Democracy is ‘under assault’ and ‘in retreat,’ says Freedom House


A new report from the independent watchdog organization Freedom House says that democratic principles such as election integrity and freedom of the press are weakening globally for the 12th consecutive year, VOA reports.

“There are more countries — in the case of 2017, many more countries — that showed declines in freedom than showed improvements,” says Arch Puddington, Freedom House Distinguished Scholar for Democracy Studies, who spoke with VOA ahead of the report’s release.

Democracy is under assault and in retreat around the globe, a crisis that has intensified as America’s democratic standards erode at an accelerating pace, according to Freedom in the World 2018:

The report finds that 2017 was the 12th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. Seventy-one countries suffered net declines in political rights and civil liberties in 2017, with only 35 registering gains. Once-promising states such as Turkey, Venezuela, Poland, and Tunisia were among those experiencing declines in democratic standards.

“Democracy is facing its most serious crisis in decades,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House. “Democracy’s basic tenets—including guarantees of free and fair elections, the rights of minorities, freedom of the press, and the rule of law—are under siege around the world.”

“The hastening withdrawal of the United States from its historical commitment to supporting democracy overseas makes the challenge posed by authoritarian regimes all the more powerful and threatening,” said Abramowitz.

Credit: Economist

Meanwhile, Freedom House says, “autocratic regimes” in Russia and China have “taken advantage of the retreat of leading democracies” and are “acting beyond their borders to squelch open debate, pursue dissidents, and compromise rules-based institutions,” RFERL adds:

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government has “demonstrated the increasing sophistication and reach of modern authoritarian regimes” by “organizing disinformation campaigns during elections in European democracies” and cultivating ties with “xenophobic political parties across the continent,” threatening its closest neighbors, and serving as “an alternative source of military aid for Middle Eastern dictatorships.”

“The central goal of these efforts was to disrupt democratic states and fracture the institutions that bind them together.”

The study comes on the heels of other reports that find global press freedom and democracy are declining, despite democracy being the preferred form of government around the world, US News adds.

“We see democracy in crisis this year, and that is the cumulative effect of continuing deteriorating conditions in really repressive countries, especially some really important countries, but also the big change that we have seen in the United States,” says Sarah Repucci, who oversees the annual Freedom in the World and Freedom of the Press reports.

The authors of the global freedom report did not spare Barack Obama’s administration from criticism, either, Newsweek adds. It said that while the U.S. continued to protect democratic principles under Obama, “its actions often fell short.”

Freedom House has been warning of a “democratic recession” for years now, Slate’s Joshua Keating adds….

….and when I wrote about the group’s report back in 2014, I noted that some experts were skeptical of the notion, given that most of the biggest drops in scores tended to happen in countries that weren’t free to begin with. Given the trends we’re now seeing in recent and even more established democracies, though, the group’s warnings over the past 12 years now look less alarmist.

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