Democracy is in danger around the world. Perhaps for this reason, political engagement is at an all-time high. Robert Guest, our foreign editor, examines this year's Democracy Index, compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit.
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The Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index seeks to measure the health of democracy in pretty much all the countries around the world. It breaks this down into five categories: the electoral process, the functioning of government, civil liberties, political participation, and political culture. The scores range from Norway, which we rate as the most democratic country on earth, all the way down to North Korea a hereditary communist monarchy, which is by far the least. Although the world has obviously gotten a lot more democratic over the past century and the past thirty years since the end of the Cold War, since the EIU started measuring it which was in 2006 things appear to have regressed somewhat. Today, roughly half the world's people live in some form of democracy but by our rather strict measurements only about 5% live in what we call a full democracy, and a good third also live in solid authoritarian regimes with a big portion of that in China. One of the less gloomy findings is the political participation seems to be up - this is probably related to a widespread feeling in a lot of countries that democracy is under threat. The threats of fake news subversion by foreign powers such as Russia and the rise of authoritarian leaders from Hungary to Poland to all kinds of places means that people can't take democracy for granted anymore, and so you see a lot more people demonstrating in the streets, getting out to vote and organizing online.
The most improved indicator was to do with women's participation in politics. Partly that reflects a genuine improvement in the status of women and the increased likelihood that voters are prepared to vote for them. Alas it also represents a certain amount of gaming the system - particularly by authoritarian regimes. Rwanda for example has a majority female parliament which sounds great until you realize that the parliament has no power whatsoever and the president is very much male. It might seem like a paradox that even as democracy retreats around the world political participation has gone up but it's not - it's a reaction against the fact that more and more people are aware that they are in danger of losing some of their democratic freedoms and they're not prepared to take that lying down. They're getting out there, they're voting more, they're organizing online, and sometimes they're demonstrating in the streets
The biggest election in 2019 will be in India. As always it will be the biggest election held anywhere, ever. The fact that we don't know who's going to win - maybe the incumbent party, maybe the opposition, give you a sense that it really will represent roughly the will of a billion people. Another big one to watch is Nigeria that will be incredibly corrupt and quite a few people will get killed - but it's worth remembering that only a couple of decades ago in Nigeria was the dictatorship. That's not true anymore and despite the absence of a dictator, Nigeria has held together despite all predictions. It's another fine example in fact of how democracy does have the ability to hold disparate countries together because it reflects the will of the actual voters.
A final big election to watch is for the European Parliament. Here we don't even know which countries are going to participate because we don't know whether Britain's going to be part of it or not so all eyes are going to be watching. Will the European Union hold together? Will the rise of the populist and the Nationalists continue? And my guess is that actually they've peaked and this could be the start of their retreat.
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