8 Feb 2021

New Zealand placed fourth in global democracy index

2:53 pm on 8 February 2021

New Zealand has been ranked fourth on a global democracy index, behind three Nordic countries.

Parliament and Beehive

New Zealand is a land of comparative freedom, according to a recent report on global democracy. Photo: RNZ

The Economist Intelligence Unit's 2020 Democracy Index has just been released.

It weighed data from 167 countries to provide a snapshot of democracy worldwide, with a focus on the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Factors taken into consideration were electoral process, the functioning of government, political participation and culture, and civil liberties.

New Zealand scored 9.25 out of 10 in the latest index - a fraction less than in 2019.

Norway topped the list, followed by Iceland and Sweden, while North Korea came last with a score of 1.08 out of 10.

The US was defined as a "flawed democracy" and ranked 25th, with a score of 7.92.

"The negatives [for USA] include extremely low levels of trust in institutions and political parties, deep dysfunction in the functioning of government, increasing threats to freedom of expression, and a degree of societal polarisation that makes consensus almost impossible to achieve.

"Social cohesion has collapsed ... the new president, Joe Biden, faces a huge challenge in bringing together a country that is deeply divided over core values," the report stated.

US President Joe Biden speaks about foreign policy at the State Department in Washington, DC, on February 4, 2021.

Joe Biden is the president of the US that was categorised as a "flawed democracy" in the Economist Intelligence Unit's 2020 Democracy Index. Photo: AFP

Australia was ranked ninth with a score of 8.96 and kept its status as a "full democracy".

The report found almost 14 percent of countries worldwide were "full democracies", 31 percent were "flawed democracies", and 21 percent were "hybrid regimes".

Just over 34 percent of the countries included were ruled by "authoritarian regimes".

Hong Kong dropped down the rankings by 12 places, becoming a "hybrid regime" rather than a "flawed democracy", and Myanmar fell by 13 places.

Asia's average regional score fell to its lowest since 2013, as official measures to combat the pandemic led to some of the most severe constraints on individual freedoms and civil liberties in the world, the report's writers said.

"China, Singapore and others went much further than the rest of the world in tracking and policing their citizens and locking them down in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

"As a result, more than half of the countries in the region recorded a fall in their total score.

"However, the biggest country downgrades, for Myanmar and Hong Kong, were driven by other factors, including mass voter suppression in the former and a crackdown by the authorities on dissent in the latter."

Report editor Joan Hoey said Asia gained three new "full democracies" in 2020 - Japan, South Korea and Taiwan - while western Europe lost two - France and Portugal.

"Asia continues to lag behind the West in democratic terms having only five "full democracies", compared with western Europe's 13, but the region has, so far, handled the pandemic much better than virtually any other, with lower infection and mortality rates and a fast economic rebound," Hoey said.

Asian governments had reacted decisively to the pandemic, even though coercive powers had been used in some cases, Hoey said.

Asian countries had well-organised health systems and their populations still trusted their governments, he said.

"By contrast, European governments were slow to act, some health systems came close to collapse and public trust in government declined," Hoey said.

France scored 7.99 overall and was ranked 24th, while Portugal scored 7.9 and was in 26th place.

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