Today's Editorial

23 March 2018

Oh, what a fall, countrymen!

Source: By Deccan Herald

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index (EIUDI) 2017 gauges the functioning of democracy and its legitimacy in 165 countries. The index has been prepared on the basis of five indicators: electoral process and pluralismcivil libertiesthe functioning of governmentpolitical participation and political culture. This is the 10th annual edition of Democracy Index.

The report highlighted that the preference for democratic regimes over authoritarian rule is on the rise in general yet, there is a decline in the democratic tradition and culture all over the globe. Not a single region of the world has improved its average score on the index when compared to that of 2016.

To illustrate, the average global score of the index in 2016 is 5.52 (measured on a scale of 0 to 10; 0 is the lowest and 10 is the highest), which declined in 2017 to 5.48. This is the lowest score of the index since 2011. The title of the recent index is ‘Democracy Index 2017: Free Speech Under Attack’. It specially focuses on the state of media freedom and the challenges to freedom of speech and expression.

The report has documented media freedom in the form of ‘Media Freedom Index’. It observed that the “restrictions on freedom of speech have become commonplace even in developed democracies”. Freedom of speech and expression is the most fundamental liberty and is an inalienable right of a citizen in a democracy. The index classifies four types of political regimes on the basis of the nature and state of democracy in a particular country. They are ‘full democracies’, ‘flawed democracies’, ‘hybrid regimes’ and ‘authoritarian regimes’.

According to the report, 76 out of 167 countries are considered democracies. Of these, only 19 nations are categorised as ‘full democracies’, the remaining 59 countries are classified under ‘flawed democracy’. The other 91 countries fall under either “hybrid (39 nations) or authoritarian (52) regimes”. This means, almost 55% of countries in the world are still under authoritarian rule. One of the world’s leading scholars of democracy, Larry Diamond, says that “we are going through a democratic regression”, which has reflected in the annual democratic index of 2017.

The North American region is the only region that has retained its democratic score of 2016. The report has found that Asia and Africa are the worst-performing regions on the indexNorway once again tops the index, followed by Iceland, Sweden, New Zealand and Denmark.

North Korea occupies the last place, with a score of 1.08, with Syria, Chad, the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Democratic Republic of Congo occupying the position above North Korea. Gambia recorded a good performanceimproving its rank from 143 to 113, and moved from ‘authoritarian’ to ‘hybrid’ regime by witnessing its first-ever democratic transfer of power. Guyana enhanced its rank from 73rd to 63rd place. Indonesia is the worst-performing country as it dipped 20 places in the ranking from 48th to 68th position. Similarly, India has slipped to 42nd rank from 32 in 2016.

The Democracy Index says that 2017 was ‘Asia’s year of regression’, experiencing the biggest decline in its rank among all the regions of the world. The average score for the Asian region is 5.63, which is better than the global average of 5.48, but lags behind Latin America (6.26), Western Europe (8.38) and North America (8.56).

The two largest democracies of the region — India and Indonesia — have performed badly in the latest assessment, with a significant decline both in score and rankings. India stands sixth even within Asia, amongst 28 countries. India scores 7.23 and stands at 42nd rank, its lowest score since the Democracy Index started in 2006. Clearly, democracy is in a declining trend in India, with the rise of a non-state actor’s intrusion into politics and governance.

Rise of the right-wing

In particular, the report notes that “The strengthening of right-wing Hindu forces in an otherwise secular country led to a rise of vigilantism and violence against minority communities, particularly Muslims, as well as other dissenting voices”. This has caused India to further decline in the ‘Media Freedom Index’, placing it in the 49th position out of 154 countries, with a score of 7 on 10 and classified as ‘partly free’.

It is observed that “India has also become a more dangerous place for journalists, especially the central state of Chhattisgarh and the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir”. In both these states, there was the highhandedness of the State to curb media freedom, including killings of several journalists. It should draw us to ask a basic question: why is India, with a strong electoral process and pluralism (9.17/10), a fair amount of civil liberties (7.35/10) and political participation (7.22/10), underperforming in the overall democracy index. From the report, the decline of democracy in India can be attributed to political culture (5.63/10) and functioning of government (6.79/10)Citizen-engagement in the political process of the country is insufficient, although there is a gradual increase in voter participation in the elections. This means that the political culture is weak in terms of exercising active and vigilant citizenship to hold the government accountable for their actions and policies.

Indian citizen has shown trust in democracy. However, the political leadership and parties have not sufficiently committed themselves to promoting democratic culture not only among the whole population but even within parties themselves. It’s time to rekindle the spirit of enlightened citizenship to strengthen our democracy, to transform from ‘representative’ to ‘participative’ and ‘procedural’ to ‘substantive’ democracy.

 

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