Freedom House’s annual nonpartisan report on the state of global democracy, Freedom in the World, had grim findings in its newly released 2018 version. According to the report, 2017 marked the “twelfth consecutive year of decline in global freedom” in which civil liberties and political rights eroded in multiple democracies, both young and old.
That said, the focus in this post will be highlighting the world’s top 10 strongest democracies, moving from last to first, based on various economic and social factors:
Uruguay is known for its strong record on legal equality and social tolerance of minority groups. It has a strong economy, an informed populace and a national identity based on democratic freedoms rather than ethnicity. It is also highly regarded for its notable lack of government corruption, an issue that has long plagued other democratic nations in South America.
Despite instances of corruption, Ireland has upheld its strong and stable democracy throughout the political turmoil of the past few years. Balanced and fair elections have maintained the country’s tradition of equal protections under the law, though Ireland could stand to dedicate more to foreign aid, giving just 0.33 percent of its Gross National Income (GNI) in 2016.
Notable as one of the only countries in the world to operate as a confederation, Switzerland follows a tradition of decentralizing power and allowing citizens to weigh in on government decisions through referendums, making the nation closer to a direct democracy than a representative one. Switzerland has a long history of civil rights and political liberties, having been a democratic nation since 1848.
A parliamentary representative democracy with open and fair elections, Denmark remained one of the world’s strongest democracies in 2017. Despite pressures following the 2015 migrant crisis, Denmark has maintained its core democratic structures. It has strong checks on power and corruption, a robust set of civil liberties for its citizens, and some of the most beautiful scenery in Europe.
Australia is widely recognized as a strong democratic system, with free and fair elections and a system of obligatory voting. The country encourages the sharing of powers, with a bicameral parliament designed to mitigate extreme divides between opposing views.
- New Zealand
A nation that contains immense and stunning scenery, New Zealand is perhaps best known for its appearances in the popular Lord of the Rings movies and its thriving tourist industry. But the nation also possesses a thriving democracy. With regular elections and a system of checks on governmental abuse of power, New Zealand remains a destination for those who wish to combine epic scenery with the modern attributes of a prospering democracy. Its only shortcomings relate to combatting global poverty, as the country contributed just 0.25 percent of its GNI to foreign aid in 2016 despite strong economic growth.
Competition between multiple parties with diverse views, along with deep respect for the law and a resulting lack of corruption, made Finland one of the best democracies in 2017. It boasts a free press and independent judiciary that respects the political rights of citizens. It is above average in terms of foreign aid contributions, contributing 0.44 percent of its GNI to foreign aid in 2016, but could still improve in this regard.
A country recognized by its broad social welfare system and vast landscapes, Canada remains an admirable democratic society. A strong electoral system combined with governmental respect for diverse opinions among citizens has led to a solid and functioning country. Canada could do better in foreign aid, however, contributing only 0.26 percent of its GNI to helping less fortunate nations in 2016.
A parliamentary monarchy with a robust and independent judiciary, Sweden remains one of the best multiparty political systems and one of the strongest democracies, incorporating the viewpoints of most members of society and benefitting from a respected judicial branch that largely upholds civil liberties. Sweden also contributes the most toward fighting global poverty among members of the United Nations, with 1.09 percent of its GNI going to foreign aid in 2016.
Despite the political and social turmoil that defined 2017, Norway preserved its status as one of the strongest democracies in the world. Norway sports strong protections for freedom of speech among its populace and has a civil society and independent media that is encouraged to critique the government and promote responsible behavior by public officials. Key to Norway’s success is its modest population, which makes it easier to represent all viewpoints in government and mitigate the societal divisions that plague larger countries. Norway also has done more than most democracies to address the issue of global poverty, contributing 1.1 percent of its GNI to foreign aid in 2016.
The Economist Intelligence Unit’s democracy index found in its July 2017 report that democracy was in retreat across the globe, including in the United States, which is considered one of the world’s oldest and strongest democracies. It is important to examine the strongest democracies in the modern world in order to study how they have maintained strong systems of civil and political liberties, as well as what they are doing to improve other nations’ economic well-beings, a key foundation for democratic stability.
– Shane Summers
Photo: Wikimedia Commons