U.S. Among Countries to Have Seen Democracy Deteriorate Since Pandemic, Report Says

The U.S. was among the countries mentioned in a new report on democracies that have deteriorated since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Associated Press reported. The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, a 34-government body, said that the pandemic has seen the majority of nations, or 64 percent, take actions to contain the pandemic that it views as "disproportionate, unnecessary or illegal."

"Many democratic governments are backsliding," the Swedish-based International IDEA said.

The number of countries with deteriorating democracies has doubled in the past decade, the organization said, singling out the U.S., Hungary, Poland and Slovenia, the AP reported. The situation in countries that don't have democracies is also worsening, with autocratic regimes becoming "even more brazen in their repression" as free speech is increasingly limited and rule of law is weakened, the International IDEA said.

"Overall, the number of countries moving in an authoritarian direction in 2020 outnumbered those going in a democratic direction," the report said.

While the 80-page report applauded "the remarkable strength of civic activism," it also cautioned that triumph in establishing democracy as the predominant type of government "now hangs in the balance like never before."

"This is the time for democracies to be bold, to innovate and revitalize themselves," International IDEA Secretary-General Kevin Casas-Zamora said in a statement.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Viktor Orban Demonstration
The number of countries with deteriorating democracies has doubled in the past decade, the International IDEA said, singling out the U.S., Hungary, Poland and Slovenia. Above, a man protests the policies of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban during Orban's talks with Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki in Warsaw, Poland, on November 30, 2020. Czarek Sokolowski/AP Photo

The report said more than 80 countries have seen protests and civic action during the pandemic despite often-harsh government restrictions. However, pro-democracy movements have met repression in Belarus; Cuba; Eswatini, previously known as Swaziland; Myanmar; and Sudan.

The report comes ahead of U.S. President Joe Biden's December 9-10 virtual "summit for democracy" aimed at gathering government, civil society and private sector leaders in what Biden has cast as a global faceoff against rising autocratic forces.

In Asia, International IDEA said, Afghanistan, Hong Kong and Myanmar have suffered from "a wave of growing authoritarianism." Democratic erosion has also been found in India, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.

"China's influence, coupled with its own deepening autocratization, also puts the legitimacy of the democratic model at risk," the report said.

In Africa, democracy declines "have undermined remarkable progress made across the continent over the past three decades." The pandemic has added pressure on governments to respond to concerns regarding governance, rights and social inequality, it said. It also noted military coups in Chad, Guinea, Mali and Sudan.

The report also noted that half the democracies in the Americas have suffered democratic erosion, with notable declines in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador and the United States.

As for Europe, the pandemic "has placed a strain on democracy" and for some countries where democratic principles were already under threat, it provided an excuse for governments to weaken democracy further. Europe's non-democratic governments—it identified Azerbaijan, Belarus, Russia and Turkey—have intensified their already very repressive practices, International IDEA said.

"The pandemic broadened the pre-existing rift between high-performing democracies in Western Europe and weaker counterparts in Central and Eastern Europe," said Sam Van Der Staak, head of Program Regional Europe.

"That divide will continue to challenge Europe's unity, as it also faces greater outside pressure from non-democratic superpowers. But its increased democratic isolation also poses opportunities for greater integration and collaboration, as Europe is forced to consider the value of democracy as its core foundational force."

Hong Kong Protest
Democracy is deteriorating across the world, with countries notably taking undemocratic and unnecessary actions to contain the coronavirus pandemic, an intergovernmental body, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance said in its new report November 22, 2021. Above, pro-democracy activist Lee Cheuk-yan, center, holds placards as he arrives at a court in Hong Kong on April 1, 2021. Vincent Yu/AP Photo