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Civic Power and Electoral Politics
Adrian Karatnycky
December, 2005

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Russia entered the ranks of Not Free countries in 2004 for the first time since the breakup of the Soviet Union, according to the findings of Freedom in the World 2005, the survey of global political rights and civil liberties published annually by Freedom House. This setback for freedom represented the year's most important political trend.

Russia's steady drift toward authoritarian rule under President Vladimir Putin saw increased Kremlin control of national television content and growing influence over radio and print media; the use and manipulation--bordering on outright control--of "alternative" political parties with leaders linked to the country's security services; growing encroachments against local government; and elections that were neither free nor fair. The extent of Russia's long-term decline is suggested by the country's political rights rating of 3 and civil liberties rating of 4 for the year 1997 (towards the end of the presidency of Putin's predecessor, Boris Yeltsin), as compared to its rating of 6 for political rights and 5 for civil liberties today. Such a precipitous drop during that time frame is relatively rare--in that same time period, only Haiti has seen comparable declines.

While Russia became increasingly authoritarian, in neighboring Ukraine, fraudulent elections and other widespread violations of political rights and civil liberties led millions of Ukraine's citizens into the streets to defend their democratic rights. Although Ukraine's presidential election is to be re-run on December 26th, its non-violent Orange Revolution has already led to the widespread expansion of media freedoms, with most newspapers and national television networks now reporting freely. Ukraine's "people power" has contributed to greater independence of the legal system, particularly the Supreme Court, which annulled fraudulent election results and ordered a revote. Furthermore, civic ferment has helped increase academic freedom. All these developments have improved the state of the country's civil liberties, according to the survey findings.

These diametrically opposite trends were echoed in the growing differentiation between democratizing and increasingly authoritarian states throughout the former USSR. While the year saw important progress for freedom in Ukraine and Georgia, the erosion of freedoms in Russia was matched by ongoing repression in Belarus, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, as well as authoritarian consolidation in Armenia. All this suggests that the post-Communist East-West divide (which formerly separated the countries of Central and Eastern Europe from those of the former Soviet Union) is gradually migrating eastward, as liberal values make gains in key post-Soviet states.

As 2004 drew to a close, 89 countries worldwide were judged as Free (possessing a high degree of political rights and civil liberties in an environment of strong rule of law), one more than in 2003. The gain was represented by progress in Antigua and Barbuda, which entered the ranks of Free countries in the wake of the electoral defeat of corrupt Prime Minister Lester Bird, whose departure from government created significant opportunities to promote democratic practices and the rule of law. Liberia entered the ranks of Partly Free states as a result of greater political freedom that developed through the establishment of a broad-based, transitional government. This gain was offset by the decline in the status of Russia, which moved from Partly Free to Not Free. (Additionally, the territory of Kosovo declined from Partly Free to Not Free in the wake of a significant increase in ethnic violence that led to the non-participation of the Serbian minority in parliamentary elections.) As a result of these offsetting trends, the year ended with 54 countries rated as Partly Free, one fewer than in the previous year. The number of Not Free countries, where political rights are severely constricted amid widespread civil liberties problems and a weak rule of law, stood at 49, the same as in 2003.

In 2004, 44 percent of the globe's population (2.819 billion) lived in Free countries and territories, 19 percent (1.189 billion) lived in Partly Free settings, while 37 percent (2.387 billion) lived in Not Free polities--of these, 1.3 billion (nearly three-fifths) lived in China. As a result of shifts in population and changes in freedom status, the number of people living in Free countries and territories increased by 39 million. The number of those living in Partly Free polities dropped by 136 million, while the number of those living in Not Free countries climbed by 177 million, largely due to Russia's entry into this category.

A deeper analysis of Freedom House data suggests that Free, Partly Free, and Not Free societies differ somewhat in comparative performance with regard to the four broad categories of civil liberties examined by the survey. An assessment of these differences helps to illuminate some of the underlying historical trajectories and political trends within types of countries. These main categories of civil liberties evaluated in the survey are: Freedom of Expression and Belief, Associational and Organizational Rights, Rule of Law, and Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights.

Overall, countries in all three types of societies show their weakest performance in Associational and Organizational Rights and the Rule of Law, while Freedom of Expression and Belief rankings are highest. However, Free and Partly Free societies rank considerably higher than Not Free polities in their median Associational and Organizational Rights ratings. This is hardly surprising, as it suggests that authoritarian regimes place great emphasis on controlling and limiting the ability of individuals to organize, associate, and engage in collective action, as this may prove highly threatening to entrenched authority and power.

In 2004, 119 out of 192 countries (62 percent) qualified as electoral democracies, two more than in 2003. The designation of electoral democracy is based on whether a country's last major national elections qualified under established international standards as "free and fair." All electoral democracies are not liberal democracies (or Free countries), as states with democratically elected leaders may still have serious problems in terms of human rights, the rule of law, and corruption. Out of 119 electoral democracies 89 (75 percent) are Free, liberal democracies, while 30 (25 percent) are rated Partly Free. While Russia exited from the ranks of electoral democracies this year, new electoral democracies included Antigua and Barbuda, Comoros, and Georgia.

Regional Trends
At year's end, the Middle East and North Africa continued to lag behind other world regions when overall levels of freedom are measured. In this region, only 1 country, Israel, is rated as Free, with 5 rated as Partly Free and 12 rated as Not Free. It is important to note that according to the survey's longstanding methodology, the rating for Israel only reflects events that occur within its territorial boundaries. The state of freedom in the Israeli Occupied Territories (and in areas formally administered under the Palestinian Authority) are rated separately, and both are rated Not Free given the significant human rights abuses and restrictions that are placed on Palestinian residents.

Comparable year-end figures for the Americas were 24 Free, 9 Partly Free, and 2 (Cuba and Haiti) Not Free countries. In Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, 12 countries were Free, 7 were Partly Free, and 8 were Not Free (all five of the countries of Central Asia are rated Not Free, with two--Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan--among the most repressive states in the world.) In the Asia-Pacific region, the survey found 17 countries are Free, 11 Partly Free, and 11 Not Free. In Sub-Saharan Africa, there were 11 Free, 21 Partly Free, and 16 Not Free states. And in Western Europe, 24 countries were rated Free; one country in the region, Turkey, was rated as Partly Free, although it made measurable strides in civil liberties this year, improving its score from 4 to 3.

Beyond these broad regional trends, in addition to the two countries (Antigua and Barbuda and Liberia) that registered status improvements in 2004, 24 countries showed numerical gains in freedom, although they were insufficient to produce a change in the overall freedom designation: Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Central African Republic, Comoros, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Estonia, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Hungary, Jordan, Malaysia, Mauritius, Morocco, Niger, Poland, Qatar, Slovakia, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, and Ukraine.

Meanwhile, in addition to a decline in freedom status in Russia, ten other countries experienced a decline in their numerical rankings that did not lead to a status change: Armenia, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Haiti, Lithuania, Malawi, Nepal, Romania, and Zimbabwe.

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