Democracy in peril

Most people are not even aware of the Democracy Index that the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has produced annually since 2006. This year, the 2017 index is gaining more wide-ranging attention because the global average score worsened once again. “Almost one-half (49.3%) of the world’s population lives in a democracy of some sort, although only 4.5% in a ‘full democracy’, down from 8.9% in 2015 as a result of the US being demoted from ‘full’ to ‘flawed’ democracy in 2016. Around one-third of the world’s population lives under authoritarian rule, with a large share being in China.”

In many subsequent discussions the debating point was whether liberal democracy itself is under threat.

For a copy of the Index click here: Democracy Index 2017

The index is based on five categories: electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, the functioning of government, political participation and political culture. To most of us it Worldwould seem odd to try put indicative values on these, but institutions like the EIU do this with so many things, for example the World Economic Forum’s ‘Global Competitiveness Index’ or the ‘World Happiness Report’ by the UN.

They are all attempts to make this complex world seem more manageable. At the very least, they are thought provoking.

According to the report, and many other commentators, the outcome of the Brexit referendum and Trump’s election are down to voters’ disappointment with ‘actually existing democracy’.

Among the reasons given in the report are ‘declining trust in institutions, dwindling appeal of mainstream representative parties, growing influence of unelected, unaccountable institutions and expert bodies’ – and resulting from all this ‘declining popular participation in elections and politics’. Adding to all the disgruntlement comes the whole issue of ‘fake news’ and election meddling by all sorts of bodies.

In many countries voters no longer feel they have a channel for their concerns in the mainstream parties and opt for populist ones or untested new ones like Macron’s ‘La République en Marche’.  We will have to see whether they can do the job any better.

Democracy is a two way street and following politics a demanding business. In the end, the voters are responsible for the outcomes of their democratic choices, whether they like them or not.

As Abraham Lincoln put it : “Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”