What’s Stopping the Largest Democracy from Becoming the Greatest?

February 15, 2017

 What’s Stopping the Largest Democracy from Becoming the Greatest? 


Dr. S Y Quraishi. Former Chief Election Commissioner of India will be speaking at a gathering of SIPA South Asia Association in Columbia University, New York tonight.

India is the largest democracy of the world and Indian election the biggest man-managed event on the planet. Its election commission has never failed to deliver free and fair election on time leading to smooth transition of power. Secretary Clinton had once pronounced the Indian system of election as a gold standard. However, it does seem surprising that the Democracy Index 2016 of The Economist classifies India in the list of “flawed democracies”, standing at thirty second position among 165 nations. It’s no consolation, however, that the United States has been ranked just ten ranks higher. What is holding India back from being ranked as a perfect democracy? The answer is well known – some fundamental flaws in the ‘political culture’ that need to be corrected. These include criminalization of politics, money power in election leading to vicious cycle of corruption, high illiteracy and low representation of women in politics. It gives some hope that Prime Minister Modi has also acknowledged that to strengthen the roots of democracy, we will have to bring about electoral reforms. Some of his recent policies seem to be an attempt in that direction. It’s encouraging that most political parties have welcomed the commitment though clamoring for a comprehensive rather than selective, piecemeal action. If the promise of electoral reforms could become a reality, the largest democracy could certainly aspire to becoming one of the greatest.

Born on June 11, 1947, in Delhi, Dr. S.Y. Quraishi joined the Indian Administrative Service in 1971. After holding several key positions, he rose to become the 17th Chief Election Commissioner of India, the world’s largest democracy. As the Election Commissioner and Chief Election Commissioner of India (2006-2012), he introduced a number of innovative electoral reforms. The most important reform he introduced was the setting up of a Voter Education Division which revolutionized voter participation in the country achieving the highest turnouts in seven decades of electoral democracy in India. For this and other electoral reforms he was adjudged as one of the 100 Most Powerful Indians of 2011 and 2012 by The Indian Express. He also figured in 100 Most Powerful Indians list of India Today in 2012.

According to the 2016 Democracy Index almost one-half of the world’s countries can be considered to be democracies of some sort, but the number of “full democracies” has declined from 20 in 2015 to 19 in 2016. The US has been downgraded from a “full democracy” to a “flawed democracy” because of a further erosion of trust in government and elected officials there.

Americans like to think of our country as a bastion of democracy. But for the first time, The Democracy Index has downgraded the United States from a full to a flawed democracy, citing citizens’ growing distrust of government, the media and elected officials.

The index, which was released Wednesday and is produced by the economic firm the Economist Intelligence Unit in the United Kingdom, ranks the United States alongside other flawed democracies, like Japan, Italy, India, Botswana and Ghana.

While the release of the index comes during the first week of the presidency of Donald Trump, the group stressed that the lower ranking for the U.S. was not prompted by the new administration. The lack of trust in the government and the political process is a long-term trend that predated the 2016 election, the report states, and Trump benefited from the trend.

The Economist Intelligence Unit began producing the Democracy Index in 2006. The index ranks countries on a scale from 1 to 10, based on 60 different indicators, including things like political participation, civil liberties and how well the government functions. Until now, the U.S. has been listed as a full democracy. But the country’s score dropped to 7.98, below the 8.00 threshold for being ranked as a full democracy.

Of the 167 surveyed, only 19 ranked as a full democracy, with Norway coming out on top with a score of 9.93 points. There are 57 countries ranked as flawed, 51 authoritarian countries, and 40 countries with hybrid forms of government that are somewhere between democratic and authoritarian.

Which countries fared the worst? North Korea scored the lowest, at 1.09. Other countries at the bottom of the list include Syria, Chad, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea and Turkmenistan.

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