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by Brandon Tupchong (7th grade)

Democracy. A form of government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

You might have heard in schools that democracies are free and fair, and in many countries that are run by democracies that is true. Unfortunately, in more countries it is not. The definition of democracy

is a form of government where the people, citizens, control the government. Sometimes they are represented by representatives (It’s in the name). Despite this being the basic definition of democracy, most countries around the world that claim to be democracies or republics truly aren’t.

In 2021, about 88 out of 177 documented countries held free and fair elections. This means that just over half of the countries of the world are somewhat democratic. The other 87 countries, which include countries like China and Russia and equal to about 67% of the world’s population, did not hold any free elections.

In fact, the most popular form of democracy in 2021 was a hybrid regime. A country that is run by a hybrid regime is when they hold elections, but they aren’t free nor fair and are rigged in favor of a certain candidate. 60 out of the 177 reported countries were considered hybrid regimes, which means that about 1/3rd of all countries fit into this category of supposed “democracy”.

If elections are rigged so heavily in favor of one candidate, it’s not really a democracy, it’s just a way

for dictators to pretend that they’ve been fairly elected into office by the people. If all of these countries are simply pretending to be democracies, then what makes a country truly democratic?

To help answer this question, we must look into successful democracies around the world. As a matter of fact, you are living in a fairly successful democracy at this moment! The United States of America’s form of government was always intended to be a democracy based on the principles of Roman democracy, which was created approximately 2300 years prior to the founding of the USA. Although the USA’s democratic government has hit a few bumps within its course, it has overall stayed true to its original form.

Many European countries have successful democracies, too, which is why you don’t hear much news about wars or conflicts going on in Europe. To see a true example of a democracy, we should visit Norway. The country performed outstandingly in nearly all areas of democracy. Norway consistently has free and fair elections, corruption is rare, the media isn’t censored, and civil rights and gender equality is protected. With a 9.75 rating on the 2021 Democracy Index, Norway has consistently topped the Index since 2011 as the most democratic nation in the world.

There are also many countries that have been transitioning from autocracy to democracy. The youngest democracy in the world is Burkina Faso, which held its first free and fair elections in 2015. Despite this, the country is still very undemocratic, although holding free and fair elections are one of the most important steps in the pursuit of democracy.

In Africa, many countries are corrupt and autocratic. There are a few exceptions to this though, the

most notable one being the case of Botswana. Being a country smack dab in between many dictatorships, Botswana’s leaders managed to navigate the country leaning towards the path of democracy. They used money earned from a well managed economy to help fuel the welfare of the people, instead of guzzling the funds for themselves. In 2021, Botswana was one of the only African countries to be considered a full democracy, which goes to show the positive consequences that the leaders brought to Botswana, the shining diamond of Africa.

Now that you have seen a few examples of successful democracies, now it is time to check out the opposite side of the spectrum. The weakest democracy in the world is Afghanistan, with a 0.32 rating on the Index, the lowest score ever recorded.

Many countries proclaim themselves as a “democratic state” yet they frequently score low on democracy indexes. As a matter of fact, countries with the word “democratic” in their official name on average tend to score lower than countries that don’t have “democratic” in their official name. Out of the eight countries that have democratic in the name, only three of them actually stay true to the word. One of the eight countries is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Some of you might know this country as North Korea, infamous for being one of the most authoritarian countries in the world.

The newest country in the world, South Sudan, isn’t even a stable country, let alone a democracy. South Sudan has spent all of its history in civil war and violence due to many opposing ethnic groups and political differences in one country. In its current state, it would take decades for the nation to become a semi functioning democracy. Countries like South Sudan are also known as a failed state, where the country’s government cannot function and control the nation anymore, and basic civil functions can’t be met. Unfortunately, most failed states stay unstable for the rest of their sovereignty.

There have been many leaders in history that have actually been democratically elected, but they turn out to be autocratic leaders and ruin their country. One of the biggest examples of this is Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.

Once upon a time, Venezuela was one of the richest democracies in the world due to its oil industry. Then, Hugo Chavez was elected president in 1998, and slowly turned Venezuela into a dictatorship. In 1999, Chavez held a referendum for a new constitution which gave more rights to the president. The public voted in favor of it, so it was instated. With this newfound power, Chavez removed the senate and gave even more constitutional power to the president, effectively setting up Venezuela to become a dictatorship.

When Chavez died on his 4th term in 2013, the vice president, Nicolas Maduro, stepped up into office. At the same time, oil prices started to drop. The production of oil was Venezuela’s biggest money maker by far, and the economy started to collapse due to the drop in oil prices. The country fell into a shortage of food and medicine, which then caused disease and malnutrition to ramp up. This all accumulated into nationwide protests in 2014, and again in 2017.

In 2019, after Maduro was re-sworn into office, the opposition party declared Juan Guaido as official president of Venezuela, which started a presidential crisis in the country that is still ruining the country to this day. The tragic tale of Venezuela shows how a once democratic country can slowly unravel into a failed dictatorship due to loopholes in the constitution. The thing is that Hugo Chavez was legally allowed to hold the referendum for a new constitution, it’s just that the people decided to vote in favor of it. If the people didn’t vote in favor of the new constitution, Venezuela might’ve not turned into the failed state it is today.

Since we have already seen successful and unsuccessful democracies in the modern world, we must look at the civilization of Athens, widely considered to be the first major democratic civilization in the world, to find out characteristics of the OG democracy.

In Athens, the criteria to become a citizen was to be a white Athenian landowning man over 18. This meant that only 20% of the population were considered citizens. Is Athens truly democratic? Not exactly. Even though Athens’ form of government was revolutionary for its time, if it were used today it would be considered restrictive and segregative. Despite this, many people hail and praise Athens for being the first democracy in the world.

If Athens can’t be called a real democracy due to it not being fully inclusive, then what can be objectively defined as the first true democracy in history that doesn’t restrict rights from certain people?

That honor can go to the Australian nation of New Zealand. In 1893, New Zealand was the first

country to remove gender and race requirements for participating in government, which means that it can be objectively defined as the first true democracy in history. This does not mean that New Zealand is perfect, though.

In the present day, there is still some discrimination against the native Maori people that inhabited New Zealand before Europeans arrived, although there have been reforms to bring the Maori people to justice. New Zealand is currently one of the most democratic and free nations in the world, and will continue to be a role model for a free and successful democracy.

After analyzing common traits between all democracies, good and bad, the base characteristic of democracy is to allow the common people to make decisions in society. This is what democracy is built upon, and is the foundation of any democracy as a whole. The people must also think before making decisions, too, because the example of Venezuela proved that it is possible to turn a once thriving country into a dictatorship through the citizens' poor decisions.

Applying the citizen’s vote into government is a different yet equally important issue. What’s the point of citizens voting when their votes won’t even matter who gets picked as leaders in the end? This is why countries such as Belarus, despite holding elections, aren't considered a democracy, as the votes of the people don’t really matter in the end since the same dictator. Alexander Lukashenko, gets elected into office through bribery and corruption.

After that, it’s now the leader who decides if the country will succeed or fail. An example of this is with the case of Botswana, good leaders created a successful country by using the money to support the country, not spending it on themselves. Leaders can dramatically change a country, for the better or for the worse. Corruption is a big influencer to democracy, too. Corrupt leaders can easily break a country and the previous leaders’ efforts in helping it. Corruption is also difficult to remove as it is hard to sniff out corrupt leaders.

Censoring the media and restricting freedom is also important to a democracy. Most countries around the world restrict the media in some way, although some countries restrict it more than others. For example, internet censorship in Turkey has gotten worse within the past few years, which in turn, has also affected its democracy score. Turkey is currently considered a hybrid regime, a downgrade from being a flawed democracy. The graph beside shows the backsliding of Turkey’s democracy in the past few years.

Last but certainly not least, civil rights are a very integral part of a successful democracy. New Zealand was the first to ban gender and race laws for running for government, and also granted universal suffrage. Norway has equal opportunities for both men and women of any race. Equality for everyone is a basic right which has only been granted within the last century. The world has slowly opened up to accepting everybody, although with a big emphasis on the slow part.

That concludes our search for the characteristics of a successful democracy. As the world goes on, countries transition from ideology to ideology. One thing that will remain certain is that democracy will live on for many more years to come.

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