The UK is 14th in the list of the world’s top democracies, according to the latest assessment by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).
And the USA is outside the top 20, coming in at just 21st , level with Italy and behind Mauritius , Uruguay and even Malta, which has come under the spotlight for the levels of corruption there following the car-bomb murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
The 2017 EIU report, Free Speech Under Attack, the tenth version the unit has produced, reveals that the average national score has fallen over the last year, with 89 countries scoring lower than 2016 and only 27 recording an improvement.
The annual league table uses five criteria to determine the state of 167 nations worldwide: electoral process and pluralism; functioning of government; political participation; political culture and civil liberties.
The EIU said that only 4.5 per cent of the world’s population lives in what it describes as ‘full democracies – those scoring more than 8 on the five-point index – down from a high of 8.9 per cent in 2015. The USA was downgraded in the 2016 index from a ‘full democracy’ to a ‘flawed democracy’ and in the 2017 list scores 7.98. The UK scores 8.53.
Scandinavian countries lead the way at the top of the index, with Norway (pictured) in first place on a score of 9.87, followed by Iceland on 9.58, Sweden on 9.39 and Denmark in 5th on 9.22. They are split by New Zealand in 4th place on 9.26.
The other countries in the top 10 are the Republic of Ireland, Canada, Australia, Finland and Switzerland. Germany, meanwhile, just pips the UK, lying in 13th place.
At the other end of the scale, the bottom ten countries are Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikstan, Equatorial Guinea, Turkmenistan, Democractic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Chad, Syria and, last of all, North Korea.
Elsewhere, Israel appears in joint 30th place, France in 29th, Belgium in 32nd, Greece in 38th and India in 42nd (all ‘flawed’); Russia is 135th and China 139th (‘authoritarian’); while Turkey lies in 100th, Palestine 108th and Pakistan 110th (‘hybrid’).
Democracy scholar Larry Diamond says the world is currently going through a “democracy recession”, and the EIU reports that in addition to a decline in media freedom and curbs on freedom of speech, causes of this recession include declining trust in institutions; the dwindling appeal of mainstream political parties; a decline in participation in elections and politics; and a widening gap between political elites and the electorate.
The full IEU report can be downloadad at: eiu.com/topic/democracy-index