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Friday March 31, 2023

State of democracy

February 06, 2023

A major global pronouncement on the annual global state of democracy is out. The verdict: democracy is in doldrums globally and 2022 was a disappointing year for democracy.

There is ‘inertia’ in the democracy index global score, says the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) explaining that the average global score stagnated in 2022 instead of expectations of improvements after the lifting of pandemic-related restrictions on global citizens. There is little or no change in the global overall democracy index score of 5.29 (on a 0-10 scale) compared to the overall index score of 5.28 in 2021. In fact, the index score average which stood at 5.44 in the pre-pandemic level was higher than the global average in 2022. Of course the 2022 average score has fallen far down the historical high of 5.55 in 2014 and 2015.

There is stagnation in Pakistan’s state of democracy also. It retains its classification as a ‘hybrid regime,’ one of the 36 around the world, below 48 ‘flawed democracies’ and 24 ‘full democracies’ and above 59 ‘authoritarian regimes’ in 2022.

The Economist Intelligence Unit began assessing the global state of democracy annually in 2006. According to the methodology provided, the democracy index is based on five categories including electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, political culture, and civil liberties. Based on annual assessment scores in these categories, each of the 165 independent states and two territories analyzed is classified in four types of regime starting at the top with full democracy, and at the other end of the spectrum, authoritarian regime. The other two types include flawed democracy and hybrid regime.

According to the 2022 Democracy Index, 45.3 per cent of the world’s population live in a democracy of some sort. Only 8.0 per cent reside in a full democracy which is down from 8.9 per cent in 2015 while 36.9 per cent of the world’s population live under authoritarian rule. The movement in scores shows that the number of full democracies increased from 21 in 2021 to 24 in 2022 by the re-joining of Chile, France and Spain based on this year’s assessment. The number of flawed democracies also decreased by five to 48 in 2022. There is an increase in the number of hybrid regimes to 36 from 34 in 2021 and 59 retain their classification as authoritarian regimes as in 2021.

Pakistan’s classification as a hybrid regime in the global Democracy Index 2022 means its scores fall below those countries that are assessed as full and flawed democracies and just above authoritarian regimes. In fact, according to its overall rank of 107 with the score of 4.13, Pakistan is at the bottom of the hybrid regime classification with only Mauritania behind Pakistan with the score of 4.03 and a rank of 108. Beyond this, the classification of authoritarian regime begins which Pakistan seems to have just missed by a few points.

According to the EIU definition of hybrid regimes, these are such countries that hold elections but do so with ‘substantial irregularities’ or elections that cannot be termed as free and fair. In hybrid regimes, governments tend to place pressure on opposition parties and candidates. Hybrid regimes also have more serious weaknesses than are prevalent in flawed democracies. These weaknesses are prevalent in the political culture, functioning of government and political participation. The judiciary is not independent in hybrid regimes and there is harassment and pressure on journalists and the media. Rule of law is weak as is civil society in such regimes and there is widespread corruption.

While retaining its classification as a hybrid regime, Pakistan has witnessed a change in rank of -3 from the previous year. A fuller examination of Pakistan’s score in 2022 helps paint a complete picture. In the category of ‘electoral process and pluralism’, Pakistan has scored 5.67, its highest score in any category on the democracy index 2022. This is followed by the country’s score of 5.00 in the category of ‘functioning of government’. ‘Civil liberties’ received a score of 4.71, followed by ‘political participation’ with a score of 2.78. The lowest score of 2.50 is awarded to Pakistan in the category of ‘political culture’.

In a comparative analysis of the Democracy Index from 2006 to 2022, though Pakistan initially improved its score from 3.92 in 2006 when it was classified as an authoritarian regime to the score of 4.46 in 2008 when it entered the classification of hybrid regime, it has since not moved up in the classifications of flawed or full democracies as the scores received year by year have remained in the band of 4.0 to 5.0. Hybrid regimes are classified based on scores received that are greater than 4, and less than or equal to 6. Retaining its classification as a hybrid regime, Pakistan’s highest scores of 4.64 were received consecutively in 2013 and 2014.

In its analysis of the Democracy Index 2022, the EIU also identifies various forms of subversion that democracies face worldwide. Obviously making Ukraine the poster child for this year’s index titled ‘Frontline democracy and the battle for Ukraine’, the index recognizes that threats to democracy and national sovereignty are not just mounted by invading armies but also through “drug traffickers, insurgents, warlords and cyber hackers”.

At the end of 2022, threats to democracy and national sovereignty in Pakistan can no longer be described just as weakness of rule of law or political culture despite their importance. Our policymakers have re-opened the floodgates of militancy and armed insurgency that does not just challenge the writ of the state, but has also come back to wreak havoc with the lives and blood of Pakistani citizens and law-enforcement agencies alike.

The start of the new year has ushered in the misfortune of assessing the death toll and strife from a ‘bloody January’ rather than just planning for improving democracy. From the National Action Plan written from the blood of innocent children studying in the APS to the Apex Committee hurrying to form strategies to eliminate terrorism post the Peshawar attack, Pakistan’s citizens are horrified again at the re-awakening of the ugly reality of terrorism after less than even a decade of peace.

Yes, in a well-functioning democracy, questions would have been asked and answers provided and perpetrators of bringing back militancy would have been brought to justice. But then, in a full or even flawed democracy, how could any such decisions be taken by a handful?

The writer is an analyst working in the field of politics, democratic governance, legislative development and rule of law.