Global Freedom Faces Setbacks in 2023, Study Reveals

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Democracy faced sharp, widespread setbacks worldwide in 2023, with violence and manipulation marring a series of elections, according to a report by Freedom House, a US-funded pro-democracy advocacy and research group. The report, released on Thursday, highlighted the downgrade of Ecuador from a free to a partly free country, and the upgrade of Thailand from a not free to a partly free country.

In total, political rights and civil liberties declined in 52 countries, while only 21 countries saw improvements. This marks the 18th straight year of global freedom decline, indicating a more lopsided trend compared to the previous year. “Even if you look at it region by region, usually we are able to say that one is an outlier, but every single region registered a decline,” said Yana Gorokhovskaia, co-author of the report.

The report highlighted efforts by incumbents in countries such as Cambodia, Turkey, and Zimbabwe to control electoral competition, hinder political opponents, or prevent them from taking power. Similar attempts were made, albeit unsuccessfully, in Guatemala and Poland. Ecuador’s downgrade was a result of election disruption by violent criminal gangs, including the assassination of anti-corruption presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio after a campaign speech.

Thailand, on the other hand, was upgraded due to competitive elections, despite establishment forces preventing young progressive Pita Limjaroenrat, whose Move Forward Party won the most seats, from becoming prime minister. Gorokhovskaia noted that this upgrade does not signify a full-scale victory for democracy or freedom in Thailand. However, she acknowledged the progress made by allowing the second-place Pheu Thai party of former prime minister and tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra to take over after years of efforts by the military-backed establishment to suppress it.

One country that showed significant improvement on Freedom House’s 100-point scale was Fiji, which gained seven points. Fiji, listed as partly free, held a tense election in December 2022, during which voters ousted Frank Bainimarama, who had led the Pacific archipelago since staging a bloodless coup in 2006. Since the election, Fiji has made important progress, including reducing censorship and amending voter registration laws to improve women’s participation, according to Gorokhovskaia.

The overall deterioration of democracy and freedom highlighted in the report is concerning. It demonstrates the need for continued efforts to protect and promote democratic values worldwide. Governments, civil society organizations, and individuals must work together to address the challenges facing democracy and ensure that political rights and civil liberties are upheld.

Source: The Manila Times

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