The story so far: According to the latest report from the V-Dem Institute at Sweden’s University of Gothenburg, the level of democracy enjoyed by the average global citizen in 2021 is down to 1989 levels, with the democratic gains of the post-Cold War period eroding rapidly in the last few years. The study, titled ‘Democracy Report 2022: Autocratisation Changing Nature?’ states that more than twice as many countries (32) are undergoing autocratisation as are witnessing democratisation (15). Noting that India is one of the top ten ‘autocratisers’ in the world, the V-Dem (Varieties of Democracy) report classifies India as an autocracy (‘electoral autocracy’) rather than a democracy, ranking it 93rd on the liberal democracy index, out of 179 countries.
The V-Dem Institute at Sweden’s University of Gothenburg has come out with their annual democracy report. The study is titled ‘Democracy Report 2022: Autocratisation Changing Nature?’. The V-Dem institute uses aggregate expert judgments to produce estimates of critical concepts by gathering data from a pool of over 3,700 country experts who provide judgments on different concepts and cases.
The report classifies countries into four regime types based on their score in the Liberal Democratic Index (LDI): Liberal Democracy, Electoral Democracy, Electoral Autocracy, and Closed Autocracy. It classifies India as an electoral autocracy ranking it 93rd on the LDI, out of 179 countries.
One of the biggest drivers of autocratisation is “toxic polarisation”, a dominant trend in 40 countries, as opposed to 5 countries that showed rising polarisation in 2011.
What is the V-Dem report’s methodology?
Since key features of democracy, such as, judicial independence, are not directly measurable, and to rule out distortions due to subjective judgments, V-Dem uses aggregate expert judgments to produce estimates of critical concepts.
It gathers data from a pool of over 3,700 country experts who provide judgments on different concepts and cases. Leveraging the diverse opinions, the V-Dem’s measurement model algorithmically estimates both the degree to which an expert is reliable relative to other experts, and the degree to which their perception differs from other experts to come up with the most accurate values for every parameter.
What parameters were used to assess the status of a democracy?
V-Dem’s conceptual scheme takes into account not only the electoral dimension (free and fair elections) but also the liberal principle that a democracy must protect “individual and minority rights against both the tyranny of the state and the tyranny of the majority”. The V-Dem report classifies countries into four regime types based on their score in the Liberal Democratic Index (LDI): Liberal Democracy, Electoral Democracy, Electoral Autocracy, and Closed Autocracy. The LDI captures both liberal and electoral aspects of a democracy based on 71 indicators that make up the Liberal Component Index (LCI) and the Electoral Democracy Index (EDI). The LCI measures aspects such as protection of individual liberties and legislative constraints on the executive, while the EDI considers indicators that guarantee free and fair elections such as freedom of expression and freedom of association. In addition, the LDI also uses an Egalitarian Component Index (to what extent different social groups are equal), Participatory Component Index (health of citizen groups, civil society organisations), and Deliberative Component Index (whether political decisions are taken through public reasoning focused on common good or through emotional appeals, solidarity attachments, coercion).
What are the main findings of the report?
While Sweden topped the LDI index, other Scandinavian countries such as Denmark and Norway, along with Costa Rica and New Zealand make up the top five in liberal democracy rankings. Autocratisation is spreading rapidly, with a record of 33 countries autocratising. Signaling a sharp break from an average of 1.2 coups per year, 2021 saw a record 6 coups, resulting in 4 new autocracies: Chad, Guinea, Mali and Myanmar. While the number of liberal democracies stood at 42 in 2012, their number has shrunk to their lowest level in over 25 years, with just 34 countries and 13% of the world population living in liberal democracies. Closed autocracies, or dictatorships, rose from 25 to 30 between 2020 and 2021. While the world today has 89 democracies and 90 autocracies, electoral autocracy remains the most common regime type, accounting for 60 countries and 44% of the world population or 3.4 billion people. Electoral democracies were the second most common regime, accounting for 55 countries and 16% of the world population.
What does the report say about India?
The report notes that India is part of a broader global trend of an anti-plural political party driving a country’s autocratisation. Ranked 93rd in the LDI, India figures in the “bottom 50%” of countries. It has slipped further down in the Electoral Democracy Index, to 100, and even lower in the Deliberative Component Index, at 102. In South Asia, India is ranked below Sri Lanka (88), Nepal (71), and Bhutan (65) and above Pakistan (117) in the LDI.
What does the report say about the changing nature of autocratisation?
One of the biggest drivers of autocratisation is “toxic polarisation” — defined as a phenomenon that erodes respect of counter-arguments and associated aspects of the deliberative component of democracy — a dominant trend in 40 countries, as opposed to 5 countries that showed rising polarisation in 2011. The report also points out that “toxic levels of polarisation contribute to electoral victories of anti-pluralist leaders and the empowerment of their autocratic agendas”. Noting that “polarisation and autocratisation are mutually reinforcing”, the report states that “measures of polarisation of society, political polarisation, and political parties’ use of hate speech tend to systematically rise together to extreme levels.”
The report identified “misinformation” as a key tool deployed by autocratising governments to sharpen polarisation and shape domestic and international opinion. Repression of civil society and censorship of media were other favoured tools of autocratising regimes. While freedom of expression declined in a record 35 countries in 2021, with only 10 showing improvement, repression of civil society organisations (CSOs) worsened in 44 countries over the past ten years, “putting it at the very top of the indicators affected by autocratisation”. Also, in 37 countries, direct government control over CSOs’ existence moved in an authoritarian direction — “evidence of the far-ranging weakening of civil society around the world.”
Significantly, the report also found that decisive autonomy for the electoral management body (EMB) deteriorated in 25 countries.