi] Lazarus Chakwera, the opposition presidential candidate, then easily won the rerun elections in 2020. The episode was a significant victory for Malawi's democratic institutions, and it served as a model of judicial independence for other African countries.


In 2020, Taiwan surmounted a new set of problems, successfully suppressing the corona virus without resorting to harsh means, in stark contrast to totalitarian China, which has lauded its draconian response as a model for the rest of the globe. Taiwan, like its neighbors, benefited from previous SARS experience, but its approach of COVID-19 was essentially civil libertarian. Expert suggestions were implemented early, masks and other protective equipment were deployed, and efficient contact-tracing and testing activities that stressed transparency were all used to help contain the disease, which was aided by the country's island nature.[xvii]


Meanwhile, Beijing intensified its campaign to sway global opinion against Taiwan's government and deny its democracy's success, including successfully pressuring the World Health Organization to ignore early warnings of human-to-human transmission from Taiwan and to expel Taiwan from its World Health Assembly. Even before the virus, Taiwanese voters decisively reelected incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen, who opposes movements toward unification with the mainland, despite a multipronged, politicized disinformation effort from China.


More broadly, democracy has shown its resilience in the face of the specific limits imposed by a society infected with COVID-19. A number of successful elections, including in Montenegro and Bolivia, were held in all regions and in countries of various income levels, yielding improvements. In several places, such as The Gambia, judicial authorities have held presidents accountable for abuses of power, providing effective balances on the executive branch and contributing to minor increases in judicial independence globally during the last four years. At the same time, journalists in even the most repressive environments, such as China, sought to expose government wrongdoings, and ordinary people from Bulgaria to India to Brazil continued to express dissatisfaction with issues ranging from corruption and systemic inequality to the mishandling of the health crisis, signaling to their leaders that the desire for democratic governance will not be easily quelled.[xviii]


The Biden administration has promised to make democracy support a priority in US foreign policy, increasing hopes for a more proactive American role in reversing global democratic decline. To keep this pledge, the president will need to show strong leadership by clearly explaining his objectives to the American people and partners throughout the world. He must also make the US credible in its efforts by enacting the required reforms at home to solve significant democratic deficiencies. President Biden will have to maintain his resolve in the face of many competing priorities, including the pandemic and its socioeconomic consequences, while remembering that democracy is a never-ending project of renewal that ultimately ensures security and prosperity while upholding all people's fundamental rights.[xix]


"Its opponents have gotten stronger, making the world a more hostile environment for self-government, but its continued popularity among ordinary people—as we've seen this year in Russia and Myanmar—indicates that future of freedom is bright.[xx]


CONCLUSION

The present status of democracy is not good according to the report which was referred. More and more governments are striving towards making the executive a very strong body. This is being achieved by introducing dictatorship and suppressing common people’s voice.


The effect of pandemic is worsening the position even more. Democracy's defenders suffered substantial additional blows in their fight against authoritarian opponents in 2020, as the world was ravaged by a lethal virus, economic and physical instability, and violent conflict, tilting the worldwide balance in favor of tyranny. In many cases, incumbent authorities employed force, sometimes under the pretence of public health, to crush opponents and settle scores, while besieged activists faced harsh prison sentences, torture, or death in the absence of strong international support.


In the year 2020, the news was dominated by a litany of setbacks and disasters for freedom. Democracy, on the other hand, is incredibly durable and has demonstrated its ability to recover from repeated assaults. More broadly, democracy has shown its resilience in the face of the specific limits imposed by a society infected with COVID-19. Several successful elections were held in all areas and in countries of diverse income levels, resulting in improvements. In the previous four years, judicial authorities have held presidents accountable for abuses of power in a range of situations, placing significant checks on the executive branch and contributing to small advances in judicial independence globally. Simultaneously, journalists in even the most repressive environments, such as China, sought to expose government wrongdoings, and ordinary people from Bulgaria to India to Brazil continued to express dissatisfaction with issues ranging from corruption and systemic inequality to the mishandling of the health crisis, signaling to their leaders that the desire for democratic governance would not be easily quenched.

[i]Democracy, available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democracy (last visited on May 13, 2022) [ii]Freedom in world 2021 Report, available at: https://www.drishtiias.com/daily-updates/daily-newsanalysis/freedom-in-the-world-2021-report (last visited on May 13, 2022) [iii]New Report: The global decline in democracy has accelerated, available at: https://freedomhouse.org/article/newreport-global-decline-democracy-has-accelerated (last visited on December13, 2022) [iv]Ibid. [v]Democracy under Siege, available at: https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2021/democracy-undersiege (last visited on May 13, 2022) [vi]Ibid. [vii]Democracy, Liberty Declining worldwide, freedom house report finds, available at: https://www.voanews.com/a/usa_democracy-liberty-declining-worldwide-freedom-house-report-finds/6202818.html (last visited on May 13, 2022) [viii]Supra note 5. [ix]Supra note 3. [x]Authoritarian actors grew bolder during 2020 as major democracies turned inward, claims report, available at: https://www.justearthnews.com/rights-details/HR/3512/authoritarian-actors-grew-bolder-during-2020-as-majordemocracies-turned-inward-claims-report.html (last visited on May 13, 2022) [xi]Supra note 3. [xii]Supra note 5. [xiii]Ibid. [xiv]Challenges to democracy, available at: https://scholar.harvard.edu/dziblatt/challenges-democracy (last visited on May 13, 2022) [xv]Ibid. [xvi]Supra note 5. [xvii]Ibid. [xviii]Supra note 3. [xix]Ibid. [xx]Ibid.