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Berlin / Gütersloh, 22/03/2012

Democracy Not Advancing Around the Globe

The Bertelsmann Stiftung's latest Transformation Index shows: The quality of democracy in Eastern Europe and Latin America has worsened considerably.

Photo: Kuzma / iStockphoto
Photo: Kuzma / iStockphoto

Political freedoms are increasingly being curtailed in many countries around the globe. The situation has worsened in particular in many southeastern and eastern European states, as well as in Latin America. Moreover, despite many successes in overcoming the global financial and economic crisis, socioeconomic conditions in more than half of the world’s less-developed nations are inadequate.

As the 2012 BTI’s long-term comparisons show, political rights and freedom of expression have increasingly been restricted around the globe. Of particular note are the worsening conditions in the politically most advanced regions of Eastern Europe and Latin America. In recent years the decline has been particularly pronounced in Hungary and Ukraine. Fifteen of the 38 states in these regions assessed by the BTI exhibit a decline in the quality of their democratic elections, including all Southeast European states, with the exception of Serbia. Increasingly, instances of legal infractions, bought votes, opaque campaign financing and purported fraud have been observed. Governments in a number of regions, including Europe, are increasingly restricting independent media or trying to intimidate journalists, something that has occurred in Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo and Slovakia. In Latin America the quality of democracy has especially worsened in Argentina, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico and Panama.

At a low level of democratic quality to begin with, the situation has further degenerated in many countries in Southern and Eastern Africa. Basic rights have been further restricted in eight countries there, while torture and arbitrary arrests have increased. At the same time, however, many countries on the African continent are no longer threatened with becoming failed states, at least for the moment. Of the 37 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, governments in 18 have expanded their monopoly on the use of force since the last BTI release.

Experts believe a key cause of this decline in democratic quality is dissatisfaction with the socioeconomic performance achieved by democratic systems. People in East-Central and Southeast Europe, for example, are very aware of the different levels of prosperity between the countries they live in and those in Western Europe. This perception is heightened by the sociopolitical restrictions facing many governments as a result of limited inflows of foreign investment and the fiscal policy guidelines set out by the EU for accession candidates. The resulting loss of trust has often helped populist movements to gain ground quickly. In many Latin American countries, it is the resistance among ruling elites to reform or effectively address growing social disparities that has prompted many to seek forms of protests beyond established political channels.

Socioeconomic stagnation or regression are all the more problematic as economic development in many countries is, overall, quite positive. The impact of the global and economic crisis of 2008/2009, for example, was less dire than expected. Following minor economic downturns, most of the countries surveyed by the BTI were able to recover quickly and have stabilized overall. As the current BTI demonstrates, however, gains from economic growth have not translated into social progress, or have done so only to a very limited extent. Overall, 69 of the 128 countries surveyed have a socioeconomic level of development that the experts classify as inadequate or catastrophic.

“The BTI shows once more that economic growth does not automatically lead to more equitable social development. These are, above all, areas that policymakers must address,” says Aart De Geus, member of the Bertelsmann Stiftung Executive Board. Current trends in the BTI countries underscore this point, he notes. Social disparities in Bahrain and South Korea, for example, have increased, despite economic gains. In contrast, a number of countries in Latin America and Asia prove that strategic, social and economic policies can improve the situation, something that can be seen in poverty alleviation programs in Brazil and Uruguay and educational measures in Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan. The impact of no progress can be seen clearly in the unrest taking place in Arab countries, De Geus says. Even though Egypt and Tunisia have exhibited impressive economic growth, efforts to improve social conditions have been insufficient; poverty has therefore increased, as has pessimism among young people and rural populations. The result has been the uprisings of the Arab Spring.

In part, the BTI refutes the myth of the “Asian model,” according to which autocracies can have overall economic development that is more stable, reliable and robust than functioning democratic systems. According to the BTI, this scenario holds only in exceptional cases, such as China, Singapore, Vietnam and, to some extent, Malaysia. A comparison of autocracies and democracies, however, reveals that the latter score better in all areas, on average. Even China and Vietnam are far from the level of the top democratic performers. The “transformation leader” at the top of the BTI’s Management Index over the most recent period is, for instance, Taiwan. Achieving the highest possible score in 13 out of 18 assessment areas, the island nation contrasts markedly with the authoritarian development model being applied on the Chinese mainland. Though the context of political steering performance in Guinea, Mauritania, Moldova and the Philippines differs, each show considerable improvement in this area. Madagascar, Haiti, Côte d’Ivoire and Hungary have, by contrast, registered the largest losses in this area. The worst performers in terms of political management for this edition of the BTI are Eritrea, Myanmar, Somalia and North Korea.

The Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Transformation Index (BTI) analyzes and evaluates the quality of democracy, a market economy and political management in 128 developing and transition countries. It measures successes and setbacks on the path toward a democracy based on the rule of law and a market economy anchored in principles of social justice. In-depth country reports provide the qualitative data used to assess these countries’ development status and challenges, and to evaluate the ability of policymakers to carry out consistent and targeted reforms. The BTI is the first cross-national comparative index that uses self-collected data to measure the quality of governance and provide a comprehensive analysis of countries’ policymaking success during processes of transition.


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