Democratic backsliding, also known as autocratization and de-democratization, is a gradual decline in the quality of democracy and the opposite of democratization, which may result in the state losing its democratic qualities, becoming an autocracy or authoritarian regime. Democratic decline is caused by the state-led weakening of political institutions that sustain the democratic system, such as the peaceful transition of power or electoral systems. Although these political elements are assumed to lead to the onset of backsliding, other essential components of democracy such as infringement of individual rights and the freedom of expression question the health, efficiency and sustainability of democratic systems over time.
Political scientist Nancy Bermeo argues that blatant forms of democratic backsliding, such as classic, open-ended coups d'état and election-day fraud, have declined since the end of the Cold War, while more subtle and "vexing" forms of backsliding have increased. The latter forms of backsliding entail the debilitation of democratic institutions from within. These subtle forms are especially effective when they are legitimized through the very institutions that people expect to protect democratic values.
The Third Wave of democratization, which began in the mid-1970s, transformed the existing formal political structures in much of the developing world. Nevertheless, the processes of democratisation are not linear, as only a limited number of countries that have undergone transitions to democracy have succeeded in establishing consolidated and functioning democratic regimes. Since 2001, there are more autocracies than democracies in the world and as a result, the “third wave of autocratization” is accelerating and deepening. In addition, apart from the transition to autocratization, democratic backsliding may also lead to authoritarian regressions, to revolutions, to hybrid regimes as they enter into political "gray zones".
Pandemic backsliding is a specific type of democratic backsliding relating to national crises. It occurs when leaders impose authoritarian rules during states of national emergency that are either disproportionate to the severity of the crisis or remain in place after the situation has improved. It has taken place in several countries during the coronavirus pandemic.
- Free and fair elections are degraded;
- Liberal rights of freedom of speech, press and association decline, impairing the ability of the political opposition to challenge the government, hold it to account, and propose alternatives to the current regime;
- The rule of law (i.e., judicial and bureaucratic restraints on the government) is weakened, such as when the independence of the judiciary is threatened, or when civil service tenure protections are weakened or eliminated.
- The government manufactures or overemphasizes a national security threat to create "a sense of crisis" that allows the government "to malign critics as weak-willed or unpatriotic" and to depict defenders of democratic institutions "as representatives of a tired, insulated elite."
Democratic backsliding can occur in several common ways. Backsliding is often led by democratically elected leaders, who use "incremental rather than revolutionary" tactics." As emphasized by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, it is difficult to pinpoint a single specific moment at which a government is no longer democratic, given that this process of decline manifests "slowly, in barely visible steps". Ozan Varol uses the phrase stealth authoritarianism to describe the practice of an authoritarian leader (or a potential authoritarian leader) using "seemingly legitimate legal mechanisms for anti-democratic ends ... concealing anti-democratic practices under the mask of law."Together with Juan Linz (1996), Levitsky and Ziblatt developed and agreed upon their “litmus test”, which includes what they believe to be the four key indicators of authoritarian behavior. These four factors are: rejection (or weak commitment to) democratic rules of the game, denial of the legitimacy of political opponents, toleration or encouragement of violence, and readiness to curtail civil liberties of opponents, including media. Varol describes the manipulation of libel laws, electoral laws, or "terrorism" laws as tools to target or discredit political opponents, and the employment of democratic rhetoric as a distraction from anti-democratic practices, as manifestations of stealth authoritarianism. In addition to these key signs derived from the behavior of leaders, Samuel P. Huntington also describes culture as a main contributor to democratic backsliding, and goes on to argue that certain cultures are particularly hostile to democracy, but they don’t necessarily prohibit democratization.
In a promissory coup, an incumbent elected government is deposed in a coup d'etat by coup leaders who claim to defend democracy and promise to hold elections to restore democracy. In these situations, coup-makers emphasize the temporary and necessary nature of their intervention in order to ensure democracy in the future. This is unlike the more open-ended coups that occurred during the Cold War. Political scientist Nancy Bermeo says that "The share of successful coups that falls into the promissory category has risen significantly, from 35 percent before 1990 to 85 percent afterward." Examining 12 promissory coups in democratic states between 1990 and 2012, Bermeo found that "Few promissory coups were followed quickly by competitive elections, and fewer still paved the way for improved democracies."
This process contains a series of institutional changes by the elected executives, impairing the ability of the political opposition to challenge the government and hold it to account. The most important feature of executive aggrandizement is that the institutional changes are made through legal channels, making it seem as if the elected official has a democratic mandate. Some examples of executive aggrandizement are the decline of media freedom and the weakening of the rule of law (i.e., judicial and bureaucratic restraints on the government), such as when judicial autonomy is threatened.
Over time, there has been a decline in active coups (in which a power-seeking individual, or small group, seizes power through forcibly, violently removing an existing government) and self-coups (involving "a freely elected chief executive suspending the constitution outright in order to amass power in one swift sweep") and an increase in executive aggrandizement. Political scientist Nancy Bermeo notes that executive aggrandizement occurs over time, through institutional changes legitimized through legal means, such as new constituent assemblies, referenda, or "existing courts or legislatures ... in cases where supporters of the executive gain majority control of such bodies." Bermeo notes that these means mean that the aggrandizement of the executive "can be framed as having resulted from a democratic mandate." Executive aggrandizement is characterized by the presence of distress in axes of democracy, including institutional or horizontal accountability; and executive or discursive accountability.
Strategic harassment and manipulation during elections
This form of democratic backsliding entails the impairment of free and fair elections through tactics such as blocking media access, disqualifying opposition leaders, or harassing opponents. This form of backsliding is done in such a way that the elections do not appear to be rigged and rarely involves any apparent violations of the law, making it difficult for international election monitoring organizations to observe or criticize these misconducts.
Causes and characteristics of democratic backsliding
Pippa Norris of the Harvard Kennedy School and the University of Sydney argues that the two "twin forces" pose the largest threat to Western liberal democracies: "sporadic and random terrorist attacks on domestic soil, which damage feelings of security, and the rise of populist-authoritarian forces, which feed parasitically upon these fears." Norris defines populism as "a governing style with three defining features":
- A rhetorical emphasis on the idea that "legitimate political authority is based on popular sovereignty and majority rule";
- Disapproval of, and challenges to the legitimacy of, established holders of "political, cultural, and economic power";
- Leadership by "maverick outsiders" who claim "to speak for the vox populi and to serve ordinary people."
Some, but not all, populists are also authoritarian, emphasizing "the importance of protecting traditional lifestyles against perceived threats from 'outsiders', even at the expense of civil liberties and minority rights." According to Norris, the reinforcement of the insecurities from the "twin forces" has led to more support for populist-authoritarian leaders, and this latter risk is especially pronounced in the United States during the presidency of Donald Trump. For example, Norris argues that Trump has benefited from the mistrust of "the establishment" and that he continuously seeks to undermine faith in the legitimacy of the media and the independence of the courts.
In 2017, Cas Mudde and Cristóbal Rovire Kaltwasser wrote that:
Populism does not have the same effect in each stage of the democratization process. In fact, we suggest that populism tends to play a positive role in the promotion of electoral or minimal democracy, but a negative role when it comes to fostering the development of a full-fledged liberal democratic regime. Consequently, while populism tends to favor the democratization of authoritarian regimes, it is prone to diminish the quality of liberal democracies. Populism supports popular sovereignty, but it is inclined to oppose any limitations on majority rule, such as judicial independence and minority rights. Populism-in-power has led to processes of de-democratization (e.g., [Viktor] Orbán in Hungary or [Hugo] Chávez in Venezuela) and, in some extreme cases, even to the breakdown of the democratic regime (e.g., [Alberto] Fujimori in Peru).
A 2018 analysis by political scientists Yascha Mounk and Jordan Kyle links populism to democratic backsliding, showing that since 1990, "13 right-wing populist governments have been elected; of these, five brought about significant democratic backsliding. Over the same time period, 15 left-wing populist governments were elected; of these, the same number, five, brought about significant democratic backsliding."
A December 2018 report by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change concluded that populist rule, whether left- or right-wing, leads to a significant risk of democratic backsliding. The authors examine the effect of populism on three major aspects of democracy: the quality of democracy in general, checks and balances on executive power and citizens' right to politically participate in a meaningful way. They conclude that populist governments are four times more likely to cause harm to democratic institutions than non-populist governments. Also, more than half of populist leaders have amended or rewritten the countries' constitution, frequently in a way that eroded checks and balances on executive power. Lastly, populists attack individual rights such as freedom of the press, civil liberties, and political rights.
In a 2018 journal article on democratic backsliding, scholars Licia Cianetti, James Dawson, and Seán Hanley argued that the emergence of populist movements in Central and Eastern Europe, such as Andrej Babiš's ANO in the Czech Republic, are "a potentially ambiguous phenomenon, articulating genuine societal demands for political reform and pushing issues of good governance centre stage, but further loosening the weak checks and balances that characterise post-communist democracy and embedding private interests at the core of the state."
In a 2019 paper, presented to the International Society of Political Psychologists, Shawn Rosenberg argues that right-wing populism is exposing a vulnerability in democratic structures and that "democracy is likely to devour itself."
Many political economy scholars, such as Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, have investigated the effect of income inequality on the democratic breakdown. Studies of democratic collapse show that economic inequality is significantly higher in countries that eventually move towards a more authoritarian model. Hungary is an example of a country where a large group of unemployed, low-educated people were dissatisfied with the high levels of inequality, especially after the financial crisis of 2007–2008. Viktor Orbán used this dissatisfaction of a relatively large segment of the population to his advantage, winning popular support by using national-populist rhetoric.
A 2019 study found that personalism had an adverse impact on democracy in Latin America: "presidents who dominate their own weakly organized parties are more likely to seek to concentrate power, undermine horizontal accountability, and trample the rule of law than presidents who preside over parties that have an independent leadership and an institutionalized bureaucracy."
Many national governments worldwide found themselves with no other choice but to delay, postpone or cancel a variety of democratic elections at both national and subnational governmental levels resulting in the COVID-19 pandemic opening gaps in the action of democracy. In reference to 'western countries', the 2020 United Kingdom local elections were postponed for a year; the longest postponement of democratic elections in the UK since the Interwar period during the 20th Century. At the beginning of the crisis UN experts advised government responses to be “proportionate, necessary and non-discriminatory”. According to the V-Dem Institute, only 39% of all countries have committed no or minor violations of democratic standards in response to Covid-19. Regardless of the fact that liberal democracy was on the defensive and experiencing a rise of autocrats and authoritarian regimes in many parts of the world prior to the first coronavirus death in December 2019, the pandemic has had a major influence on democratic backsliding.
In Cambodia, some individuals who expressed concerns about the spread of COVID-19 have been arrested on "fake news" charges. In the Philippines, India, Egypt, Bangladesh, Morocco, Pakistan, Montenegro, Indonesia, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Cote d'Ivoire, Somalia, Mauritius, Zimbabwe, Thailand, Malaysia Singapore, and Hong Kong, people have been arrested for allegedly spreading "fake news" about the COVID-19 pandemic. The Turkish Interior Ministry has been arresting social media users whose posts were "targeting officials and spreading panic and fear by suggesting the virus had spread widely in Turkey and that officials had taken insufficient measures".
The 2019 Annual Democracy Report of the V-Dem Institute at the University of Gothenburg identified three challenges confronting global democracy: (1) "Government manipulation of media, civil society, rule of law, and elections"; (2) rising "toxic polarization," including "the division of society into distrustful, antagonistic camps"; diminishing "respect for opponents, factual reasoning, and engagement with society" among political elites; and increasing use of hate speech by political leaders; and (3) foreign disinformation campaigns, primarily digital, and mostly affecting Taiwan, the United States, and former Soviet bloc nations such as Latvia.
According to Suzanne Mettler and Robert C. Lieberman, four characteristics have typically provided the conditions for democratic backsliding (alone or in combination): Political polarization, racism and nativism, economic inequality, and excessive executive power.
A 2020 study, which used World Values Survey data, found that cultural conservatism was the ideological group most open to authoritarian governance within Western democracies. Within English-speaking Western democracies, "protection-based" attitudes combining cultural conservatism and leftist economic attitudes were the strongest predictor of support for authoritarian modes of governance.
Stephen Haggard and Robert Kaufmann highlight three key causes of backsliding: "the pernicious effects of polarization; realignments of party systems that enable elected autocrats to gain legislative power; and the incremental nature of derogations, which divides oppositions and keeps them off balance."
Prevalence and trends
A study by the Varieties of Democracy Project (V-Dem) of the V-Dem Institute at the University of Gothenburg, which contains more than eighteen-million data points relevant to democracy, measuring 350 highly specific indicators across 174 countries as of the end of 2016, found that the number of democracies in the world modestly declined from 100 in 2011 to 97 in 2017; some countries moved toward democracy, while other countries moved away from democracy. V-Dem's 2019 Annual Democracy Report found that the trend of autocratization continued, while "24 countries are now severely affected by what is established as a 'third wave of autocratization'" including "populous countries such as Brazil, Bangladesh and the United States, as well as several Eastern European countries" (specifically Bulgaria and Serbia). The report found that an increasing proportion of the world population lived in countries undergoing autocratization (2.3 billion in 2018). The report found that while the majority of countries were democracies, the number of liberal democracies declined to 39 by 2018 (down from 44 a decade earlier). The research group Freedom House, in reports in 2017 and 2019, identified democratic backsliding in a variety of regions across the world. Freedom House's 2019 Freedom in the World report, show Democracy in Retreat, showed freedom of expression declining each year over the preceding 13 years, with sharper drops since 2012.
Scholarly work in the 2010s detailed democratic backsliding, in various forms and to various extents, in Hungary and Poland, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Brazil, Venezuela and India.
The scholarly recognition of the concept of democratic backsliding reflects a reversal from older views, which held "that democracy, once attained in a fairly wealthy state, would become a permanent fixture." This older view came to be realized as erroneous beginning in the mid-2000s, as multiple scholars acknowledged that some seemingly-stable democracies have recently faced a decline in the quality of their democracy. Huq and Ginsburg identified in an academic paper "37 instances in 25 different countries in the postwar period in which democratic quality declined significantly (though a fully authoritarian regime didn't emerge)," including countries that were "seemingly stable, reasonably wealthy" democracies.
The 2020 report of the Varieties of Democracy Institute found that the global share of democracies declined from 54% in 2009 to 49% in 2019, and that a greater share of the global population lived in autocratizing countries (6% in 2009, 34% in 2019). The 10 countries with the highest degree of democratizing from 2009 to 2019 were Tunisia, Armenia, The Gambia, Sri Lanka, Madagascar, Myanmar, Fiji, Kyrgyzstan, Ecuador, and Niger; the 10 countries with the highest degree of autocratizing from 2009 to 2019 were Hungary, Turkey, Poland, Serbia, Brazil, Bangladesh, Mali, Thailand, Nicaragua, and Zambia. However, the institute found that signs of hope in an "unprecedented degree of mobilization for democracy" as reflected in increases in pro-democracy mass mobilization; the proportion of countries with "substantial pro-democracy mass protests" increased to 44% in 2019 (from 27% in 2009).
According to a 2020 study, "Democratic backsliding does not necessarily see all democratic institutions erode in parallel fashion... we establish that elections are improving and rights are retracting in the same time period, and in many of the same cases."
Political scientist Robert Muggah argued in Foreign Policy that Brazil was undergoing backsliding under President Jair Bolsonaro, noting Bolsonaro's criticisms of the judiciary and the electoral system, and his participation in anti-democratic rallies.
Central and Eastern Europe
In the 2010s, a scholarly consensus developed that the Central and Eastern Europe region was experiencing democratic backsliding, most prominently in Hungary and Poland and the European Union failed to prevent democratic backsliding in some of its other member states. Rutgers University political scientist R. Daniel Kelemen argues that EU membership has enabled an "authoritarian equilibrium" and may even make it easier for authoritarian-minded leaders to erode democracy, due to the EU's system of party politics, a reluctance to interfere in domestic political matters; appropriation of EU funds by backsliding regimes; and free movement for dissatisfied citizens (which allows citizens to leave backsliding regimes, thus depleting the opposition and strengthening the regimes). According to Dalia Research's 2020 poll, only 38 percent of Polish citizens and 36 percent of Hungarian citizens believe that their country are democratic, while the rest saying they would like their countries to be more democratic.
Georgia's governing party, Georgian Dream (GD), was accused of democratic backsliding in a 2019 report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, for failing to approve more representative electoral reform proposals. U.S. Senators Jim Risch and Jeanne Shaheen accused Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia of backsliding for not implementing the reforms. The electoral system was ultimately reformed ahead of the 2020 Georgian parliamentary election in a compromise between the Georgian government and the opposition.
Iulia-Sabina Joja of the Middle East Institute has disputed allegations of democratic backsliding against the Georgian government, stating that "Georgia has fared well over the last eight years and GD has stayed on the path of democratization and reform" and drawing attention to Georgian improvements on corruption perception and press freedom indices.
Since 2010, Hungary under Viktor Orbán and his right-wing Fidesz party has been described as a prominent example of democratic backsliding. As in Poland, political interference by the legislative and executive branches of government threatens the institutional independence of the judiciary. In 2012, the legislature abruptly lowered the age of retirement for judges from 70 to 62, forcing 57 experienced court leaders (including the President of the Supreme Court) to retire. After the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that this decision violated EU laws relating to equality in the employment context, the government repealed the law and compensated the judges, but did not reinstate those forced to retire. The 2012 judiciary reform also centralized administration of the courts under the newly-established National Judiciary Office, then headed by Tünde Handó (a lawyer married to a prominent member of Fidesz). Under Handó, the NJO also weakened the institutions of judicial self-governance, provoking what the European Association of Judges, Amnesty International, and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee describe as a "constitutional crisis" within the Hungarian judiciary. Hungarian judges interviewed by Amnesty International also expressed concerns about attacks on the judiciary and individual judges by politicians and in the media. The Hungarian government has dismissed criticism of its record on democracy issues.
According to the 2020 report of the V-Dem Institute at the University of Gothenburg, Hungary had by 2019 become the first-ever EU member state to become an authoritarian regime. On Freedom House's annual report, Hungary's democracy rating dropped for ten consecutive years. Its classification was downgraded from "democracy" to "transitional or hybrid regime" in 2020; Hungary was also the first EU member state to be labeled "partially free" (in 2019). The organization's 2020 report states that "Orbán's government in Hungary has similarly dropped any pretense of respecting democratic institutions". A 2018 article published in the Journal of Democracy also described Hungary as a hybrid regime.
Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski's VMRO-DPMNE government, which was in power from 2006 to 2016, has been described as engaging in democratic backsliding. Following Gruevski's departure from office as part of the Pržino Agreement, he was prosecuted for the wiretapping of thousands of Macedonian officials, inciting his supporters to violence and election misconduct. He subsequently fled the country and was granted political asylum in Hungary.
In the Polish case, the European Commission stated in December 2017 that in the two preceding years, the Polish legislature had adopted "13 laws affecting the entire structure of the justice system in Poland" with the "common pattern [that] the executive and legislative branches [were] systematically enabled to politically interfere in the composition, powers, administration, and functioning of the judicial branch." In February 2020, Věra Jourová, Vice President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency, described the disciplining of judges in Poland as "no longer a targeted intervention against individual black sheep, similar to other EU member states, but a case of carpet bombing. ... This is no reform, it's destruction." In late September 2020, 38 European and other law professors called on the President of the European Commission to take action in Poland, stating:
Polish authorities continue to openly abuse, harass and intimidate judges and prosecutors who are seeking to defend the rule of law. In addition, Polish authorities continue to openly defy the authority of the Court of Justice by refusing to follow its judgments. ... judges who are attempting to apply EU law are being threatened and punished while those who flaunt violations of EU law are being rewarded. ... The rule of law in Poland is not merely being attacked. It is being destroyed in plain sight.
The Social Democratic Party (PSD) has been repeatedly accused of democratic backsliding while in power in Romania, initially during the tenure of Prime Minister Victor Ponta, who led the country during the 2012 Romanian constitutional crisis, when Ponta engaged in several unconstitutional actions in an attempt to impeach President Traian Băsescu. Ponta's conduct was criticized by the European Union and the United States.
Ponta was accused of restricting voting among the Romanian diaspora in the 2014 Romanian presidential election, during which Ponta was running as the PSD presidential candidate. Following the election, which Ponta lost, his close ally, Sebastian Ghiță, was indicted for offering illegal incentives to Moldovans with Romanian citizenship to vote for Ponta. Ghiță subsequently fled the country for Serbia, due to his good relationship with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić. Ponta also left Romania for Serbia from 2016 to 2018, receiving Serbian citizenship and serving as an advisor to Vučic.
After facing a corruption investigation in 2015, Ponta initially refused to resign as Prime Minister, prompting the 2015 Romanian political crisis. After the 2015 Romanian protests, Ponta ultimately resigned in November 2015.
PSD leader Liviu Dragnea, who was accused of vote rigging during the 2012 referendum, was ultimately convicted in 2015. He was later indicted for abuse of office in 2016, preventing him from running for Prime Minister.
In 2017, PSD Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu's government passed new legislation decriminalising misconduct by officials, which was condemned by President Klaus Johannis as a "day of mourning for the rule of law" in Romania. The legislation led to the 2017 Romanian protests.
In 2019, Romania indicted Laura Codruța Kövesi, the former chief prosecutor of the National Anticorruption Directorate, who was running for European Chief Prosecutor at the time, leading EU authorities to condemn Romania for backsliding on the rule of law. Critics claimed that Romania's indictment of Kövesi was motivated by her indictment of numerous politicians, including Dragnea, on corruption charges. Ponta, who had then become an opponent of Dragnea and the Romanian government after leaving the PSD, criticized the decision and described the PSD as increasingly "Fidesz-like", referring to the Hungarian ruling party.
The European Commission and European Court of Justice Advocate-General have criticized Romania's 2020 judicial reforms, suggesting that they undermined the rule of law in the country. The PSD lost power after the 2020 Romanian legislative election, with the new government pledging to reverse the reforms to comply with the EU's Mechanism for Cooperation and Verification.
Serbia and Montenegro
Freedom House's annual Nations in Transit report in 2020 reported that, due to democratic backsliding, Serbia and Montenegro in the Balkans were no longer democracies (as they had been classified since 2003) but had instead become hybrid regimes (in the "gray zone" between "democracies and pure autocracies"). The reported cited "years of increasing state capture, abuse of power, and strongman tactics employed" by Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and Montenegrin President Milo Đukanović. Shortly after that report was published, the opposition won the 2020 Montenegrin parliamentary election and Zdravko Krivokapić was appointed to the office of Prime Minister, marking the first time since independence that the opposition has controlled the country's government.
The tenure of Vladimír Mečiar as Slovak Prime Minister and President in the 1990s has been described by political scientists Elisabeth Bakke and Nick Sitter as a period of democratic backsliding, due to Mečiar's control over state media and centralisation of executive power.
Widespread protests in 2018 following the murder of Ján Kuciak have been described by some scholars as "helping to stave off democratic backsliding" by causing the resignation of Robert Fico, who served as Prime Minister from 2006 to 2010 and 2012 to 2018. However, Bakke and Sitter have disputed allegations of democratic backsliding against Fico, noting that Fico often emphasized "his commitment to pluralistic democracy", which contrasted with the Polish and Hungarian leadership during that time period and Slovakia under Mečiar.
Prime Minister Janez Janša has been criticised by Žiga Faktor of the EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy for overseeing democratic backsliding in Slovenia. Faktor claimed that Janša had aligned Slovenia closely with Hungary, denied journalists access to information during the COVID-19 pandemic, and had expanded his Slovenian Democratic Party's influence over the country's media with Hungarian financial support.
Several Ukrainian governments have faced accusations of democratic backsliding.
Prior to the removal of President Viktor Yanukovych in the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, Ukraine was described by political scientist Eleanor Knott as experiencing democratic backsliding and "soft authoritarianism".
The Atlantic Council's Maxim Eristavi claimed in 2017 that "Ukrainian democracy is in danger" following President Petro Poroshenko's attempts to arrest his former ally and opposition figure Mikheil Saakashvili, and calls by Poroshenko's party for criminal investigations into another political opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy drew criticism for democratic backsliding from members of the U.S. House of Representatives following Zelenskiy's firing of a pro-reform cabinet and the resignation of former National Bank of Ukraine Governor Yakiv Smolii. Melinda Haring of the Atlantic Council has warned the Constitutional Court of Ukraine's removal of authority from National Agency for Prevention of Corruption could put the country on the "on the edge of a major constitutional crisis" and criticized Zelenskiy's attempts to reform the Ukrainian judiciary as "ineffectual".
El Salvador has been described as undergoing democratic backsliding after the election of President Nayib Bukele, particularly following the 2020 crisis, when Bukele sent soldiers into the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly to pressure and intimidate members of the Assembly. In a June 2020 report, the V-Dem Institute wrote that El Salvador was "at high risk of pandemic backsliding" and that the country was one of several countries with "severe" violations of democratic standards of emergency measures, including: arbitrary mass arrests by security forces of persons deemed to violate social distancing rules (in contravention of a number of decisions of the Supreme Court).
The V-Dem Institute has claimed that democratic backsliding is taking place in India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, citing the passage of the 2019 Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the government's subsequent response to the Citizenship Amendment Act protests. It also accused the Indian government of attempting to "stifle critics in the media and academia"..
Foreign policy commentator Jonah Blank has described the 2019 revocation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir as an example of the "slow transmogrification of democracy" under the Modi government.
In 2020, the V-Dem Institute identified India as one of five severe cases of democratic backsliding, relating to disproportionate limitations being placed upon the role of the legislature through measures responding to COVID-19. This, they asserted, may lead to an 'increased danger of power abuse by the executive'.
Indian lawyer Gautam Bhatia asserts that the Indian government has taken advantage of 'vaguely worded' legislative clauses, some of a 'colonial vintage', to effectively bypass the 'deliberative organ' (the legislative) in relation to COVID-19. Some of these laws, he further asserted, technically hold 'formal statutory backing', making it more difficult for the legislature to oppose executive power.
India has turned into an electoral autocracy according to the 2021 democracy report by V-Dem.
A number of scholars and commentators have identified Israel since the late 2010s, under the premiership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as facing a crisis of liberal democracy and a risk of right-wing populism-fueled democratic decline, undermining its traditional status as a democratic state. Yaniv Roznai of the Radzyner Law School at Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya wrote in 2018 that while Israel remained "a vibrant democracy with strong and effective judicial and democratic institutions," its liberal democracy was at risk "incremental erosion of Israel's democratic institutions through countless initiatives to prevent antigovernment criticism, to weaken the judiciary, to infringe minority rights, and to modify the democratic rules of the game." Various scholars and commentators have cited as examples of democratic risks in Israel the "rise of ethno-nationalist populism" and the passage of the Nation-State Law; the use of nativist and exclusionary rhetoric by Netanyahu and his cabinet ministers, including comments during the 2015 election campaign delegitimizing Arab Israeli voters and comments labeling opponents and left-wing critics as traitors and tools of outside forces; proposals to change Israeli law to modify the status of (or unilaterally annex) the West Bank; Netanyahu's effort to grant himself immunity from prosecution on charges of corruption; legislative proposals to limit the powers and independence of the Israeli Supreme Court, including the scope of its judicial review competence; overtly racist or fear-mongering campaign advertisements by some parties of the populist right; and efforts to exert greater control over the media and NGOs.
In a 2019 report, Tamara Cofman Wittes and Yael Mizrahi-Arnaud of the Brookings Institution argue that Israeli politics has "sources of resilience" that offer "pathways away from illiberal populism" including structural features of the Israeli political system (such as norms of liberal democracy and a fragmented parliamentary system that leads to competing populist parties) and cultural features of the Israeli society (such as a burgeoning women's movement that spans "secular-religious, Ashkenazi-Mizrachi, and Jewish-Arab divides").
David Timberman of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has argued that the Duterte government has "run roughshod over human rights, its political opponents, and the country’s democratic institutions", citing intimidation of political opponents, institutions and the media, increased extrajudicial killings, and suggestions of implementing martial law.
Under 20 years of Vladimir Putin's leadership, Russia has experienced democratic backsliding. Putin became president in 1999 just before Russia was to see a decade of growth, and he was able to use "public and elite dissatisfaction with the insatiability of the 90s" to consolidate power in his hands. The centralization of power under Putin weakened power of the Russian Duma (Parliament), and led to a return to more autocratic rule seen during the Soviet era. In the late 1990s when Boris Yeltsin was president, Freedom House gave Russia a scope of 4 for "freedom, civil liberties and political rights.".
After the subsequent de-democratization, experts do not generally consider Russia to be a democracy, due to the purges and jailing of the regime's political opponents, curtailed press freedom, and the lack of free and fair elections. After serving four years as prime minister, Putin was able to change the constitution to allow him to be president for two consecutive terms, meaning there is little constraint on Putin's power. Putin's 2012 "foreign agents law" targeted NGOs and furthered the crackdown on internal dissent.
Scholars differ in their perspectives on the significant post-1998 democratic backsliding in Russia under Putin. Some view Russia's 1990s-era trend toward European-style democratization as fundamentally an ephemeral aberration, with Russia's subsequent democratic backsliding representing a return to its "natural" historical course. The opposite perspective is that the democratic decline under Putin will be a relatively short-term episode in Russian history: "From this perspective, Russia after 1991 was back on the path to Europe after the seventy-year interruption represented by communism," and "that path was inevitably to be bumpy and subject to setbacks."
Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has experienced democratic backsliding. Scholar Ozan Varol writes that Erdoğan engaged in a form of "stealth authoritarianism" that incrementally increased pressure on democratic institutions over time and eventually culminated in authoritarianism. Although Erdoğan was originally viewed as a possible reformer, the Turkish government took a sharp authoritarian turn when it violently suppressed the Gezi Park protests in May 2013. Increasing curbs on freedom of the press, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly coincided with Erdoğan's purge of liberal and conciliatory figures from the Justice and Development Party (AKP). A constitutional referendum in October 2007 changed the method of selection of the president from election by Parliament to direct election, marking a shift to a presidential system. Erdoğan consolidated executives power through his re-election in 2014 and his subsequent dismissal of Ahmet Davutoğlu. Following a failed coup attempt in 2016 (which Erdoğan blamed on the Hizmet movement of his former ally-turned-rival, Fethullah Gülen), Erdoğan declared a state of emergency; undertook a series of major purges targeting civil society and perceived political opponents, including those within the bureaucracy, police, judiciary, and academia, and prosecutors; and dismantled the rule of law. A 2017 constitutional referendum formally adopted a presidential system and further aggrandized executive power. The effect of the shifts, partly enabled by a weak and internally divided Turkish opposition, was to transform Turkey into a hybrid regime. In its 2018 annual report, Freedom House classified Turkey as "not free" (the first time the country has been classified as such by Freedom House, which began publishing annual reports in 1999). A 2019 report from the European Commission identified Turkey as "seriously backsliding" on areas of human rights, the rule of law and economic policy.
Political scientists have credited Newt Gingrich with playing a key role in undermining democratic norms in the United States and hastening political polarization and partisanship as the 50th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999.
Beginning in 2017, political scientists identified the United States under President Donald Trump as being in danger of accelerated democratic backsliding. In a 2019 journal article, political scientists Robert C. Lieberman, Suzanne Mettler, and others wrote that Trump's presidency presented a threat to the American democratic order because it simultaneously brought together three specific trends—"polarized two-party presidentialism; a polity fundamentally divided over membership and status in the political community, in ways structured by race and economic inequality; and the erosion of democratic norms"—for the first time in American history. Lieberman et al. noted that Trump has "repeatedly challenged the very legitimacy of the basic mechanics and norms of the American electoral process, invoking the specter of mass voter fraud, encouraging voter suppression, selectively attacking the Electoral College, and even threatening to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power" and noted that "Never in the modern era has a presidential candidate threatened to lock up his opponent; castigated people so publicly and repeatedly on the basis of their country of origin, religion, sex, disability, or military service record; or operated with no evident regard for facts or truth." In 2020, political scientists Alexander Cooley and Daniel Nexon, wrote that "the Trump administration has consistently de-emphasized the importance of human rights and democracy in its rhetoric and while adopting language and tropes similar to those of right-wing, illiberal movements." Colley and Nexon cited Trump's praise of autocratic rulers, his echoing of ethno-nationalist rhetoric, his efforts to delegitimize journalism and journalists as "fake news" and his policies erecting new barriers to refugees and asylum-seekers as similar to politics "found in backsliding regimes."
Political scientist Pippa Norris wrote in 2021 that democratic backsliding under Trump culminated in his attempts to undermine the peaceful transfer of power and overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, in which Trump was defeated by Joe Biden; Trump incited an insurrection at the Capitol in January 2021, which briefly interrupted Congress's counting of the electoral votes, which formalized Trump's loss and the victory of the incoming president.
The 2019 annual democracy report of the V-Dem Institute at the University of Gothenburg found that the U.S. under Trump was among the world's liberal democracies experiencing "democratic erosion" (but not full-scale "democratic breakdown"). The report cited an increase in "polarization of society and disrespect in public deliberations" as well as Trump's attacks on the media and opposition and attempts to contain the judiciary and the legislature. The report concluded, however, that "American institutions appear to be withstanding these attempts to a significant degree," noting that Democrats had won a majority the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections, which "seems to have reversed the trajectory of an increasingly unconstrained executive." The V-Dem Institute's 2020 report found that the U.S. had "registered a substantial decline in liberal democracy" under Trump; the report also found that "the United States of America is the only country in Western Europe and North America suffering from substantial autocratization."
According to a 2020 study in the American Political Science Review, Americans value democracy but are frequently willing to prioritize partisan political gains over democracy if the two are in conflict.
In 2021 a Freedom House report rated the U.S. 83 out of 100, an 11-point drop from its rating of 94 out of 100 in 2011. Issues such as Institutional racism in the United States in criminal justice and voting, the negative influence of campaign finance which damages public trust in government, and increased Political polarization in the United States due to extreme use of partisan Gerrymandering were cited as reasons for the decline in the United States' rating.
From 1958 onward, Venezuela was considered to be a relatively stable democracy within a continent that was facing a wave of military dictatorship, consuming almost all Latin American countries in the 1970s. Until the early 1980s, it was one of Latin America's four most prosperous states; with an upper-middle economy, and a stable centre-left democracy. The collapse of the oil market in the 1980s left Venezuela (a major crude oil exporter) in great debt.
In the 1990s, during the second term of Carlos Andrés Pérez and the term of his successor Rafael Caldera, the country implemented market-oriented strategies in order to receive monetary aid from the International Monetary Fund, cuts spending on social programs, and eliminated price controls on consumer goods and gas, which caused social unrest and high inflation. Hugo Chávez won the presidency in December 1998 by appealing on the desires of the poor and pledging economic reforms, and, once in office, securing his power by creating an authoritarian regime, following a relatively stable pattern between 1999 and 2003. Chávez started rewriting the constitution swiftly after arriving in-office. After enabling himself to legally rewrite the constitution and therewith amending a presidential term from five to six years, with a single reelection, Chávez gained full control over the military branch. This allowed him to determine military promotions, and eliminate the Senate. As a result he no longer required legislative approval. The weakening of political institutions and increased government corruption transformed Venezuela into a personal dictatorship.
Chavez's dominance of the media (including a constant presence on television) and his charismatic personality contributed to democratic backsliding in Venezuela, in addition to constitutional revisions that concentrated Chávez's power and diminished the executive's accountability.
A rapid increase in crude oil prices around 2003 fueled economic growth in the country, allowing Chávez and his party to further entrench their dominance. By 2004, Chávez had gained full authority over the democracy-sustaining institutions, diminishing checks and balances and the power of the National Assembly. Accusing traditional parties from causing the initial economic distress through exploitation of the country, he justified the weakening of non-executive branches by arguing that those branches were dominated by the traditional parties, and therefore unreliable. After Chávez' death in 2013, his successor Nicolás Maduro continued an authoritarian style of governance. After the Venezuelan opposition won a majority of the National Assembly in the 2015 elections, Maduro and his allies retained control of the other key levers of power, including the military, state-run oil company, Supreme Court, and National Electoral Council. In 2017, Maduro and his allies, moved to circumvent the opposition-controlled National Assembly by creating a Constituent National Assembly, dominated by government loyalists, and declaring it the supreme organ of state power. This move further intensified Venezuela's democratic backsliding. Currently, Venezuela is an authoritarian regime, and had even been described as a personal dictatorship.
Effects of judicial independence
A 2011 study examined the effects of judicial independence in preventing democratic backsliding. The study, which analyzed 163 nations from 1960 to 2000, concluded that established independent judiciaries are successful at preventing democracies from drifting to authoritarianism, but that states with newly formed courts "are positively associated with regime collapses in both democracies and nondemocracies."
- Crony capitalism
- Illiberal democracy
- Procedural democracy
- Regulatory capture
- State capture
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