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Larry Diamond: Democracy in Decline - How Washington Can Reverse the Tide

By Larry Diamond 

Foreign Affairs l August, 2016 

In the decade following the Cold War, democracy flourished around the world as never before. In recent years, however, much of this progress has steadily eroded. Between 2000 and 2015, democracy broke down in 27 countries, among them Kenya, Russia, Thailand, and Turkey. Around the same time, several other global swing statescountries that, thanks to their large populations and economies, could have an outsize impact on the future of global democracyalso took a turn for the worse. In nearly half of them, political liberties, as measured by the U.S. nonprofit Freedom House, contracted.

Meanwhile, many existing authoritarian regimes have become even less open, transparent, and responsive to their citizens. They are silencing online dissent by censoring, regulating, and arresting those they perceive as threats. Many of them are attempting to control the Internet by passing laws, for example, that require foreign companies to store citizens data within the home countrys borders. Offline, states are also constraining civil society by restricting the ability of organizations to operate, communicate, and fundraise. Since 2012, governments across the globe have proposed or enacted more than 90 laws restricting freedom of association or assembly.

Adding to the problem, democracy itself seems to have lost its appeal. Many emerging democracies have failed to meet their citizens hopes for freedom, security, and economic growth, just as the worlds established democracies, including the United States, have grown increasingly dysfunctional. In China, meanwhile, decades of economic growth have proved that a state need not liberalize to generate prosperity.

Not all the trends are bad. Optimists can point to Nigeria, which in May 2015 experienced the first truly democratic transfer of powerfrom a defeated ruling party to the oppositionin its history, or to Sri Lanka, which returned to electoral democracy in January 2015 after five years of electoral autocracy. The first 

The next administration could take a number of steps to counter such charges and restore peoples confidence in American democracy. Working with Congress, it should reform campaign finance laws and require the rapid and full disclosure of all campaign contri_butions, even to so-called independent committees. It should also encourage state governments to invigorate political competitionfor example, by ending gerrymandering, introducing ranked-choice voting for Congress and state offices, and removing sore-loser laws, which prevent defeated primary candidates from running as indepen_dents in the general election.

Together, these steps could improve democracy in the United States and abroad at little to no financial cost. They could help restore the United States leadership role in the world. And they could tip the world out of its persistent democratic recession and into a new period of progress.

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