In a great article published in Foreign Affairs, Larry Diamond analyses the reasons for the current democratic rollback. Although approximately 60 percent of the world’s independent states are democratic in electoral sense, a number of countries have been regressing toward authoritarianism (Nigeria, Russia, Venezuela, etc.) and for the first time since 1994 freedom around the world suffered a net decline in two consecutive years. Diamond warns that without addressing the key problem underlying weak democracies – bad governance – this democratic decline is likely to continue. What’s the way out? Democratic rules and institutions need to become as important as voting in order to make the ruling elites (including freely elected ones) accountable and to restrain the natural predatory tendencies of those in power in both political and economic realms.
Before democracy can spread further, it must take deeper root where it has already sprouted. … Emerging democracies must demonstrate that they can solve their governance problems and meet their citizens’ expectations for freedom, justice, a better life, and a fairer society. … For democratic structures to endure – and to be worthy of endurance – they must listen to their citizens’ voices, engage their participation, tolerate their protests, protect their freedoms, and respond to their needs.
Diamond also emphasizes that, contrary to some views, economic prosperity cannot be achieved without better governance. Without political institutions that guarantee good democratic governance, corruption hampers economic growth and no equal opportunity exists in the market.
In most of the world’s poor countries, the “economy first” advocates have the causal chain backward. Without significant improvements in governance, economic growth will not take off or be sustainable. Without legal and political institutions to control corruption, punish cheating, and ensure a level economic and political playing field, pro-growth policies will be ineffective and their economic benefits will be overshadowed or erased.