On 10 November 1987, Awami Jubo League (AJL) leader Nur Hossain, who imprinted his bare chest and back with the slogans 'Free democracy' and 'Down with autocracy', embraced martyrdom in police firing
File Photo

The democratic situation in Bangladesh is declining as the country's position in the liberal democracy index and electoral democracy index are weakening, Sweden-based research organisation Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) in a report indicated.

V-Dem Institute of Gothenburg University has been measuring democracy around the world for the last five years.

The title of this year's report is 'State of the World: Autocratization Turns Viral'. The report was published on 11 March 2021.

According to the report, Bangladesh ranks 154th out of 179 countries in liberal democracy index. Bangladesh scores 0.1, which is less by 0.019 than the last year.

Bangladesh dropped in the electoral democracy index and ranks 138th by scoring 0.27. The score falls by 0.031.

Besides, Bangladesh ranks 161th in the liberal component index, 176th in the egalitarian component index, and 143th in the participatory index and 158th in the deliberative component index.

In V-Dem report, Bangladesh is in the category of electoral autocracy. This means democracy was retreating. and a more autocratic rule was gradually taking its place. Bangladesh, however, was in the similar position in the previous report. Therefore, the position of this country remained unchanged.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, ruling Awami League joint general secretary Mahbubul Alam Hanif said the culture, socioeconomic condition and education in this region including Bangladesh are quite different than that of the western world. As a result, it is natural that there will be a difference in the outlook of democracy of the people of this region with the outlook of the people of the western world.

"Democracy is much more liberal in Bangladesh. The assessment the westerners make about Bangladesh is not correct," Hanif claimed.

The report said the world’s largest democracy has turned into an electoral autocracy. India’s autocratization process has largely followed the typical pattern for countries in the “Third Wave” over the past ten years: a gradual deterioration where freedom of the media, academia, and civil society were curtailed first and to the greatest extent.

Narendra Modi led the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to victory in India’s 2014 elections and most of the decline occurred following BJP’s victory and their promotion of a Hindu-nationalist agenda.

The report, however, said most democracies acted responsibly in the face of the pandemic but 9 democracies register major and 23 moderate violations of international norms.

It also said some 55 autocratic regimes engaged in major or moderate violations of international norms in response to the pandemic.

Restrictions on media freedom are most common by far – 2/3 of all countries imposed moderate or major ones. Almost 1/3 of nations (31pc) have (or had) emergency measures without a time limit. The final toll on democracy may turn out to be higher unless restrictions are eliminated immediately after the pandemic ends.

Poland takes a dubious “lead” as the country which declined the most during the last decade and three new nations join the major autocratizers: Benin, Bolivia, and Mauritius.

The report shows that autocratization typically follows a pattern. Ruling governments first attack the media and civil society and polarise societies by disrespecting opponents and spreading false information, then undermine elections.

We are seeing and feeling the democratic system in Bangladesh with our own eyes. We are observing that Bangladesh's democratic system is declining continuously
Badiul Alam Majumdar, Secretary, Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik (Shujan)

Electoral autocracies continue to be the most common regime type. A major change is that the world’s largest democracy turned into an electoral autocracy: India with 1.37 billion people. Together, electoral and closed autocracies are home to 68pc of the world’s population. Meanwhile, the number of liberal democracies is decreasing to 32, with a population share of only 14pc. Electoral democracies account for 60 nations and the remaining 19pc of the population.

Denmark, Sweden and Norway are on the top in the liberal democracy index of D-Dem annual report.

In South Asia, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Pakistan and Afghanistan are ahead of Bangladesh in liberal democracy index.

International norms have been extremely violated due to Covid-19 pandemic in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. On the contrary, such violation took place in a limited scale in Bangladesh and Pakistan.

According to the report, the liberal democracy around the world is gradually deteriorating. This characteristic is being noticed especially in Pacific region, Asia, central Asia, East Europe and Latin America.

Democratic situation has mostly declined in 10 countries including Brazil, India and Turkey. Six of these countries have totally turned autocratic.

Speaking to Prothom Alo about the report, Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik (Shujan) secretary Badiul Alam Majumdar said different international organisations including V-Dem shows the situation by indexes.

"We are seeing and feeling the democratic system in Bangladesh with our own eyes. We are observing that Bangladesh's democratic system is declining continuously," the Shujan secretary said.

Badiul Alam said Bangladesh's democracy was election-centric, but that does not exist now.

*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo online and print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.