The global decline of democracy is reaching “potential turning point,” the report finds

Details: Freedom House; Note: 1 does not indicate free; 36 to 70 partially free; 70 and above free. Map: Madison Dong/Axios Visuals

Democracy declined globally for the 17th straight year, but the pace of that decline has slowed and we could be approaching a “turning point,” according to a Freedom House annual report.

Why it matters: The rise of authoritarianism and the erosion of democracy are among the most striking global trends of the past decade. The report “Freedom in the world”. suggests that those trends will continue into 2022, but also finds cause for optimism.

Situation: Countries such as Colombia, Kenya and Malaysia saw peaceful transfers of power following controversial elections, while several countries that had suppressed freedom of speech and assembly during the pandemic eased those restrictions.

  • Yet in 2022, global press freedom continued to deteriorate in a worrying way. There were also multiple coups in West Africa, and leaders from Peru to Tunisia attempted to seize power with varying degrees of success.
  • Despite the many setbacks, “there have been signs over the past year that the protracted global freedom recession may be reaching its nadir,” the report’s authors wrote.

The big picture: The report ranks countries on their citizens’ political and civil rights, categorizing them as “free,” “partially free,” or “not free.”

  • The scores of 35 countries fell, while those of 34 countries improved. That is the smallest gap since the global democratic downturn began in 2005, Freedom House said.
  • Colombia and Lesotho went from partially free to free, while Peru fell to partially free and Burkina Faso to not free.
  • Finland, Norway and Sweden all scored perfectly, while the least free countries and regions were North Korea, Eritrea, Turkmenistan, South Sudan, Syria and Tibet. The report also ranks China and Saudi Arabia as the “worst of the worst”.

Between the lines: President Biden has made promoting democracy over autocracy a core tenet of his foreign policy, often framing US rivalries with China and Russia in those terms.

  • The report finds that the US is less free than 59 other countries, comparable to Panama and Romania, and far behind fellow G7 democracies such as Canada or Japan.
  • The authors highlight politicians making false claims about electoral fraud and new restrictions on access to abortion as particular concerns.

review: Although democracy has been on the decline for nearly two decades, the outlook has generally improved over the report’s 50-year history.

  • 84 of the 195 countries are currently considered free, compared to 44 of the 148 countries in the first edition in 1973.

What to watch: There will be further tests for democracy in the coming months as countries such as Thailand and Turkey go to the polls.

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