Data and society

democratic governance

Folksy definitions describe democracy as “rule of the people“. “Free and fair” elections, in fact, are a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the preservation of democracy. More robust definitions, therefore, demand also the existence of liberal institutions: state power is split between multiple bodies which can challenge one another (checks and balances) and civil service is independent, everyone is accountable to impartially applied laws (rule of law) and individual rights like freedom of speech and the press are guaranteed. Preservation of norms that ensure the state and the ruling party do not coalesce is an expression of a quid pro quo pursued by the players competing for political power: each agrees to protect the others’ rights in exchange for recognition of its entitlement to govern should it win an election.

This emphasis on liberal institutions reflects the dominant contemporary trend which is the hybridization of regimes. Between 1989 and 2019, electoral autocracy has been by far the fastest-growing regime type, now characterizing 67 countries worldwide according to V-Dem, the most rigorous project tracking the quality of democracy. The EU, too, now has its first non-democratic member, Hungary. At the same time, many self-serving rascals experience sizeable pushbacks: in 2019, citizens staged mass protests in 34 autocracies.

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