Religious politics signal ‘Rough Times for Democratic Change’



Democracy and models of social market economy are facing an unprecedented challenge worldwide, while the influence of religion on political institutions and legal systems is on the rise, says the latest Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Transformation Index (BTI). Many governments have placed tighter restrictions on political and civil rights as a means of consolidating their own power, says the report, Rough Times for Democratic Change.

Even in relatively stable democracies, many governments are unable to defuse political and social conflicts, and only six states are characterized by “very good” governance – a record low, according to the 250 experts who assess the surveyed countries according to 17 criteria. In contrast, governments in 46 countries demonstrate either failed or weak transformation efforts.

One-half of all democracies surveyed are “defective” and one-fifth “highly defective,” the BTI finds, highlighting restrictions placed on freedom of association, expression and assembly.

Religion’s political influence growing

In one of “the most profound negative developments” over the last ten years, the influence of religious dogma has increased in 53 countries and declined in only 12, the report adds:

The intensity of social, ethnic and religious conflicts has increased in the past ten years by more than .5 points on the BTI’s scale of ten, while nearly half of all surveyed governments today manage conflicts more poorly than was the case a decade ago. Conflicts within societies are increasingly manifest along religious cleavages. Extremist organizations primarily associated with a militant-jihadist ideology – from Boko Haram to al-Qaeda and the Taliban to the Islamic State group – are driving these conflicts.

Religiously charged politics are not exclusive to Arab states or Muslim majority societies. The BTI records a total of 42 states worldwide in which religious dogma visibly influence political systems. In 21 states such as Iraq, Libya, Turkey and Ethiopia, legal orders and political institutions are now subject to more religious influence than they were in 2014.

The number of democratically governed countries has slightly increased from 72 to 74 and the number of autocracies has slightly declined from 57 to 55, but the trend within each regime type is negative, the index finds:

In the last two years, the percentage of autocracies classified by the BTI as “hard-line” has increased from 58% to 73%. Only 15 autocracies protect civil rights even to a rudimentary degree and grant a modicum of political rights. In the remaining 40 autocracies, the arbitrary detention of human rights advocates and journalists is a daily occurrence, as is the repression of civil society organizations…

Social dimension

Transformation crises and conflicts are also inseparably associated with social ills, the index states:

Poverty, inequality and the lack of economic opportunity in particular represent a kind of social dynamite, apt to explode into protests against poor governance. These and other societal demands for government action painfully point to governments’ failure to take advantage of the favorable economic and budgetary conditions in the years preceding the economic and financial crises and invest more resources in education, health and social equality.
In recent years, the scope of governments’ available options has narrowed, and the decline of economies and potential engines of growth such as Argentina, Brazil, India, Mexico, Russia and South Africa have been as continuous as they have been significant.

Infringements of association and assembly rights, in particular, became more pronounced in a total of 19 countries, or a quarter of all democracies, most significantly in sub-Saharan Africa, the report finds:

In countries such as Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal, demonstration and assembly rights were curtailed with reference to possible violent escalations or terrorist threats. In Mozambique and Zambia, the government restricted the opposition’s ability to hold meetings in advance of elections. Conditions for civil society engagement were restricted even in relatively advanced democracies such as Botswana, Ghana and South Africa.

The Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Transformation Index (BTI) analyzes and evaluates whether and how 129 surveyed countries are steering social change toward democracy and a market economy with a total of 17 criteria, including stateness, political participation, rule of law, stability of democratic institutions, political and social integration, level of social-economic development, organization of the market and compensation, currency and price stability, private property, welfare regime, economic performance, sustainability, level of difficulty, steering capability, resource efficiency, consensus building and international cooperation.

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