People Fighting Back Against Rising Autocracy Offers Hope, Says Report
"The level of democracy enjoyed by the average world citizen in 2022 is back to 1986 levels. This means that 72% of the world's population, 5.7 billion people, live under authoritarian rule," said V-Dem's director.
An annual report released Thursday by researchers in Sweden sounds the alarm about countries that are "undergoing autocratization" but also highlights how people around the world "have reclaimed democracy and stopped negative trends."
The Varieties of Democracy Institute (V-Dem) at the University of Gothenburg produces the world's largest dataset on democracy, with over 31 million data points for 202 nations from 1789 to 2022. Its new report focuses on the state of countries last year.
V-Dem's Democracy Report 2023: Defiance in the Face of Autocratization says the world was "almost evenly divided between 90 democracies and 89 autocracies at the end of 2022."
"The fact that eight democracies that were in a period of autocratization have stopped that process and 'bounced back' is uplifting news for democracy."
As the report lays out, the institute has four broad categories for countries:
- Closed Autocracy: No multiparty elections for the executive; absence of fundamental democratic components such as freedom of expression, freedom of association, and free and fair elections.
- Electoral Autocracy: Multiparty elections for the executive exist; insufficient levels of fundamental requisites such as freedom of expression and association, and free and fair elections.
- Electoral Democracy: Multiparty elections for the executive are free and fair; satisfactory degrees of suffrage, freedom of expression, freedom of association.
- Liberal Democracy: Requirements of Electoral Democracy are met; judicial and legislative constraints on the executive along with the protection of civil liberties and equality before the law.
Over the past decade, dozens of countries have experienced "drastic changes" in freedom of expression, government censorship of media, government repression of civil society, quality of elections, and academic freedom, the analysis explains. A record 42 nations—accounting for 43% of the global population—are autocratizing, up from 33 nations and 36% of the population the previous year.
"Advances in global levels of democracy made over the last 35 years have been wiped out," the report warns. While "the current wave of autocratization spans all regions of the world," the most dramatic decline is in the Asia-Pacific region, with significant shifts also documented across Eastern Europe and Central Asia as well as Latin America and the Caribbean.
\u201cLIVE now: Democracy Report 2023 @StaffanLindberg & @epapada present the latest \n#DR23 findings. \nCommentators: @CarnegieDCG, @bdulani\nWatch here! https://t.co/GIraDVGV9A\nDR link: https://t.co/eEgWx2WRSb\u201d— V-Dem Institute (@V-Dem Institute) 1677765558
"The level of democracy enjoyed by the average world citizen in 2022 is back to 1986 levels. This means that 72% of the world's population, 5.7 billion people, live under authoritarian rule," said the institute's director, Staffan I. Lindberg, in a statement.
The report points out that the percentage for 2022 "is an increase from 46% 10 years ago," adding:
A plurality—44% of the world's population, or 3.5 billion people—reside in electoral autocracies, which include populous countries such as India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, the Philippines, and Türkiye.
Closed autocracies with sizable populations include China, Iran, Myanmar, and Vietnam. This regime type accounts for 28% of the world's population, or 2.2 billion people.
By contrast and despite being the most common regime type in the world, 58 electoral democracies host only 16% of the world's population.
Meanwhile, just 13% of the global population, or 1 billion people, live in the 33 liberal democracies.
"Perhaps tellingly, the three largest democracies in terms of population size—United States, Indonesia, and Brazil—are all autocratizers in the last 10 years," the report notes, while also recognizing that leftist Brazilian President Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva's recent defeat of far-right former President Jair Bolsonoro "may signal a reversal of Brazil's period of autocratization."
The report further spotlights "unique cases of democratic resilience and reversal after a period of substantial autocratization" in Bolivia, Moldova, Ecuador, the Maldives, North Macedonia, Slovenia, South Korea, and Zambia.
"The fact that eight democracies that were in a period of autocratization have stopped that process and 'bounced back' is uplifting news for democracy," declared Lindberg. "It is rare to see countries that can make a U-turn."
These nations, he said, "have brought about a pro-democracy mobilization, they have re-established an objective judicial system, deposed authoritarian leaders, introduced free and fair elections, worked to reduce corruption, and rejuvenated civil society."