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The state of democracy is diminishing around the globe as dozens of nations experienced recent declines in democratic values, including tainted elections and restrictions on individual freedoms, according to a new study published Thursday by a Swedish political advocacy group.
The analysis by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance said democratic norms and standards were faltering in nearly half of the 173 countries it surveyed due to weakening government checks and balances, corruption, rigged elections, and a general lack of accountability from elected leaders who flout the law.
A collective focus on major crises, including inflation, climate change, and simultaneous wars in Ukraine and Israel, were continuing to divert attention from the waning state of fundamental principles that underpin democracy worldwide, the report warns.
In the last five years, 85 nations surveyed in the study witnessed eroding democracy in areas such as civil liberties and judicial independence, marking the longest continuous decline in democratic values since 1975, the report said.
The study -- conducted in five world regions, including Europe, the Americas, Africa, West Asia, and the Indo-Pacific -- ranked countries in four categories, including representation, rights, rule of law, and electoral participation.
Democratic regression spanned the globe from South Korea to Brazil, and from Canada to El Salvador and Hungary, the report says, while judicial independence and protection from political violence were continuing to slide, even in democratic nations like Austria, Hungary and Peru.
Even strong democracies like Costa Rica and Portugal have struggled to achieve effective parliamentary oversight and credible elections in recent years, adding to a disturbing global trend highlighted by a wave of political coups throughout Africa.
Respect for fundamental rights -- such as freedom of speech, expression and assembly -- was deteriorating across all regions, including countries like Austria, El Salvador, Italy, Senegal and Slovenia, the report says.
In a silver lining, there were some signs of progress as more people were engaging in the political process worldwide, especially in Ethiopia, Zambia, and Fiji, which resulted in less overall corruption.
However, challenges remain in areas like social equality, press freedoms, and equitable justice -- with major declines observed over the past five years in the United States, Austria and Britain.
At the same time, election monitors, anti-corruption agencies and independent civil rights groups have emerged recently as the new global watchdogs, holding those in power accountable.
"Many countries are struggling now even with basic aspects of democracy," said Kevin Casas-Zamora, the Secretary-General of International IDEA. "But while many of our formal institutions like legislatures are weakening, there is hope that these more informal checks and balances, from journalists to election organizers and anti-corruption commissioners, can successfully battle authoritarian and populist trends."
The report concludes by calling on world governments to promote and uphold democratic values in future policy measures, and to enact legal protections for independent institutions to protect elections, investigate corruption and supervise government programs.