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US makes 'backsliding democracies' list for first time

November 22, 2021

A Sweden-based think tank has warned that the US and some eastern EU members are facing declines in civil liberties and other freedoms. In Asia, authoritarianism in China is casting an ever-larger shadow.

A group of Donald Trump supporters storm the US Capitol
The report said 'a historic turning point' for US democracy occurred when former President Donald Trump rejected the legitimacy of the 2020 election — resulting in a deadly riot by Trump supporters at the US capital on January 6Image: Mihoko Owada/STAR MAX/IPx/picture alliance

"Many" democratic governments are backsliding, while autocratic regimes are becoming "even more brazen in their repression," according to the annual report by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA).

The report, published on Monday, found that number of backsliding democracies has doubled in the past decade, and mentioned in particular the situation in the United States, as well as EU nations such as Hungary, Poland and Slovenia.

"The pandemic broadened the preexisting rift between high-performing democracies in Western Europe and weaker counterparts in Central and Eastern Europe,'' said Sam Van Der Staak, the head of International IDEA for Europe.

 "That divide will continue to challenge Europe's unity, as it also faces greater outside pressure from nondemocratic superpowers," Van Der Staak said. "But its increased democratic isolation also poses opportunities for greater integration and collaboration, as Europe is forced to consider the value of democracy as its core foundational force.''

US on 'backsliding' list for first time

In the United States, where corporations and wealthy individuals can give immense amounts of money to political candidates, and partisan gerrymandering of electoral districts is becoming more commonplace, President Joe Biden is set to host a virtual summit on protecting international democracy at the beginning of December.

"The United States is a high-performing democracy, and even improved its performance in indicators of impartial administration (corruption and predictable enforcement) in 2020. However, the declines in civil liberties and checks on government indicate that there are serious problems with the fundamentals of democracy," Alexander Hudson, a co-author of the report, told French news agency AFP.

The report found that the backsliding in the US began in 2019, and then "a historic turning point came in 2020-21 when former President Donald Trump questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 election results."

Chinese repression ripples across Asia

Based in Sweden, the 34-nation organization behind the report also found that, in 2020, the amount of countries moving toward authoritarianism outnumbered those moving toward democracy.

In Asia, International IDEA noted that Afghanistan, Hong Kong and Myanmar are strong examples for "a wave of growing authoritarianism.''

Can Biden escape Trump's shadow?

But, in India, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka, democracy also finds itself in a perilous position.

"China's influence, coupled with its own deepening autocratization, also puts the legitimacy of the democratic model at risk,'' the report said.

As for Africa, the group found that military coups in Chad, Sudan, Guinea, Mali and Sudan, as well as deteriorating freedoms in nations such as Eswatini "have undermined remarkable progress made across the continent over the past three decades.''

In light of the gloomy tenor of the 80-page report, International IDEA Secretary-General Kevin Casas-Zamora said in a statement that "this is the time for democracies to be bold, to innovate and revitalize themselves."

es/rs (AP, AFP)