Report on Varieties of Democracy-2018



  • GS Mains Paper-2, Polity

Why in news?

  • Recently University of Gothenburg (Sweden) has published the “Varieties of Democracy Report” (V-Dem) for 2018.
  • The report provides the most sweeping global examination of democracy, and India has seen a downgrade in its overall status.

What does the report cover?

  • The Report covers 178 countries, crunches a large number of indicators, and adds a deep historical perspective.
  • It is carried out rigorously, with a global team of 3,000 researchers with deep knowledge of local political contexts.
  • It’s also backed by the European Union (EU) and funded by a multitude of different institutions and think tanks, ensuring a robust access to data.
  • The methodology involves classifying nations on a combination of variables and then checking for changes in overall democratic status.
  • The survey also does a comparison over 2007-2017 on multiple indicators.

There are various categories for classification in the report. They are as follows:-

Liberal Democracy

  1. This category is the ideal benchmark, and every citizen in such societies is guaranteed equal rights and full freedom of expression.
  2. Further, equitable access to the law, institutionalized justice system, freedom of association, participatory elections etc., are other important metrics in this category.
  3. Only 39 of the 178 nations that were studied met these standards in 2017.

Electoral Democracy

  1. In this category, all citizens have the right to vote but certain categories of people suffer exclusion due to their socio-economic status.
  2. Further, lower standards (as compared to liberal democracies) apply here, when it comes to human rights, freedom of expr­ession and association, etc.
  3. In 2017, the V-Dem reckons 56 countries qualified for this category.

Electoral Autocracy

  1. In this category of nations, all citizens have the vote but repression, censorship and institutionalized intimidation are very visible.
  2. According to the study in this domain there were 56 nations in 2017.
  3. While electoral Autocracy have severe problems they are still better off than countries that are classified as closed autocracies.

Closed Autocracy

  1. In a closed autocracy, the political executive is totally free of being answerable to its people, and their rule is carried out with fear and intimidation.
  2. Notably, for residents of “Closed Autocracies”, not being subjected to political persecution is a common big dream that many of them chase.
  3. Worldwide, there were 27 such “closed autocracy nations” in 2017.

In which category does India’s fall as per the reports classification?

  • India saw a slide in its ranking over the years as the quality of democracy has noticeably declined over the past decade (especially after 2014).
  • The study notes that infringements on media freedom and the civil society activities have spiked since the “Hindu-nationalist government” took office.
  • Nonetheless, India retains a system of free & fair multi-party elections and thus, qualifies as an electoral democracy.
  • But it has seen major erosion in indicators such as Freedom of Expression, Rule of Law and Freedom of Association.
  • The future remains uncertain, as India could get better from here, or slip further down to a situation akin to the emergency era (1975-77).

Why can there be a situation akin to the emergency era (1975 -1977)?

  • Censorship of the media and harassment of journalists can occur gradually through “inducements, intimidations, and co-optation”.
  • These tactics would further lead naturally to increasing levels of self-censorship and fewer explicit criticisms of the government.
  • The predictable result is a narrower range of political perspectives in the public sphere, as well as a general decline in the freedom of expression.
  • Only the “Voter’s Registry” has improved over the past 10 years and other parameters have either stagnated, or deteriorated.
  • This includes harassment of media, curtailment of NGOs and repression of cultural and academic expression, etc.
  • Even in terms of electoral transparency, the study says that intimidation and violence have increased and that party agents harass and bribe voters.
  • The murder and jailing of environmental and human rights activists and attempts to shut down alternate means of free expression have also increased.
  • Further, rapidly worsening “Gini coefficient” (increasing economic inequality) is another worrying indicator for sustaining democracy.


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