Vulnerable Middle Performing States Falter on Democracy

Washington, D.C.

States occupying the political “middle ground” confront increasingly difficult challenges in improving democratic governance, according to a new study released by Freedom House.  In this year’s Countries at the Crossroads assessment, declines exceeded improvements in both number and degree, with widespread efforts by governments cross-regionally to restrict freedom of expression and association in particular. 
 
The Crossroads analysis examines state performance in the areas of Anticorruption and Transparency; Rule of Law; Civil Liberties; and Accountability and Public Voice. The 2010 findings are of particular concern because they occur in the context of a multiyear “freedom recession” identified by Freedom House, which has noted a stark downward trend in middle-performing, “Partly Free” nations.
 
“The democracy recession has hit the partially democratic, middle performing countries particularly hard” said Christopher Walker director of studies at Freedom House. “Because these countries have been viewed as the most promising to move to the category of full democracies, the challenges they face raise serious questions about the prospects for deepening democratic roots around the world.”
 
A range of states analyzed in Countries at the Crossroads 2010 -- including Cambodia, Honduras, Kenya, Nicaragua, Sri Lanka, Uganda, and Yemen -- top a list where deterioration is evident. In these and other cases, the findings show a pattern of government attempts to limit space for citizens to influence public policy through restrictions on the media and freedom of association.
 
In the broader global context, a number of factors have combined to obstruct the deepening of democracy in middle-performing countries. The global economic crisis, the persistent fragility of state institutions, the power of armed nonstate actors, and various forms of domestic political upheaval contribute to an inhospitable landscape for democratic consolidation.
 
“The number of countries with substandard performance or regression  presents a special challenge to policymakers, including those at the World Bank and the Millennium Challenge Corporation, who have sought to create inducements for developing countries to improve democratic accountability,” said Jake Dizard, managing editor of Countries at the Crossroads.
 
Further information on the findings is available in the overview essay , on the Crossroads blog, and in a series of charts and graphs. Freedom House is also holding a release event on April 7 with the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, featuring experts on democratic development and foreign assistance. To view the full report follow this link.

While media freedom and civic engagement underwent the most significant deterioration in this year’s analysis, other areas experienced change, for worse and better:
 
  • Property Rights Erode: Several countries, including Bahrain, Sri Lanka, East Timor, Kenya, Uganda, Cambodia, and Vietnam,experienced declines in protection of property rights. Land grabs occurred in a number of cases, typically within a context of rising land values and poor titling and registration systems.
  • Due Process and Prosecutorial Independence Suffer: In a total of 16 countries, ongoing problems surrounding citizen interaction with the justice system resulted in declines in the category that examines the extent to which public officials are prosecuted for abuse of power, whether prosecutors are independent of political control, and whether citizens’ due process rights are respected.
  • Headway on Anticorruption Standards: Over a dozen countries registered progress on establishing and depoliticizing anticorruption norms and standards, most notably East Timor, Tanzania, and Indonesia.
  • Post-Conflict Progress: In post-conflict states such as Sierra Leone, East Timor, and Liberia, civilian control has been achieved with the help of the United Nations, and efforts to solidify and expand democratically accountable institutions have made gains.
The countries showing the least progress on democratic governance were Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, all of which suffer from some combination of extreme power concentration and severe institutional weakness. Among the strongest performers were Ghana—which earned the overall highest average—Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and South Africa.
 
Countries at the Crossroads provides detailed written analysis and comparative data on 70 critical (half each year), policy-relevant countries annually. Crossroads covers an extensive set of countries while offering readers useful time series data, as well as comprehensive narrative evaluation of the progress and backsliding in each country.
 
The following countries are examined in the 2010 Crossroads edition: Argentina, Bahrain, Brazil, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, East Timor, El Salvador, Ghana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Indonesia, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Liberia, Malawi, Malaysia, Mexico, Nepal, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Uganda, Vietnam, Yemen, and Zimbabwe.
 
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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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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