Global Challenge 4:

How can genuine democracy emerge from authoritarian regimes?

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The long-term growth of democratization has declined for the past 17 years. Net declines in indicators of democracy outnumbered net advances for the sixth consecutive year. The percentage of the world governed by authoritarian regimes has increased from 49% in 2011 to about 70% in 2023. Both Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders document decreasing press freedoms, as polarization has increased. The internet has become a new battleground for information warfare with millions of fake bots spreading individually targeted disinformation turning “I don’t like, to I hate,” and then to “they are the enemy.” The UN Secretary-General is creating a framework for safe AI including methods to counter disinformation. Leading AI corporations and governments are also seeking counters to disinformation. The COVID-19 pandemic has also contributed to a decline in freedom. At the same time, new Internet capabilities provide more access for greater participation in governance and are increasingly exposing corruption. Synergistically self-organized human rights movements for sustainable global democratic systems are taking place all over the world.

Although the perceptions and implementations 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. NGOs like Transparency International and intergovernmental organizations like the Open Government Partnership (OGP) reinforce democracy internationally. The OGP connects 75 national and 15 subnational governments that have committed to 2,500 actions to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. Global trends, such as the increasing interdependencies, the changing nature of power, worsening polarization worldwide, growing mobility, and the increasingly urgent need to collectively address major planetary existential challenges demonstrate the importance of the organization’s work and democratization. However, democratization is threatened by increasingly sophisticated organized crime, terrorism, corruption, disinformation, and manipulation of elections and the electorate. The Word Bank estimates that $2.6 trillion was paid in bribes to public officials during 2022.

  • Secure tamper-proof electoral systems.
  • Implement policy changes and technology to counter disinformation and information warfare.
  • Establish international standards and agreements for the digital world.
  • Implement global strategies to counter organized crime.
  • Establish and enforce measures to reduce corruption.
  • Promote transparency, participation, inclusion, and accountability in decisionmaking
  • Require and Improve civics education in all forms of education
  • Prevent large sums of money from single donors/groups in political campaign financing.
  • Implement user-friendly e-governance platforms.
  • Experiment with new democratic methods such as Liquid Democracy,  Democracy 4.0, and Polis.
  • Experiment with a citizen financial voucher system to reduce special interest controls.
  • Implement strategies to counter hate speech.
  • Produce cash flow projections for guaranteed basic income.
  • Implement UN treaties on minorities, migrants, and refugees.
  • Include 10 lessons from Devex research: move forward incrementally when beginning a democratic transition; retain a positive and inclusive vision at all times; build coalitions; create and protect spaces for dialogue; focus on equitable constitution building; manage eventual tensions; understand the importance of political parties; deal carefully with military, security, and intelligence services; recognize the need for real reconciliation and transitional justice; and bring the gender lens to democratic transitions.

Sub-Saharan Africa: The economic and social impacts of COVID have made some Sub-Saharan African countries vulnerable to military coups, democratic backsliding and an increase in authoritarian leadership. Armed conflicts in Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo, along with military coups in 2022 in Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Sudan, and in 2023 Sudan and Niger. Nevertheless, the number of coups has been on the decline since the 1960s. More and more countries are holding competitive and peaceful elections, and the freedom of expression and communication increases with the spread of the Internet and growing consciousness about civil rights and liberties. Freedom House reported that nearly 14% of sub-Saharan Africa is rated “free,” 31% rated “partly free,” while 55% are “not free” status as of 2023. No country in the region was rated as having free media, and only 5 countries were rated as “satisfactory” freedom of the press. Six of the top ten failed states are in sub-Saharan Africa. According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), more countries became more corrupt, than those that became less corrupt. As of May 19, 2023, the Internet was shut down at least 80 times by 21 countries with 18 of these ongoing since 2022. The Internet was shut down by 12 African countries at least 19 times in 2021. Approximately  7 million people in the region are living in slavery conditions, mostly in Eritrea, Mauritania, South Sudan, the Republic of Congo, and Nigeria. While democratic norms are promoted by civil society, the region is yet to experience a “strong and vibrant civil society,” able to freely petition the government for improved services and participation in decision-making.

Middle East and North Africa: 

Five countries in the region are classified as either free or partly free: Kuwait, Israel, Lebanon, Morocco, and Tunisia, while 93% of the region still live in societies rated as not free. Yemen and Syria are among the top ten failed statesThe Arab Spring has yet to produce a more democratic region. The majority of the world’s most dangerous places for journalists are located in the Middle East and North Africa Region. The Syrian civil war has left 14.6 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and protection. Iran reportedly had executed around 853 people in 2023 up from 565 in 2022. The first feminist uprising in the region spread across Iran defying compulsory hijab laws was met with tens of thousands of arrests. No national-level officials are elected in Saudi Arabia, political parties are forbidden, and at least 1,243 people were executed between 2010 and 2021. The largest protests in Israeli history broke out across the control to stop its “judicial reform” that severely weakens the Supreme Court and will lead to a more autocratic government. Modern slavery in the Arab States has fallen from 2.9 million in 2017 to 1.7 million in 2021, as forced recruits in state or non-state armed groups, forced marriage, forced labor, and commercial sexual exploitation. Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman, and Qatar are not party nor signatories of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Asia and Oceania: The region’s population rated as free fell from 38% in 2017 to 5% in 2022. However, Freedom House found that eight countries improved in their political rights and civil liberties in 2022, while six declined, and the population in “not free” declined by 15%. Most countries in this region are characterized by the Democracy Index 2022 as a mixture of flawed democracies, and hybrid and authoritarian regimes. Only South Korea, Mongolia, Japan, Taiwan, Australia, and New Zealand were characterized as full democracies. Freedom Houses reported that Malaysia had the largest one-year improvements in 2023. India is the world’s largest democracy; its anti-corruption movement continues as does its concentrated, centralization of political power and the caste system. Since China is home to about half of the world’s population presently living in countries rated “not free,” a modification of its status would change the world map of democracy. President Xi Jinping has consolidated personal power more than previous Chinese leaders, aided by artificial intelligence management and Social Credit System. However, an increasingly connected, educated public, and middle class may contribute to more democratic governance.

Asia has the majority of modern slaves in the world with 29.3 million people during 2021 (India-11 million, China-5.8 million, North Korea-2.6 million; and Pakistan-2.3 million). In South Asia, repression of political and civil liberties is aggravated by increasing ethnic and sectarian conflicts. ASEAN’s strict policy of non-interference — allowing members’ abuses without consequences — is considered one of the causes of the deepening humanitarian crises of refugees. Most migrants are Rohingya fleeing persecution in Myanmar, a country with critical human rights abuses. The number of people of concern in Myanmar increased from 1.5 million in 2016 to 2.5 million in 2022.

Europe: Most of Europe is rated as free except Abkhazia, Albania, Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Hungary, Moldova, Montenegro, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Moldova, Serbia, and Ukraine rated as partly free, and Azerbaijan and Russia as not free. The EU Parliament is the largest transnational democratic electorate in the world and political and fiscal integration helped the growth of democracy across Europe. Freedom House lowered democratic scores for 11 countries and raised them for 7 countries in 2023. Since 2012, EU citizens can initiate legislative proposals if backed by one million citizens. Governments across the continent are increasingly involving citizens in local and legislative development and most EU countries have a relatively good E-Government Development Index score. Eight of the top ten least corrupt countries related by Transparency International were Western European. The Eurozone crises and the rise of nationalist and anti-EU parties might challenge further integration. The EU needs a coherent migration policy to integrate the growing number of immigrants and asylum seekers and avoid increasing nationalism and extremism in some regions. Immigrants to the EU totaled 5.1 million in 2022, an increase of 117% over the previous year. In the first six months of 2023, the number of immigrants to EU increased 75% over the same period in 2022..

Latin America: Rampant corruption, organized crime, and institutional weakness in addressing the social and political demands of people are the key impediments to democracy in the region.

Freedom House ranked most of Latin America and the Caribbean countries as free or partly free with only Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela as not free. In 2023, only seven of the 33 countries in the region are rated to have “satisfactory” free press freedom; 18 countries rated “problematic” and six countries with a mixture of difficult to very difficult press freedom situations. Latin America was rated to be one of the most dangerous regions for journalists in 2022; more than half of the journalists deaths occurred in Mexico and Haiti. Significant declines were noted in Honduras, Peru, and Venezuela, while Mexico’s score is the lowest over the past 10 years, due to a new telecommunications law. Venezuela witnessed the sharpest decline over a ten-year period between 2012 and 2022. Mexico is a major transit country for human trafficking victims from Central America.  Democratic governance set by Chile and Brazil is helping to strengthen democratic processes. The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) continues to foster Latin American integration as a strategy for the region’s future stability.

North America: The Biden administration has held two Summits for Democracy with over 70 governments who have committed to actions in the Summit for Democracy Declaration. Voter turnout in the US improved from 54.8% in 2016 to 66.8% in 2020. Strategies to reduce the role of money in politics, like limits on contributions and Political Action Committees have not succeeded. Increased partisan polarization leaves two-thirds of 18- to 29-year-olds polled depressed about the future of democracy in the US. The US intelligence community identified Russian initiated fake news and individually-targeted disinformation are responsible for increasing political polarization, moving some to change from: “I don’t like x,” to “I hate x,” to “x is the enemy,” to “attack x.” China is increasing its role in disinformation. Attempts are underway to counter such polarization. Although state and municipal governments in the U.S. are seen as increasingly effective in implementing programs on a more by-partisan basis, there is growing uneasiness about local ordinances being pre-empted by state governments motivated by economic or political interests that are not necessarily reflecting the best interest of the local population. Although the US is rated as a free country, its freedom score declined by 10 points between 2010-2020. It has recently improved in freedom of assembly and transparency of government. Imprisonment of Black men has fallen 44% per capita from 1999 to 2019. However, its overall Freedom index did not change in 2023 from that 2022. USAID, the White House, and other U.S. agencies and organizations have several programs dedicated to supporting democracy and the rule of law around the world, but after the Afghanistan and Iraq disasters, the legitimacy of U.S. military intervention to counter autocracy is questioned.

Canada launched its Plan to Protect Canada’s Democracy in 2019. In March 2023 it reported progress on its 35 commitments at the Summit for Democracy. Canada is considered the most successful democratic multi-ethnic society; however, recent changes to regulations for charity organizations and fraud investigations concerning the federal elections and some high-ranked officials question the health of Canadian democracy. Its decentralized system of provincial power over federal power leaves the national parliament with little power.