In democracy index, Latvia improves, but still listed among ‘flawed’ states

Latvia and its Baltic neighbors Estonia and Lithuania are among a long list of “flawed democracies” around the world, according to a new report from The Economist magazine released in December.

The publication’s Economist Intelligence Unit ranked 167 countries and territories in its Democracy Index 2011, placing Latvia at 48th overall—one notch better than last year.

The report scores countries based on five measures: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture. Based on their scores, countries are placed in one of four different regime categories: full democracies, flawed democracies, hybrid regimes and authoritarian regimes.

Just 25 countries, led by Norway, are considered full democracies, according to the 2011 report. A total of 53 countries, including all three Baltic states, are considered flawed democracies. Hybrid regimes are found in 37 countries, while authoritarianism reigns in 52.

“Much of eastern Europe illustrates the difference between formal and substantive democracy,” according to the report. “The new EU (European Union) members from the region have pretty much equal level of political freedoms and civil liberties as the old developed EU, but lag significantly in political participation and political culture—a reflection of widespread anomie and weaknesses of democratic development.”

The Czech Republic, ranked No. 16, is the only country from Eastern Europe to make it into the top tier of full democracies.

Scandinavia swept the top four spots in the rankings. Norway at No. 1 is followed by Iceland, Denmark and Sweden. The Top 10 full democracies are rounded out by New Zealand, Australia, Switzerland, Canada, Finland and the Netherlands.

The United States ranks 19th, one notch below the United Kingdom.

Among the Baltic states, only Latvia’s ranking improved, rising from 49th in the 2010 index. Estonia dropped a spot from 33rd in 2010 to 34th in 2011. Lithuania, at No. 41, remains unchanged.

Russia ranked 117th, placing it in the list of authoritarian regimes. The announcement in September that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will again seek the presidency of Russia is “a retrograde and cynical step,” according to the report.

“It marked a decisive step in Russia’s long-running slide towards outright authoritarianism,” according to the report. “The decision has made a mockery of the institution of the presidency and the electoral process.”

At the bottom of the Democracy Index 2011 rankings, at 167th, is North Korea.

The report also notes how public opinion has changed in countries such as Latvia. Results of the Life in Transition Surveys conducted by European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the World Bank in 2006 and 2010 show that support for democracy declined in parts of Eastern Europe.

“In 11 transition countries, 50 percent of respondents or fewer express a preference for democracy, with support being lowest in Serbia, Latvia, Russia, Lithuania, Ukraine and Bosnia & Hercegovina,” according to the Democracy Index 2011 report. “The widespread disenchantment with democracy in the region, especially in the richer economies, does not necessarily reflect a hankering for authoritarianism or a return to the communist past. Rather, it seems to reflect the exhaustion
of contemporary political systems and a general unfocused disillusion, apathy and disengagement.”

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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