Democracy Not Advancing Around the Globe
The BTI 2012 indicates that political freedoms are increasingly being curtailed in many countries around the globe. The situation has worsened in many southeastern and eastern European states, as well as in Latin America. Moreover, despite many successes in overcoming the global economic crisis, socioeconomic conditions in more than half of the world’s less-developed nations are inadequate.
As the 2012 BTI’s longterm comparisons show, political rights and freedom of expression have increasingly been restricted around the globe. Of particular note are the worsening conditions in the politically most advanced regions of Eastern Europe and Latin America. In recent years the decline has been particularly pronounced in Hungary and Ukraine. Fifteen of the 38 states in these regions assessed by the BTI exhibit a decline in the quality of their democratic elections, including all Southeast European states, with the exception of Serbia. Increasingly, instances of legal infractions, bought votes, opaque campaign financing and purported fraud have been observed. Governments in a number of regions, including Europe, are increasingly restricting independent media or trying to intimidate journalists, something that has occurred in Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo and Slovakia. In Latin America the quality of democracy has especially worsened in Argentina, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico and Panama.
Experts believe a key cause of this decline in democratic quality is dissatisfaction with the socioeconomic performance achieved by democratic systems. People in East-Central and Southeast Europe, for example, are very aware of the different levels of prosperity between the countries they live in and those in Western Europe. This perception is heightened by the sociopolitical restrictions facing many governments as a result of limited inflows of foreign investment and the fiscal policy guidelines set out by the EU for accession candidates. The resulting loss of trust has often helped populist movements to gain ground quickly. In many Latin American countries, it is the resistance among ruling elites to reform or effectively address growing social disparities that has prompted many to seek forms of protests beyond established political channels.
Socioeconomic stagnation or regression are all the more problematic as economic development in many countries is, overall, quite positive. The impact of the global and economic crisis of 2008/2009, for example, was less dire than expected. Following minor economic downturns, most of the countries surveyed by the BTI were able to recover quickly and have stabilized overall. As the current BTI demonstrates, however, gains from economic growth have not translated into social progress, or have done so only to a very limited extent. Overall, 69 of the 128 countries surveyed have a socioeconomic level of development that the experts classify as inadequate or catastrophic.
"The BTI shows once more that economic growth does not automatically lead to more equitable social development. These are, above all, areas that policymakers must address," says Aart De Geus, member of the Bertelsmann Stiftung Executive Board. Current trends in the BTI countries underscore this point, he notes. Social disparities in Bahrain and South Korea, for example, have increased, despite economic gains. In contrast, a number of countries in Latin America and Asia prove that strategic, social and economic policies can improve the situation, something that can be seen in poverty alleviation programs in Brazil and Uruguay and educational measures in Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan. The impact of no progress can be seen clearly in the unrest taking place in Arab countries, De Geus says. Even though Egypt and Tunisia have exhibited impressive economic growth, efforts to improve social conditions have been insufficient; poverty has therefore increased, as has pessimism among young people and rural populations. The result has been the uprisings of the Arab Spring.