3.3 billion people are still ruled by autocracy

Bertelsmann Stiftung study

Since 2004, more than 250 experts from all over the world have collected data on the state of democracy, human rights, the economic situation and the performance of the state apparatus in 129 countries. In many countries, heads of state are building their power without restraint, weakening the rule of law, gobbling up the media. Turkey, neighboring the EU, does particularly badly.

Manipulated elections, state violence against the population, persecuted journalists: Democratic forms of government are in danger like they haven’t been in a long time. This is according to the Transformation Index (BTI).

Autocracy is taking over

More than 3.3 billion people are ruled by an autocratic government according to the current index. This is the highest value since the beginning of the evaluation 14 years ago. Of the 129 developing and transition countries surveyed, 58 are autocracies, three more than in 2016, according to BTI.

Autocrats are commonly understood as politicians who interpret their (democratic) election as a free ticket to absolute control: they try to take over the power of state institution. The separation of powers is weakened, the opposition is obstructed and the executive and judiciary become allies.

The research especially points countries such as Burundi and Tajikistan. Although they were previously considered autocracies, their government structures have worsened over the past two years.

In Burundi, the government uses brutal violence against opponents and those who demonstrate fear for their lives. In Tajikistan, the government virtually eliminated the opposition, weakened the rule of law and curtailed political participation, according to the study. In Ethiopia, Bahrain, and Venezuela autocratic structures have strengthened.

Democracy under pressure

Even if more people live in democratic countries, 4.2 billion people in 71 countries, the living conditions of many states is worrisome:

  • In every fourth democracy, democratic accountability amongst local politicians has decreased.
  • Freedom of elections is lower in 9 out of 71 democracies since 2015, 12 have restricted freedom of association and rally.
  • Underdevelopment is stronger in East Africa, East Central Europe, Central America and the Middle East.

The readiness of the government to solve social conflicts in common with the population has decreased in 58 states since the 2006 survey. Once elected, many rulers restricted the rights of citizens to expand their power.

The positive economic development plays an important role in building democratic structures, but in these 72 developing and emerging countries, there is massive poverty and social inequality – making it difficult to find more democracy.


The first place among the countries that are taking a step back in democracy according to the evaluation is Turkey.

Experts classify the country as a declining democracy, which has developed particularly badly over the last two years. There are countless examples for this: after the failed military coup, President Erdogan massively opposed opposition figures and the media, gained more power through a constitutional amendment and fired thousands of unpopular officials.

According to the study, countries like Uganda and Mozambique are increasingly turning towards autocracy. Poland emerges in fifth place as another European country. Several judicial reforms have already led to a quarrel between Warsaw and the EU.

Development of democracy

Burkina Faso and Sri Lanka are two positive examples when it comes to democratic developments: both countries were previously regarded as autocracies, but the study sees a change due to recent developments:

  • In Burkina Faso, massive protests forced President Blaise Compaoré 2014 to resign after 27 years.
  • In Sri Lanka, President Mahinda Rajapaksa was surprisingly defeated in 2015 after ten years in charge.
  • In both countries, newly elected governments have been in charge since 2015, taking steps to restore democracy and the rule of law. At the same time, the situation remains fragile, conflicts could flare up again and again. Both countries are still far from a stable democracy.

Author: Tais

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