In February 2023, the Democracy Index-2022 has been published. London-based Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) publishes it every year since 2006. The index is considered a scientific and objective study of global democratic health. It is a well-accepted index worldwide.
This year, Norway stood 1st and New Zealand is at 2nd out of 167 countries, both unchanged since the last year. Bangladesh ranked 73rd this year. What the index means for the world and Bangladesh is worth revisiting as it demystifies many exaggerated narratives.
The methodology of the Index is a very scientific one. It has categorized democracies into four categories, Full Democracy (Index score: 8-10), Flawed Democracy (score 6-8), Hybrid regime (score 4-6), and Authoritarian regime (score 0-4). This year’s statistics suggest that only 8% population and 24 countries in the world are full democracies while 37.3% population and 48 countries are flawed democracies. 17.9% population and 36 countries are under hybrid regimes and the rest 59 countries with 36.9% population are under authoritarian regimes.
The Index uses five indicators with 10 points each and the final score is the average of them. The indicators are Electoral process and pluralism, Function of government, political participation, political Culture, and civil liberties.
This year, the index identifies drug trafficking, insurgency, warlords, and cyber hackers as serious threats to democracy. (See Page 13)
The region-specific trends reveal that Democracy is decaying in North America (from an Index Score of 8.64 in 2006 to 8.37 in 2022) and Europe (from an Index Score of 8.60 in 2006 to 8.36 in 2022). (See Page 14) The rise of the right-wing parties is one of the reasons behind such decay. (see page 38)
The trend in Asia is mixed with both upward and downward trends for the last few years.
Country-specific trends suggest that democracy is decaying in the US and Singapore. The US’ score is continuously declining since 2006 and this year it has declined to a flawed category from a full one with a score of 7.85. The US has slipped four positions since the last index and is at 30th. Apart from the US, many stable democracies and long-practicing democracies have lost their positions between 2021 and 2022. For example, Australia slipped 6 positions, South Korea 8, Italy 3, Brazil 4, and Singapore 4. (See pages 7-11)
Turkey is ranked in the 103rd position, unchanged from last year with a score of 4.35. Interestingly, the ‘Poster Boy’ of world politics and the Index this year- Ukraine is placed at 87th with a score of 5.42. Even before the Ukraine war, its score was declining from 6.94 in 2006 to 5.57 in 2021. (See page 15) The index also identifies democratic retreats in Hong Kong and South Korea. And North Korea, Myanmar, and Afghanistan remained in the bottom three unchanged from the previous index.
Bangladesh is ranked 73rd this year with a score of 5.99, 1st in the Hybrid Regime category. Bangladesh was 75th last year and 77th in Democracy Index-2020. In both years, Bangladesh had the same score of 5.99. (See pages 16)
The consecutive improvement in ranks and the constant score suggest that, amid the global decay, Bangladesh is actually preserving its democracy. Among South Asian states, Bangladesh is ranked 3rd behind India (46th) and Sri Lanka (60th). Bangladesh is also ranked 15th in the Australasia region. (See page 45)
Bangladesh scored 7.42 in Electoral process and pluralism, 6.07 in Function of government, 5.56 in political participation, 6.63 in political Culture, and 5.29 in civil liberties. Bangladesh’s score in the electoral process and pluralism is 7.42- better than that of many countries such as Singapore, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.
Bangladesh’s score and improvement in rank defunct many popular narratives against Bangladesh. It reveals that the continuous democratic backsliding, the authoritarian regime narrative, and the questions regarding the electoral process are more exaggerated than reality considering the country’s constant score for the last three years and consecutive improvement at the same time. While many long-practicing and stable democracies slipped positions, Bangladesh’s improvement and constant score indicate the country’s effort toward upholding democracy. The country’s rank in South Asia and Australasia region is also praiseworthy considering its long struggle for democracy before the independence and after during the military rule.
Only 51 years old-Bangladesh’s gradual improvement is also praiseworthy considering many other countries that have been practicing democracy for more than centuries.
The Democracy Index 2022 has a mixed signal for the world as the global score is only 5.29, almost stagnant since 2021. Yet, it demonstrates Bangladesh’s sustained progress and commitment toward democracy. Bangladesh maintaining the constant score amid global decline also reflects the society’s aspiration for democracy. There is also room for further improvement for Bangladesh in the next year. Improving only 0.01 would place Bangladesh in the flawed democracy category alongside India, the US, and many other western democracies. For that Bangladesh needs to address its chronic political instability, violence, polarization, and communal politics. The country also needs further consolidation of its democracy through building a more resilient and peaceful society, steering its growing strengths in economy, foreign policy, and culture.