Freedom in the World

Anxious Dictators, Wavering Democracies: Global Freedom under Pressure

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Percentage of the Selected Population

Key Findings

The world was battered by crises that fueled xenophobic sentiment in democratic countries, undermined the economies of states dependent on the sale of natural resources, and led authoritarian regimes to crack down harder on dissent. These developments contributed to the 10th consecutive year of decline in global freedom.

  • The number of countries showing a decline in freedom for the year—72—was the largest since the 10-year slide began. Just 43 countries made gains.
  • Over the past 10 years, 105 countries have seen a net decline, and only 61 have experienced a net improvement.
  • Ratings for the Middle East and North Africa region were the worst in the world in 2015, followed closely by Eurasia.
  • Over the last decade, the most significant global reversals have been in freedom of expression and the rule of law.

Countries to Watch in 2016

The following countries are among those that may be approaching important turning points in their democratic trajectory and deserve special scrutiny in the coming year.

  • Angola: Squeezed by low oil prices, Angola’s autocratic government is likely to intensify suppression of dissent and expand surveillance of private citizens. 
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina: The country could face even worse government dysfunction if a planned Bosnian Serb referendum on the national court’s legitimacy takes place.
  • Democratic Republic of Congo: With the army poised to crush protests, President Kabila is considering a constitutional amendment that would allow him to seek a third term in 2016.
  • Iran: Moderate reformists are preparing for critical February elections to the parliament and the Assembly of Experts, the body that appoints the supreme leader.
  • Kuwait: Authorities are quashing dissent with increasing aggression and frequency, galvanizing concerns about citizenship revocation and use of the death penalty.
  • Malaysia: Political repression in Malaysia could intensify as the prime minister faces increasing pressure over an embezzlement scandal.
  • Myanmar: Once the newly elected legislature is seated and a government is formed, the National League for Democracy will be under pressure to deliver on its promises.
  • Nigeria: Observers will be able to assess President Buhari’s first year in office, including his efforts to combat entrenched corruption and Boko Haram militants.
  • Poland: The initial actions of the Law and Justice government in 2015, including attempts to stack key institutions with partisan loyalists, raise serious concerns about Poland’s trajectory.
  • Venezuela: Although the opposition triumphed in the legislative elections, it will need a well-crafted strategy to enact reforms in light of possible resistance by President Maduro.

Donors

Smith Richardson Foundation
The Lilly Endowment
The Schloss Family Foundation
Kim G. Davis 
The 21st Century ILGWU Heritage Fund
The Reed Foundation

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