By Jean Christou
Cyprus is a flawed democracy, ranking 35th in the world and 19th in western Europe, according to an annual democracy index published by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) on Monday.
But the island is far from being alone. Only 14 of the countries in western Europe have been given the honour of being titled ‘full democracy’ by the EIU, headed by Norway, Iceland, Sweden, New Zealand, the UK among them. The US was also ranked as a ‘flawed democracy’, as was neighbouring Greece and Israel, while Turkey was categorised as a ‘hybrid regime’.
Despite the negative trend, the EIU said, countries in western Europe continued to occupy seven of the top ten places globally, including the top three spots. It has the second-highest regional score, with 14 ‘full democracies’, six ‘flawed democracies’, and one ‘hybrid regime’ (Turkey).
Only three countries improved their scores in 2018: Finland, Germany and Malta. Three countries saw a deterioration in their overall scores: Turkey, Italy and Austria. All other scores stagnated. Cyprus’ overall score of 7.59 out of a possible 10, was the same as in 2017 though it stood at 7.65 in 2016. Norway scored 9.87.
“Once again, none of western Europe’s ‘flawed democracies’—Italy, Portugal, France, Belgium, Cyprus and Greece— moved into the “full democracy” category,” the EIU’s accompanying report said, adding that a persistent decline in the quality of democracy had increased support for anti-establishment parties in western Europe, on both the left and right.
It said the Democracy Index aimed to provide a snapshot of the state of democracy worldwide for 165 independent states and two territories and covers almost the entire population of the world and the vast majority of the world’s states.
The Index is based on five categories: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture. Based on its scores on a range of indicators within these categories, each country is then itself classified as one of four types of regime: ‘full democracy’, ‘flawed democracy’, ‘hybrid regime’ and ‘authoritarian regime’.
Cyprus scored a 9.17 for electoral process and pluralism, a 6.43 on the functioning of government, 6.67 for political participation, 6.88 for political culture and 8.82 for civil liberties, the latter being on a par with Spain and Malta.
However, the EIU explained its theory of what democracy is by saying: “there is no consensus on how to measure democracy”.
It said that although the terms ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ are often used interchangeably, the two were not synonymous.
“Democracy can be seen as a set of practices and principles that institutionalise, and thereby, ultimately, protect freedom. Even if a consensus on precise definitions has proved elusive, most observers today would agree that, at a minimum, the fundamental features of a democracy include government based on majority rule and the consent of the governed; the existence of free and fair elections; the protection of minority rights; and respect for basic human rights. Democracy presupposes equality before the law, due process and political pluralism. A question arises as to whether a reference to these basic features is sufficient for a satisfactory concept of democracy,” it said.
The difference then between a ‘full democracy’ and a ‘flawed democracy’ according to the EIU index is that the latter, even though they may have free and fair elections and basic civil liberties are respected, “there are significant weaknesses in other aspects of democracy, including problems in governance, an underdeveloped political culture and low levels of political participation”.
“All democracies are systems in which citizens freely make political decisions by majority rule. But rule by the majority is not necessarily democratic,” it added. “In a democracy, majority rule must be combined with guarantees of individual human rights and the rights of minorities.”
This was the 11th edition of the EIU Democracy Index, which began in 2006. It said that in 2018, as a percentage of the world’s population, fewer people lived in some form of democracy (47.7 per cent, compared with 49.3 per cent in 2017). Just over one-third of the world’s population lived under authoritarian rule, with a large share represented by China.
When it came to the US, the EIU said America fell below the threshold for a ‘full democracy’ in 2016, primarily owing to a serious decline in public trust in US institutions that year. In 2018, the US fell further in the global ranking, to 25th place, from 21st in 2017 “although this partly reflects movement by other countries”, it continues to be rated a ‘flawed democracy’. The US has fallen in the global rankings over the past decade, from 18th place in the 2008 Democracy Index to 25th in 2018.