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Democracy Index 2008: Most Significant Declines in Georgia and Russia

February 11, 2009

Influential American magazine Economist published its Democracy Index 2008. It reflects the situation as of September 2008. Democracy Index 2008 is the second edition, the first edition reflected the period as of September 2006. The Index provides a snapshot of the current state of democracy worldwide for 165 independent states and two territories (this covers almost the entire population of the world and the vast majority of the world's independent states (27 micro states are excluded). The democracy index is based on five categories: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture. Countries are placed within one of four types of regimes: full democracies; flawed democracies; hybrid regimes; and authoritarian regimes.

The results of the Democracy Index confirm that, following a decades-long global trend in democratisation, the spread of democracy has come to a halt. A comparison of the results for 2008 with those from the first edition of the index, which covered 2006, shows that the dominant pattern in the past two years has been stagnation. While there is no recent trend of outright regression, there are few instances of major improvement, and the global financial crisis—resulting in a sharp and possibly protracted recession—could threaten democracy in some parts of the world.

According to the Economist half of the world’s population now lives in a democracy of some sort. In recent years, there have however, been few further advances and several setbacks but all in all the spread of democracy appears to have come to a halt.

Disappointments abound across many of the world’s regions. There has been a very weak response in the Middle East to pressures for democratisation. The promise of "colour revolutions" in the CIS has remained unfulfilled and authoritarian trends in Russia have continued. Political crises and malaise in east central Europe have led to disappointment and questioning of the strength of the region's democratic transition. In the developed West, a precipitous decline in political participation, weaknesses in the functioning of government, and security-related curbs on civil liberties are having a corrosive effect on some long-established democracies.

According to Democracy Index of the Economist, Sweden is on the first place, Norway 2nd , Iceland 3rd and belong to full democracies; Ukraine – 53rd place and flawed democracy, Georgia is on the 104th place, Russia on 107 place, both belong to hybrid regimes, Armenia 113, Belarus 132, Azerbaijan 135 and authoritarian regimes.

Ukraine which suffered only a small deterioration in its score between 2006 and 2008, remains, along with Moldova, the only democracy in the CIS (albeit in the flawed category). The most significant declines in score between 2006 and 2008 were recorded in Georgia and Russia (the third biggest decline worldwide was in Russia). The so-called "rose revolution" in Georgia, when peaceful street protests against falsified parliamentary elections in November 2003 eventually forced out the incumbent president, Eduard Shevardnadze, created optimism that the country would move towards a democracy. Subsequent events have not justified these hopes. Constitutional amendments were pushed through in 2004, concentrating power in the hands of the new president, Mikheil Saakashvili, and weakening the legislature. In 2006, the government manipulated the electoral system for local elections, ensuring that the ruling party would dominate local legislatures. A crackdown on the opposition and a nine-day state of emergency imposed in November 2007
illustrated the lack of progress. The conduct of elections in 2008 left much to be desired. Finally, Mr Saakashvili's attempt to reintegrate by force Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia in August 2008 led to conflict with Russia and disaster for Georgia.

In Russia, the one positive development (the fact that the Constitution was respected and that Vladimir Putin stepped down from the presidency in May 2008) was offset by a number of negative developments. Although the formal trappings of democracy remain in place, today's Russia has been called a "managed" (or "stage managed") democracy. The Duma is now little more than a rubber-stamp parliament; regional governors are appointed directly; the main media are state-controlled; civil society organisations have come under intense pressure; and the state has increased its hold over the economy. Most Russians appear unperturbed by the trend towards authoritarianism.