Global Challenges Facing Humanity
4. How can genuine democracy emerge from authoritarian regimes?
Peaceful protests with unrelenting public courage to demand democratic transitions from authoritarian regimes made history across the Arab world. Unparalleled forms of social power are shaping the future of democracy. Tensions between an expanding global consciousness and old structures that limit freedom are giving birth to new experiments in governance. Although the perception and implementation of democracy differ globally, it is generally accepted that democracy is a relationship between a responsible citizenry and a responsive government that encourages participation in the political process and guarantees basic rights.
Social revolutions in 2011 are not yet reflected in Freedom House's 2010 ratings, which showed political and civil liberties declined for the fifth consecutive year, the longest decline since 1972, when the annual analysis began. Freedom declined in 25 countries and improved in 11. Those living in 87 "free" countries constituted 43% of world population, while 20% live in 60 "partly free" countries, and 35% (over 2.5 billion people) live in 47 countries listed as "not free." There were 115 electoral democracies in 2010, compared with 123 in 2005. Press freedoms have declined for nine consecutive years; 15% of the world lives in the 68 countries with a "free" press, 42% in 65 countries with a "partly free" press, and 43% live in 63 countries without free media.
Predominantly young and increasingly educated populations are using the Internet to organize around common ideals, independent of conventional institutional controls and regardless of nationality or languages. These new forms of Internet-augmented democracy are beginning to wield unparalleled social power, often bypassing conventional news media, as happened in the Arab Spring Awakening, where 60% of the population is below the age of 30. And next? The transition to stable democracies will be difficult (see Chapter 3). New democracies must address previous abuses of power to earn citizens' loyalties without increasing social discord and slowing the reconciliation process.
Some global trends nurturing the emergence of democracy include increasing literacy, interdependence, Internet access, e-government systems, international standards and treaties, multipolarity and multilateralism in decisionmaking, developments that force global cooperation, improved quality of governance assessment systems, transparent judicial systems, and the growing number and power of NGOs. It is critical to establish legitimate tamper-proof election systems with internationally accepted standards for election observers. Some 20 countries offer legally binding Internet voting. Direct voting on issues via the Internet could be next to augment representative democracy.
Since an educated and informed public is critical to democracy, it is important to learn how to counter and prevent disinformation, cyberwarfare, politically motivated government censorship, reporters' self-censorship, and interest-group control over the Internet and other media. Organized crime, corruption, concentration of media ownership, corporate monopolies, increased lobbying, and impunity threaten democracy. Old ideological, political, ethnic, and nationalistic legacies also have to be addressed to maintain the long-range trend toward democracy. Fortunately, injustices in different parts of the world become the concern of others around the world, who then pressure governing systems to address the issue. Despite restrictions and intimidations, independent journalists, intellectuals, and concerned citizens are increasing global transparency via digital media.
Although making development assistance dependent on good governance has helped in some countries, genuine democracy will be achieved when local people—not external actors—demand government accountability. Since democracies tend not to fight each other and since humanitarian crises are far more likely under authoritarian than democratic regimes, expanding democracy should help build a peaceful and just future for all. Meanwhile, international procedures are needed to assist failed states or regions within states, and intervention strategies need to be designed for when a state constitutes a significant threat to its citizens or others.
Challenge 4 will be addressed seriously when strategies to address threats to democracy are in place, when less than 10% of the world lives in nondemocratic countries, when Internet and media freedom protection is internationally enforced, and when voter participation exceeds 60% in most democratic elections.
Africa: North African revolutions are not reflected in Freedom House's 2010 ratings. Ratings for sub-Saharan African democracy continued to decline; Ethiopia and Djibouti changed status to "not free," while only Guinea improved to "partly free." Freedom House rated 9 countries in the region as "free," 22 as "partly free", and 17 "not free." Democratic elections are still difficult due to intimidation and fraud. The Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance adopted by the African Union in 2007 was signed by 37 AU Members; as of mid-May 2011 eight countries have ratified and another eight deposited the instruments of ratification, increasing the likelihood of increasing democratic values in the region. Priorities for building democracy in Africa include improving education, citizenry, and Internet access, while reducing corruption, sectarianism, violence, and patronage.
Asia and Oceania: Over the past few years, South Asia experienced more gains than setbacks, notes Freedom House. It rated 16 countries as "free" in the Asia-Pacific region, 15 as "partially free," and 8 as "not free." Notably successful elections took place in the Philippines and Tonga, while Sri Lanka suffered the most prominent decline in the region, due to its elections. Violent reprisal and censorship continue in several other countries. President Hu of China announced plans to improve its social management system by the end of the decade and turn China into a xiaokang (moderately prosperous and happy) society. Since the country is home to over half of the world population presently living in countries rated "not free," a modification of its status would change the world map of democracy. Among Central Asian countries, Kyrgyzstan's status improved from "not free" to "partly free," while Afghanistan continued to decline. In the Middle East and North Africa, Israel remains the only country ranked "free" and qualifying as an electoral democracy, while 3 countries are "partly free" and 14 "not free." However, the uprisings of 2011 open new possibilities for a more democratic society, despite the violent response of some countries' authoritarian regimes.
Europe: All 27 EU countries are rated "free," the EU Parliament is the largest transnational democratic electorate in the world, and the European Citizens' Initiative became law, enabling direct participation of citizens to propose regulations in areas under the Commission's authority. Yet, an increasing number of immigrants from Africa and Asia and their poor integration challenge the region's tradition of tolerance and civil liberties. Several member states call for a revision of the Schengen treaty on open borders. While the EU has the world's greatest press freedom, Hungarians protested against new media control legislation that some felt could return state censorship. In most Central and East European (non-EU) countries, autocracy and lack of progressive institutions continues to hinder the democratization process. However, gains were noted in Georgia and Moldova, while Russia continues aggressive efforts to curb corruption.
Latin America: The democratization of governments in the region is interrelated with the actions of the U.S. The big challenge for Latin America is the institutional weakness for addressing organized crime that is threatening its democracies. The interlinking of organized crime and government corruption caused Mexico's status to change in 2010 from "free" to "partly free." Freedom House rated 22 countries in the region "free," 10 "partly free," and 1"not free." The system of primary elections in some countries favors those who are already in power and limits the freedom of choice for large majorities. However, a sense of solidarity of the people and increased influence of civil society organizations, as well as examples of democratic governance set by Chile and Brazil, are helping to strengthen democratic processes.
North America: Concerns persist in Canada and the U.S. about the electoral processes, the concentration of media ownership, and powerful lobbies. Greater corporate and union spending on election advertising increases worries over political corruption. The U.S. State Department has budgeted $67 million to support democratic development in lower-income countries, while at home the future for 10–13 million illegal aliens challenges human rights and jurisprudence. Canada had four national elections in the past seven years. The Web site pairvote.ca is facilitating pairing voters from different voting districts to vote for each other's party, thus keeping the balance of popular vote unchanged while improving proportionate representation.
trends in freedom
Source: Freedom in the World 2011, Freedom House
If you would like to update and improve this challenge please enter your text in the space provided below. Although it is not required, if you would like to be included in our statistics for each challenge. Please fill in the contact information in the first part of the form below.
- To update the challenge anonymously click here to go directly to that section of the form.