Ukraine's democracy score falls in annual Freedom House ranking, illiberalism on the rise in Europe

Ukraine's democracy score falls in annual Freedom House ranking, illiberalism on the rise in Europe
Illiberalism is on the rise across Europe and including in EU members
By bne IntelliNews April 12, 2018

Ukraine’s overall democracy score fell for the first time since the EuroMaidan revolution in the annual Freedom House ranking, due to overt attacks on civil society and NGOs by the government and its failure to launch a real anti-corruption drive despite western donors' insistence.

Ukraine's overall ranking dropped from 4.1 to 4.64 (7 is lowest). Two subratings dropped in particular: the civil society rating, from 2.50 to 2.75, and media independence from 4.00 to 4.25. Ukraine remains in the Partly Free category.

“With the Russian-led conflict in the east grinding on, Ukraine’s politicians are taking advantage of patriotic sentiment to attack NGOs and journalists, accusing them of undermining the war effort. Attacks on civil society and political opponents have sapped the momentum from the institutional reform process in Ukraine,” said Nate Schenkkan, project director that produced the “Nations in Transit 2018. Confronting Illiberalism” report.

Ukraine is not alone in backtracking. The report highlighted the worrying rise of illiberalism across Europe. Freedom House registered the broadest score declines in the project’s 23-year history: 19 of the 29 countries assessed had declines in their overall Democracy Scores and for the second year in a row, there are more Consolidated Authoritarian Regimes than Consolidated Democracies.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko continues to try consolidate power in the lead-up to the presidential and parliamentary elections in the face of his collapsing popularity in the polls, US-based non-governmental human rights watchdog said in its report.

“Although decentralisation reforms are continuing, other key priorities, including anticorruption efforts, have stalled. The window of opportunity has not closed in Ukraine, but it has shrunk. By accusing NGOs and journalists of antinational sentiment, politicians are attempting to exclude legitimate voices from public debate simply because they criticize the government,” Schenkkan added in a press release accompanying the report’s publication.

Freedom House's rating of Ukraine is 4.64 points out of the possible 7 (1=Most Democratic, 7=Least Democratic), thus, the country remained in the 'Partially Free' category.

"National governance remained static in 2017 as Ukraine continued to struggle with the major national reforms commenced in 2014. The country has made significant progress on many fronts, including the EU-Ukraine association agreement coming fully into force," the report reads.

However, the continuing conflict in the country’s east, political tensions in the parliament, oligarchic influence on politics, a decrease in popular support for the ruling coalition, and the complexity of the reform tasks ahead have slowed the overhaul of Ukraine’s national governance.

Freedom House also points out the increased political pressure on non-governmental organisations in Ukraine. "Ukrainian media outlets continued to be largely dependent on oligarchs during the year, and freedom of speech was restricted by government measures taken to combat Russian propaganda. Under the guise of fighting Russian influence and aggression, Ukraine continued to place restrictions on media outlets and the internet in 2017," the watchdog added.

According to the report, the recently established National Anticorruption Bureau (NABU) actively investigated high-level corruption, but poor case management and court procedures undermined the effectiveness of its work.

By the end of 2017, the agency had 410 cases under investigation, 141 people accused of corruption offenses, and 92 cases proceeding through the courts. Despite investigations revealing that more than UAH87bn ($3.27bn) was implicated in fraud, the head of NABU reported delays for approximately a third of the cases at trial.

Meanwhile, Ukraine's civil society, anticorruption investigation agencies, and international donors demanded the creation of a specialised anti-corruption court.

In December, President Poroshenko registered draft legislation mandating the creation of a High Anticorruption Court; however, the legislation was later criticised for being drafted behind closed doors with little civil society input, while the process of appointing judges to the court - without public oversight - was dismissed as not conducive to judicial independence.

The watchdog believes that the nation' governance will continue to be dominated by preparations for the 2019 parliamentary and presidential elections.

"Further, pressure on civil society and the opposition, as well as the government’s attempt to consolidate power, will most likely intensify in the run-up to the elections," the report reads. "Anti-corruption reform will most likely stall at the national level, and reformers’ main task will be preserving the current anti-corruption institutions."

The lack of concrete political will for a truly independent anticorruption court means that if legislation enabling the creation of such a body is adopted, it is not likely to be implemented in accordance with best international practices, Freedom House added.

Other national level reforms, such as decentralisation, health, and public administration, will continue with the support of the international community. "New legislation on the status and reintegration of the Donbas region in Ukraine’s east may lead to an escalation of the conflict with Russian proxies in the region and a review of the previous ceasefire agreement," the watchdog wrote in the report.

Illiberalism rising everywhere

Ukraine is not alone as Freedom House found illiberalism is on the rise across the entire Continent with the number of authoritarian regimes outnumber the number of fully formed democracies. And many of the countries in transition took steps backwards in the last year. Especially worrying is the decline in democractic values in Central Europe, which should benefit from restraints accruing from shared EU values and its institutions.

Amongst the stand out underperformers was Poland that recorded the largest category declines and the second-largest Democracy Score decline in the history of the report. The government’s takeover of the judicial system, politicization of public media, smear campaigns against nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and violations of ordinary parliamentary procedure have resulted in a dramatic decline in the quality of Polish democracy.

Likewise The rise of Hungarian president Viktor Orban has lead to the equally dramatic fall in that country’s democracy ranking: Hungary registered the largest cumulative decline in Nations in Transit history, as its score fell for the 10th consecutive year.

And the EU aspirations of Serbia might be in doubt after its score fell for the fourth year in a row, threatening its status as a “Semi-Consolidated Democracy,” thanks to the consolidation of power under President Aleksandar Vučić.

And Russia remained firmly in the consolidated authoritarian regime bracket after its score declined again from 6.57 to 6.61.

Encouragingly Russia’s civil Society rating actually improved a little from 6.50 to 6.25 due to the ability of opposition leader and anticorruption activist Aleksey Navalny to organize nationwide protests despite government efforts to quash his movement. However, Russia’s scores in the other subcategories all fell as president Vladimir Putin continues to maintain a headlock on the political process. 

The bright spots this year were Macedonia, Uzbekistan, and Estonia. A change of government in Macedonia in June brought a chance to reverse years of state capture and resolve disputes with neighbours. Uzbekistan’s modest thaw after the death of the president in August 2016 produced its first score improvements since 2005. Despite being already the best performer in the survey, Estonia’s score improved in three categories.

 

Freedom House: overall Democracy Score

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

Ukraine

4.39

4.39

4.61

4.82

4.86

4.93

4.75

4.68

4.61

4.64

Russia

6.11

6.14

6.18

6.18

6.21

6.29

6.46

6.5

6.57

6.61

Belarus

6.57

6.5

6.57

6.68

6.71

6.71

6.71

6.64

6.61

6.61

Armenia

5.39

5.39

5.43

5.39

5.36

5.36

5.36

5.36

5.39

5.43

Bulgaria

3.04

3.04

3.07

3.14

3.18

3.25

3.29

3.25

3.36

3.39

Croatia

3.71

3.71

3.64

3.61

3.61

3.68

3.68

3.68

3.71

3.75

Macedonia

3.86

3.79

3.82

3.89

3.93

4

4.07

4.29

4.43

4.36

Moldova

5.07

5.14

4.96

4.89

4.82

4.86

4.86

4.89

4.93

4.93

Montenegro

3.79

3.79

3.82

3.82

3.82

3.86

3.89

3.93

3.89

3.93

Romania

3.36

3.46

3.43

3.43

3.5

3.46

3.46

3.46

3.39

3.46

Serbia

3.79

3.71

3.64

3.64

3.64

3.64

3.68

3.75

3.82

3.96

Slovenia

1.93

1.93

1.93

1.89

1.89

1.93

1.93

2

2.04

2.07

Czechia

2.18

2.21

2.18

2.18

2.14

2.25

2.21

2.21

2.25

2.29

Estonia

1.93

1.96

1.93

1.93

1.96

1.96

1.96

1.93

1.93

1.82

Hungary

2.29

2.39

2.61

2.86

2.89

2.96

3.18

3.29

3.54

3.71

Latvia

2.18

2.18

2.14

2.11

2.07

2.07

2.07

2.07

2.04

2.07

Lithuania

2.29

2.25

2.25

2.29

2.32

2.36

2.36

2.32

2.32

2.36

Poland

2.25

2.32

2.21

2.14

2.18

2.18

2.21

2.32

2.57

2.89

Slovakia

2.46

2.68

2.54

2.5

2.57

2.61

2.64

2.61

2.61

2.61

Kazakhstan

6.32

6.43

6.43

6.54

6.57

6.61

6.61

6.61

6.64

6.71

Kyrgyzstan

6.04

6.21

6.11

6

5.96

5.89

5.93

5.89

6

6.07

Tajikistan

6.14

6.14

6.14

6.18

6.25

6.32

6.39

6.54

6.64

6.79

Turkmenistan

6.93

6.93

6.93

6.93

6.93

6.93

6.93

6.93

6.96

6.96

Uzbekistan

6.89

6.93

6.93

6.93

6.93

6.93

6.93

6.93

6.96

6.89

Azerbaijan

6.25

6.39

6.46

6.57

6.64

6.68

6.75

6.86

6.93

6.93

Georgia

4.93

4.93

4.86

4.82

4.75

4.68

4.64

4.61

4.61

4.68

source: Freedom House, Nations in Transit 2018

 

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