End of Century Survey Finds Dramatic Gains for Democracy

New York
In 1900, no countries had governments elected on the principal of universal adult suffrage. Today, there are 119 such countries, or 62 percent of all the countries in the world. These are the dramatic findings of a new comprehensive end-of-century study released today by Freedom House, the New York based research group that tracks political rights and civil liberties around the world.

Parallel with the expansion of electoral democracy there has been a commensurate expansion of sovereign states. In 1900, there were only 55 sovereign countries and 13 empires. Of the countries that are independent today, 113 were parts of colonial and imperial systems, while a further 33 were parts of other states.

"The strengthening of the individual's sovereignty has been paralleled by the expansion of the sovereignty of numerous peoples," noted Freedom House president Adrian Karatnycky, who supervised the report.

At the century's beginning, approximately five percent of the globe's adult population had the right to democratically select their most significant national leaders in competitive elections, while women and in some countries ethnic and racial minorities and the poor were denied the right to vote. Today, the proportion of adults who can democratically elect their leaders exceeds 58 percent. This progress has occurred despite the fact that the 20th century has been filled with destructive global wars, vicious regional conflicts and inter-state wars, and the deaths of millions in the Holocaust and under Mao's, Stalin's and Pol Pot's reigns of terror.

Democratically elected systems can today be found in all parts of the globe and in all major civilizations, although the report's dramatic findings underscore that no significant progress toward democracy has been made in China, where over 20 percent of the globe's population lives.

Democracies generally have a good track record of respect for human rights, but the recent upsurge in the number of democracies means many of the newly democratic states still have weak civic cultures and undeveloped rule of law. Still, "democratically elected government is a crucial factor in the development of long-term respect for human rights," said Mr. Karatnycky.

The Freedom House report is the product of a rigorous research effort that made use of the organization's forty year-long efforts to track the state of freedom around the world. The report was reviewed by a team of leading experts on freedom and democracy, including Prof. Orlando Patterson of Harvard University, Prof. Seymour Martin Lipset, author of the classic study Political Man, Prof. Francis Fukuyama of George Mason University, Dr. Marc Plattner, Co-director of the International Forum for Democratic Studies, and Fareed Zakaria, Managing Editor of Foreign Affairs.

Members of the advisory team and Freedom House research staff can be contacted through the Freedom House press office by calling Jason Muse or Arch Puddington at 212 514-8040.

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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