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US added to list of ‘backsliding’ democracies for first time

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Supporters of former US President Donald Trump rally in front of the US Supreme Court. (File photo by AFP)

The United States has been added to an annual list of “backsliding” democracies for the first time, a downward trend that began in 2019 and has deteriorated since, an intergovernmental body said in its new report.

The Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) uses 50 years of democratic indicators for its flagship report on the state of democracy in the world.

“This year we coded the United States as backsliding for the first time, but our data suggest that the backsliding episode began at least in 2019,” said the report, Global State of Democracy 2021, which was released on Monday.

The report pointed to the growing polarization in America, as well as voting laws that “disproportionately” affect minorities in a negative way.

Alexander Hudson, a co-author of the report, said, “The declines in civil liberties and checks on government indicate that there are serious problems with the fundamentals of democracy.”

A historic turning point, according to the report, came in in 2020-21 when former President Donald Trump cast doubt on the legitimacy of the 2020 election after he lost to Joe Biden.

In addition, Hudson cited a “decline in the quality of freedom of association and assembly during the summer of protests in 2020,” triggered by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

IDEA Secretary-General Kevin Casas-Zamora described the “visible deterioration of democracy” in the United States --characterized a tendency to contest election results, voter suppression, and the runaway polarization-- as “one of the most concerning developments” in the 2021 report.

The report comes ahead of President Biden’s virtual “summit for democracy” on December 9-10. Biden has said the gathering aims to galvanize government, civil society and private sector leaders to face off what he called rising autocratic forces in the world.

The IDEA report warned that the number of backsliding democracies has doubled in the past decade, accounting for a quarter of the world’s population. In particular, it mentioned EU member states Hungary, Poland and Slovenia, besides the United States.  

The trend towards democratic erosion has “become more acute and worrying” since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it noted.

“The pandemic has certainly accelerated and magnified some of the negative trends, particularly in places where democracy and the rule of law were ailing before the pandemic,” Casas-Zamora said.

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