Special Reports



This is the nineteenth world audit report of the millennium, in which we review the state of public corruption; current practice in human rights; political rights; free speech; and the overall state of the rule of law in 150 nations (all those exceeding one million population).

By reference to these, we compile the world democracy tables in four divisions. The first has 28 nations, one less than 2009 and this was ITALY whose Press freedom and corruption scores plummeted. The second division has eight nations with ITALY demoted to the second division (34th) and BULGARIA (45th) further demoted from division two to division Three.   The third division with BULGARIA joining now numbers thirty four, because PAPUA NEW GUINEA, NICARAGUA and COLUMBIA have all dropped down to the Fourth Division. The very long tail-end, the fourth Division at 80 counties has no promotions and now constitutes more than half of all the world’s nations of 1 million or more.

The subsidiary statistical tables include a table of world rankings on Press Freedom and another on Corruption In addition in the sidewalks we have mini-tables for nations that belong to Latin America; African Union; EU; ASEAN; APEC; Arab League; OECD; NATO; G8.

We recommend that readers check out our methodology (button on left hand sidewalk of democracy table) to make the most sense of these results and the commentary below. 

We also recommend readers who seek more in-depth, regular information, to our sister website,

www.newnations.com This offers updated monthly analytical reports currently for 45 'nations in transition' (emerging or submerging); plus monthly polemical, geopolitical 'special reports', all archived (since 2002). 

www.geopolemics.com is the u-tell-us blog for both newnations and worldaudit. ALL our reports go here.  It also lists all current newnations country reports often at a reduced length, as well as our ‘prescriptions’ relating to some of the wide spread of geopolitical analysis we offer. Feel free to comment


This survey is concerned only with the criteria of democracy as it relates to 150 nation states– all those with a population of more than a million. We define democracy as Human Rights; Political Rights; Free Speech; and the Absence of Corruption.

We have been conducting this survey since 1997 and numbers are adjusted during each year when new data become available.

Our World Democracy League tables explain our methodology. What follows is a commentary.

Middle east

For the second year running the key element in international affairs has been the new presidency in the United States. Not only was this president elected on the basis of being the best man for the job, but also on a program that gives new heart to those who despaired at a range of policies that the George W Bush administration implemented, or failed to implement. It is however the case that President Obama has yet to come to grips with the persistent problems of Israel

The longest outstanding of the problems he inherited is the Israel-Palestine conflict, for such it remains.

We are amongst those who believe that there will never be an end to the middle east tensions, the most incendiary of regions unless justice is done between Israel and Palestine as envisaged by the UN, when Israel was founded. The USA for six years of the GW Bush administration looked elsewhere whilst Sharon was the force in the land. US policy was effectively whatever Sharon wanted it to be! His mortal illness threw Israeli domestic politics, already as complex as any in the world, into a spin. It appears impossible to have a government which is not a coalition, usually including a religious party, whose agendas are something else again. 

The past year has not advanced the peacemaking process. Indeed it has taken some steps backwards with the appointment of Benjamin Netanyahu as Prime minister at the head inevitably, of a coalition government.

Now this is a PM who overtly is opposed to giving any concessions to the proponents of a separate Palestinian state. In a previous stint as PM in the nineteen nineties, he managed to sink the Oslo peace process.

The Turkish brokered peace talks that Netanyahu’s predecessor as prime minister was having with SYRIA, which addressed the problems of the Golan Heights, were quickly shut down by Netanyahu who has no intention of returning the Golan Heights to Syria. It appears that he will stall and stall, promise progress yet not deliver. until the US president is looking down the barrel of a gun called the US presidential re-election campaign. Then Netanyahu will have the mighty US Israeli lobby use its muscle to halt any progress that might have been made. But President Obama is still the repository of the hopes and ambitions of the world, as was reflected by the Norwegian Nobel Prize Committee awarding him the coveted Peace Prize. Perhaps in 2010 we will at last see substantial progress - but don’t hold your breath!

Our assessments only address a nations actions within its own frontiers, towards its own citizens, Israel is ranked 30th - easily the highest amongst its middle-eastern neighbours

Iraq remains a disaster area both for the US and even more for the long-suffering Iraqis. The point that doesn’t seem to have been widely understood in the USA is the one of its shattering illegitimacy. They went into the country as an invading army without UN sanction and have remained since as an occupying army. The invasion was based on entirely spurious false information about non-existent weapons systems. Additionally, the US government and its media allowed their citizens (and troops), to believe that it was Iraqi suicidal fanatics sent by Saddam, who used four hi-jacked US passenger aircraft to attack the US on 9/11. It was a frame-up! Fifteen of the nineteen fanatics that died that day were in fact citizens of Saudi Arabia, but (happily) no–one suggested taking revenge on them. The ‘after thought’ of a UN resolution on Iraq expired December 31st ’08, and now IRAQ is a sovereign state once more. In theory, US troops are now under Iraqi government orders – if you care to believe that, but at the least, IRAQ is now behaving like an independent nation!    However, by all democratic criteria, they are a disaster area. Voting is for party blocs, not individual candidates and therefore there is considerable corruption with unworthy people getting themselves onto a party list. 

It has been fifty years since unfortunate Iraq was last in a stable and peaceful situation. There may now be nearer to a million than a half-million deaths attributable to the chaos unleashed by the invasion by the time that the US forces leave, although the timing and manner of that leaving are still hot issues which won’t be finally settled until they go.  The political parties here are still religious-based (ethnic in the case of the Kurds). The Shia majority are split in different factions and just like the Sunni and the Kurds, share little sense of nationhood, but much concern for the economic interests of family, clan and tribe. Terrible acts of random violence are perpetrated, almost on a daily basis, usually by one religious sect against the ordinary folk of another. Al Qaeda which is ultra-orthodox Sunni, and appears to hate the Shia worse even than the occupying Americans, is still leaving a trail of explosive destruction, mostly now amongst civilians. Inevitably bombs being non-selective, both Shia and Sunni are being destroyed, which is causing some Sunni to turn against them. In the area of human rights, you shouldn’t expect to find ‘rights’ in Iraqi police stations, or prisons. The media is kept under state control. This it may be remembered, was, according to the mantra of the neocons of Washington, to be ‘a showcase for democracy’ in the middle east.

Iraq’s placing in this years democracy tables is an unsurprising 126th. Its corruption rank was 145th and Press Freedom 109th.          

in this past year has seen the ending of a threadbare semi-democratic regime, a kind of ‘conditional’ range of freedoms like the media (some people may be criticised and not others), but the overlay of religious monopoly has negated any democratic effect – citizens can vote for any candidate they like, but only the men approved by the senior priests can ever be candidates. It was analogous as a voting system to that of the former USSR where only communist party members could be candidates. However, in 2009 even that ceased to exist with the ‘establishment’ candidate, the existing President Ahmadinejad, becoming re-elected by blatant cheating and electoral fraud, together with violence perpetrated by the Republican Guard. So even that thin strand of semi-democracy is now a thing of the past. Iran has dropped five places to 143 in our current report, which says it all. What is exceptional is that Iran is not a raw, post-colonial political entity like most of the tail-enders in our league table who surround it, but an ancient nation, with many intelligent, hard working, and educated people, that being priest-ridden has just failed to progress for centuries.

The present problem that IRAN presents to the world, pivots on the fact that their government, who have signed the nuclear non- proliferation treaty, are nevertheless suspected of seeking to develop the capability of developing nuclear weapons, which they deny. We update on the political complexities of Iran each month in newnations.com and offer our ‘prescriptions’ in our blog, geopolemics.com  Economically, their petro-economy is suffering in terms of an oil price more than two thirds down from its peak in mid-2008 and is unable to refine its massive oil reserves into useable petroleum, which it consequently has to import for domestic road vehicles. Because of the unresolved nuclear story which is close to being a casus belli, IRAN may be expected to remain an international issue during the coming year.



Russia’s new president, Dimitri Medvedev was elected to that office to replace Vladimir Putin in an election where opposition was efficiently neutered into non-existence. Former President Putin stayed in government, stepping down to prime-minister, with his former aide Medvedev taking his place as the new president. It is worth observing that Putin certainly had it within his powers to obtain a constitutional amendment, enabling his term of eight consecutive years to be extended indefinitely, as many of the FSU presidents have done, but he chose not to do that. Russia has enjoyed great increases in wealth and some trickle-down has happened. With the dramatic drop in world energy prices Russia’s headlong rush to riches has been dramatically slowed down, indeed it’s petro-economy is in the doldrums, as a result of international and national circumstances. But it is positioned long term, to continue to be a major supplier to much of Eurasia, and is a major player in the politics of North, Central and to a lesser extent, East Asia. It along with the USA, remains the world’s biggest military nuclear power. There is still some tension about ICBMs but it is well short of a crisis.

Russia inevitably does badly in our democracy league tables, coming 134th out 150; 131st in Press freedom; 117th in Corruption, because it is demonstrably falling short by all those of our main criteria – corruption, political rights, human rights, freedom of the media, impartial justice. In short, Russia does not yet enjoy the rule of law. The new president on his inauguration talked of this significant deficiency and we hope he will be able to initiate a system, which starts to enjoy international respect, which is not currently the case.

In east Asia, North Korea continues to drag its feet – indeed there is no progress on democracy at all. The main world spotlight on the ‘hermit republic’ has been on their on-off dismantling or not, of their nuclear capability, although there has been some speculation on the leadership succession. This is since the current tyrant, seen through a thick security smokescreen, has for a while been seriously ill, now apparently recovered. As we enter 2010, this nuclear dismantling is still not “on” and diplomats of five other nations seek to resume the currently suspended negotiations.
It is literally “off the charts” for us since alone in the world it is a tightly closed nation, and it has not been possible to assess a corruption score. 

South Korea meanwhile,32nd out of 150, has joined Japan ( 29th) in our second division as an independent democratic country, as well as an economic powerhouse.

China at 121st has not behaved well in regard to its Tibetan minority, since it very successfully held the Olympic games in Beijing. It subsequently became abusive of the Tibetans, who principally are seeking educational and religious autonomy – not independence - which their leaders know full well is not possible. From a masterly handling of public relations around and before the Olympic games, the Chinese, after having achieved so much goodwill, relapsed into bullying mode, shrilly abusing the Tibetan spokesmen, presumably for domestic consumption, accusing the Tibetans of being ‘entirely’ responsible for the break-down in talks, but themselves keeping completely silent about what, if anything, they are prepared to concede?

The hypocrisy of this posture is that it was a revered modern Chinese statesman, who invented the brilliant and subtle concept of ‘one nation two-systems,’ which has been so successful in Hong Kong and Macao, and is on offer to Taiwan. A version of this would seem to be absolutely appropriate in the case of Tibet. China’s handling of the Olympics earned them admiration and respect, and no doubt reminded their ‘near abroad’ that they are the regional ‘heavyweight,’ but all such nations are also to a greater or lesser extent, concerned to see whether China can or will democratise, as their larger neighbours Japan and South Korea, have successfully done. There seems little evidence that they will. There is no evidence that it is on the future national agenda. What has impressed is on the other side of the coin, the efficiency and energy with which they shut down any public (including internet) expressions of dissatisfaction.  The spoiling tactics of their stance on the 2009 Copenhagen negotiations has lost them, throughout the world, a lot of ‘street-cred,’ and as the largest nation on earth by population, it certainly hasn’t advanced any ambitions they may have for world leadership.   

Africa remains the continent with the biggest democratic deficit
. For great swathes of Africa, the concept of nationhood has just not taken off, and power is used in the interests of tribe and family. Our democracy league tables show the abysmal performance of most African states (see the African Union sidebar listing 45 African states). South Africa which was initially the leader in the earlier democratic surge within the African continent, relapsed, as readers of our newnations monthly reports will have observed. It has been a sad and deteriorating story revolving around big time corruption, and the African ‘Big Man’ concept - of politicians being above the law, and the scramble for power. The monolithic ANC once a shining example of a liberation party with a ‘rainbow’ racial policy, was challenged by a breakaway from within its own ranks. which seemed like good news, because this offered choice to the overwhelming number of African voters who have such a strong emotional commitment to the historic ANC. But when it came to the electoral test they fell far short of their hopes. It remains to be seen what happens to democracy in South Africa. It is a clear example of a state dominated by a single political party, the ANC, where power really resides, which internally is undemocratic but exerts leverage on government ministers. Currently in the third division at 40th they once led democracy in Africa but now rank behind Mauritius (31), Ghana (33), Botswana (39). 

Zimbabwe (141) continues to confound all conventional precepts about the behaviour of nation states and here again the problem is with the personality of the country’s Big Man and his coterie of adherents that resist change, even though their country is well ‘down the tubes’, by most criteria.


Europe is easily the regional leader in democratic terms with 24 of the first 37 nations in our two top tables. Of these 37 nations, all designated as fully democratic, the Europeans in terms of human rights; political rights & media freedom achieve high scores. It is in the area of corruption that major weaknesses appear, Countries like Romania (51) and Bulgaria (45) are completely unhorsed by institutional corruption. Even Greece (35) has regrettable corruption scores. But by far the most alarming change this year was that of Italy which fell out of the First division to the Second from 29th, five places down to 34th.    It also dropped the same five places in its Press Freedom score now at 44th and in Corruption, now 46th. As a senior European Union state, this is alarming. Italy’s rating dropped because of the further concentration of media outlets under Prime Minister Berlusconi and the persistent interference by organised crime networks in the functioning of private businesses.

It was corruption which was the relative undoing of the UK (13) which sadly last year took a dive of 5 places, previously a distinguished (9th), largely due to the bribery surrounding billions of pounds worth of weapons exports to Saudi Arabia which the executive in the UK government had done its best to cover-up, but failed to achieve. The UK is a signatory to the OECD Anti-bribery Convention where nations explicitly agree to criminalise the bribery of any foreign public official. The UK has so far failed to reconcile its behaviour with its OECD membership, but we know of no plans to resign.

At least the UK starts 2010 having risen one place to joint 13th with Austria, which still keeps it ahead of the USA at 15th.  The US’s other key scores are 14th in Press freedom, and 16th in perceived Corruption.

Within Europe it is the Scandinavians that consistently do best by all criteria:

Denmark leads the world with Sweden 2nd and Finland 4th, the Swiss 5th, and Norway joint 6th  with the Dutch. This pre-eminence of northern European countries has been the case since our world audit surveys commenced in 1997. Since that time, the one consistently outstanding non-European (indeed as far away geographically as it is possible to be), is once again New Zealand, now 3d in the world. Congratulations to all of these outstanding democracies and their fortunate citizens.


                                      About Democracy and our Four Divisions

The opportunity to cast a vote is quite meaningless unless there are transparently honest elections, with genuine voter choice of parties and people. We are confident that all of the thirty six countries listed in our First and Second Divisions conduct themselves in that way. In the Third Division – thirty four countries, we do not generalise thus and of the eighty nations listed in our Fourth and last Division – that’s more than half the nations in the world - we would suggest that a few but no more than a handful of these conduct their electoral process on any such criteria, or even attempt to do so.

In January 2010 just thirty six nations out of one hundred and fifty in the world, are fully democratic. A further thirty four nations are perceived as making varying degrees of progress towards democracy. Yet eighty nations are not in the democratic category at all and most of these are outside the rule of law.     

It comes down to this question for nations outside the rule of law, those who hold elections for political office. Do genuine impartial observers witness the event in all its key stages, and what is their judgement?

In the recent past, several of the FSU countries led by Russia, all notably undemocratic, were diminishing the role of the respected and experienced electoral observers from the OSCE by substantially reducing the numbers that they would permit to attend. In Russia’s presidential election in 2008 the 400 OSCE observers who monitored theirprevious major elections, were to have been reduced down to the ludicrous number of 70. In this, the largest nation on earth, that is less than one each for the 89 federated republics and territories, some of them the size of France or Germany. Unsurprisingly the OSCE decided not to send any observers at all to give any assessment, and opted out of the whole shady business. However, mighty Russia now ranks as 134th for democracy in the world, and that says it all. 

The imprimatur of the OSCE cannot and should not be easily given if their reasonable judgement of what it would take to adequately monitor any national election is treated, as in this case, with scorn. Now that Kazakhstan (125th) has become for 2010, Chairman of the OSCE itself, friends of that institution are apprehensive that the former Soviet nation might damage the respect with which the independent OSCE has been held. 

But America too in its imperial mode, has used democracy as a cosmetic convenience. Leaving aside how the  votes were counted in Florida in the 2000 presidential election It is clear that the Iraqi elections under American tutelage were basically no more than a nationwide adult population census, as between ‘parties’ of Sunni, Shia and Kurds, whose policies at any time, were whatever their leaders said they were! They could be seen in practice to be about acquiring as big a slice of the national cake as possible for their religious / ethnic constituencies, with any Iraqi national interest far back down the line. 

Credulity is anyway strained to believe in these fully formed ‘political parties,’ that came in from exile in foreign parts with the invading army, already with their ‘leaders,’ in place, from the unpromising base of more than 40 years of ruthless, single party political monopoly by the Baath party that squelched all glimmerings of opposition! The one unquestioned Iraqi leader is the shi-ite Ayatollah al-Sistani, who would not engage with the American invaders at all, but neither would he become involved in politics. Another who had remained in Saddam’s Iraq, in danger of his life throughout, is the young shi-ite cleric and political leader Moqtada as Sadr, who has a mass following, is close to Iran and is seriously ambitious.  

The way the Iraqi election was framed, regrettably guaranteed that secular parties – and there are some- would come nowhere. So, as has happened, quarrelsome religious sects and political power have become contiguous. That is clearly to be the way of the future for this country as we fully expect to see in the elections in March 2010.

What kind of decision is possible for a democratic citizen, when the only available choice is between either a repressive military government, or a religious party seeking to turn the clock back to the seventh century? Egypt (95) and Algeria (99) were both fairly recent examples of such a stark choice. Iran's version of elections is that all candidates in the ballot have to be pre-approved by the religious ‘Guardians’ and this religious authority answers only to some other religious colleagues, and ultimately, (presumably at the end of time) to God? The criterion these ‘Guardians’ use is something they describe as ‘Religious Authority’’. If you don’t have it, forget it – and as to the count they would claim, as they did in 2009, “God decides” – and doesn’t allow recounts!

The political right to vote is only meaningful in transparently honest elections, with a genuine voter choice of parties and people. The stakes are obviously very high in national elections and at any level, power undoubtedly tends to corrupt. But the more developed democracies accept a higher duty to make certain that elections are fair, and honestly reflect the will of the people who have recorded their vote. We observe that most but not all mature democracies, ensure that the administration of the electoral process is out of the control of party political officers. 

The right to vote in a fair contest, with all safeguards in place is a pre-requisite of democracy
but in itself is only one component. Without the depth of the other key democratic criteria, as these examples illustrate, it is meaningless.

This is why ‘Democracy from the barrel of a gun’ is not achievable, but it was nevertheless the basic theory of the neocons - that military invasion should be followed by implementing an elected government and the rule of law.

The following tests should be applied to the example, say of Iraq (or anywhere), to determine the validity of the Neocon argument, which claimed to have turned Iraq into a democracy:- 

We argue that the essentials to create a platform for democratic choice are by implementing all of the following: 

Justice for all: uncontaminated by political or other special interests, clan loyalties or bribes; with judges at all levels independent of the nation's executive arm. 

Freedom of Speech: as exemplified by media activities - and we value Nathan Sharansky's town-square test proposed by Condi Rice as a meaningful test of free speech. "If a person cannot walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment or physical harm, then that person is living in a ‘fear society’.“

Human Rights: expressed by the absence of arbitrary arrest and confinement; the superiority of due process, the illegality of torture - and to avoid semantic hair-splitting, similar abusive "maltreatment". 

Public Corruption: most nations have laws against corruption but only in genuine democracies are these enforced against the bigger players - and not always then! This was shown by the recent British example of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which had an investigation of big-time corruption arbitrarily shut down by UK government fiat. Arms sales around the world have probably accounted for more bribery in more countries, than any other kind of international transaction – and that probably will continue in the future . Additionally, the lawmakers and relevant decision-makers of all of the major western democracies that sustain armaments industries, are subject to the attentions of 'lobbyists', whose stock in trade is to offer a variety of inducements for public money to be spent with their arms industry clients

We assert that the term democracy is abused and improperly used, unless obligatory high standards are at least the objectives genuinely striven for, and that nations so described can be seen to make a clear effort to achieve these interlocking institutions of democracy. 

By way of illustration, all of the above key democratic criteria are brilliantly exemplified in the nations that habitually lead this democracy table. 

The top nations in this survey, with little to choose between them, remain: Denmark (1), Sweden (2), New Zealand (3), Finland (4), Switzerland (5), Netherlands (6), Norway (6). Looking back to the turn of the millennium, indeed to our founding in 1997 twelve years ago, the leaders even then were these same countries in a slightly different arrangement. The very specific democratic criteria set out above are amply demonstrated in all of them. Most people who have visited any of them would probably agree that these 'stats' will reflect the anecdotal experience of being there. They are mature democracies – the real thing!

Visitors may indeed look on them as countries enviable for what they have achieved. Given their consistency of excellence they are, because they exist, perhaps the very models that the world needs. 

The top 28 nations in this survey (our First division) is one less than 2009 having lost Italy now 34th, to Division 2. UK’s last year’s drop from 9th to 14th place, has improved now to 13th.

Ireland has climbed from 11th to 9th co-equal with Australia.  Germany 11th, Belgium 12th and Austria at 13th. Uruguay have become the top Latin American at 20th

The USA remains at 15th  at the end of President Obama’s first year, the same as George W Bush in his final year.

The British Commonwealth excluding UK, scores well in Division 1, with New Zealand (3), Canada (8), Australia (9)  

The Second Division of eight, all regarded as fully democratic, includes demoted Italy (34), but lost Bulgaria (45), dropped to Division Three. It includes the top two Africans, Mauritius (31) and Ghana (33), and the top two Asians, Japan (29), and South Korea (32), with Taiwan top of Division Three at (37). 

The leading Africans are Mauritius (31), and Ghana (33), which have passed Botswana (39), South Africa (40). with Namibia close at (41).

Leading East Asia are Japan (29), South Korea (32), Taiwan (37). 

South and South East Asia has Third Division India up front at (47), with Singapore improved by three places at (71) now leading Division Four.

Latin America has Uruguay in front at (20), Chile just behind at (21) Costa Rica (23) all first Division, and Panama (36) - all of these classed as full democracies.

North America reads: Canada (8), USA (15), and Mexico (63). 

Europe accounts for twenty one of the twenty eight in Division 1; and in Division 2, two out of eight 

Of the European Union’s twenty seven members, Luxemburg, Malta and Cyprus are beneath the one million population threshold for this survey. With the exception of Romania (51), in the Third Division and Bulgaria also in the Third at (45), the EU members are all in the first Division

Israel (30), whatever it may or may not do to its near neighbours, has in terms of its own democratic criteria justified remaining in the second division, which puts it at the top of middle-eastern nations. A previous prime minister here was, whilst in office, openly the subject of a criminal investigation, which is an event that everyone knows just would not happen in a non-democratic nation. In the context of Israel's neighbours and regional adversaries excluding the beleaguered Palestinians, the Jordanians are at (77), Egypt (95), Saudi Arabia (108), Iraq (126). Syria is (132) Iran has dropped five places to (143). 


Two of the 'colour revolutionaries' both continue to do better than nearly all their FSU category but Georgia (81) is back to Division Four due to a deterioration in political rights, whilst Ukraine is (68) in the Third. 

They had both previously moved up to Division Three from the ultimate democratic wastelands of Division Four. Ukraine is now slightly better than halfway in the world rankings, which apart from the Balts and Mongolia, is unique amongst FSU nations.

Of the three 'Baltics': Estonia (16) and Lithuania (24), seem firmly lodged in the First Division, whilst Latvia’s Third division rating is (38) within clear sight of Division Two. It follows that these three are still the highest-ranking former Soviet republics - far ahead, as are Ukraine (68) and Georgia (81) - of their enforced former 'mother' Russia. The other FSU republics (ahead of Russia) are Mongolia, "the unofficial 16th FSU republic" at (57), Moldova (99) Armenia (113), Kazakhstan (125), Kyrgyzstan (128), Azerbaijan (130), which are all above Russia  Below Russia, which is now co-equal with Tajikistan at (134), further down the FSU component of the democracy table, are: Belarus (143), Uzbekistan (148), Turkmenistan (149). 

At the far end of the 'league tables', few will be surprised to see that out of the 150 total, bringing up the rear amongst others are Myanmar (150) and Libya (146) supposedly ‘reformed’ – but with a way to go. Sudan (140), Zimbabwe (141) and Uzbekistan (148), Somalia (147). Turkmenistan way down at (149) has been under new management since 2007, but these 2010 figures reflect no democratic change). As we continue to follow their story in newnations.com, it does not look promising.

But even worse than all of these, almost certainly, is North Korea. It cannot be’ ranked’ because it is a society not so much closed as sealed. So much so, that it has not been possible to rate them for corruption. Apart from the UN whose primary function there is the distribution of food aid, there are only a few embassies and we know of no other permanent international representations, nor are there foreign businesses ‘in country’ – some of the necessary prerequisites of scoring corruption. We have no doubts however that they are amongst the most corrupt nations that we list. It could be said without exaggeration, that to have a Macao bank account is almost a badge of rank in the nation’s hierarchy. We have long reported this country each month in newnations.com (all currently available or in the archives), so our judgement below, albeit not a statistical one, is this: 

We have to stick with our methodology and so suggest that North Korea be regarded as the ‘unofficial’ least democratic nation in the world.     

Belarus now at (143), is Europe's only 'last ten' listing. This former soviet republic excoriated as Europe's last dictatorship, plus Myanmar (150) and Zimbabwe (141), made it onto former Secretary of State Condaleezza Rice's list of 'outposts of tyranny'. at her Senate confirmation hearings in January '05, when naming her six 'outposts of tyranny' - (the others were Cuba (123), Iran (143) and North Korea (*)she said: "we cannot rest until every person living in a fear society has won their freedom." Of course oil politics prevented her from naming the likes of Saudi Arabia (108), and at that time Uzbekistan (148) hosted a US military base - but no more. It would be simple without Foggy Bottom’s many diplomatic constraints, to run up a list of twice or more her number of ‘fear societies. Division Four of our Democracy league table now lists for the first time, more than half of the world's nations, eighty of them, including by any criteria a large and easily identifiable selection of 'fear societies,' although there are certainly some benign dictatorships. 


As recently as the beginning of the century, back in 2001, there were then only fourteen nations in the First Division, now it is twenty eight. The Second Division, just five years ago numbered twenty-two, but now stands at eight, mostly looking capable of promotion. 

More comparisons with 2001 show that UK (13), was then top in the second division at (15), as also was Germany (11) - then 16th, but at that time USA (15) was ahead of all the larger countries, standing in 2001 at (11). That of course was before the post 9/11 changes in civil society and big unresolved questions about human rights and press freedom.

MID-TABLE…and below
The Third Division lists thirty four countries comparing with the thirty six of the first two divisions, which are held to be unquestionably free. Third Division countries in our reckoning are on the cusp - 'free'… but! It is a qualified freedom that is fragile, limited perhaps by the inefficiencies of sheer size and underdevelopment like Brazil (50), where in places serfdom still exists, and the rule of law is not universal. India (47) is in many ways admirable for having, not without flaws, maintained its elective democracy and independent justice system, but it is also where horrendous religious riots have frequently broken out, and where rule at provincial and local levels is in some places in the hands of gangsters. Many of the nations listed in this division appear to be emerging from the direst poverty, but are nevertheless emerging….! Most have never had any tradition or experience of democracy, others seem to be achieving this incrementally. Nations at the top end of this group are obviously getting a lot of necessary things right, so that the goal of unqualified freedom and justice for ALL of their citizens, is now at least within reach. These are grounds for optimism! But at the other end, since last year Papua New Guinea dropped out by twenty places to (74) into the Fourth division. This dramatic drop stemmed from the government’s continuing failure to address increasingly widespread instances of corruption and top level official abuse of power. Nicaragua (82) Columbia (86) also fell to Division four

Division Four is now up to eighty nations, well over a half of all those nations of the world with more than a million population. Most former communist-and all five continuing communist nations (China (121), Vietnam (131), Laos (141), Cuba (123), North Korea (*) ) are here - also most of the African and Arab states. There are few if any disappointments in expectations, except the usual one for us, Singapore improved to (71) is now leading Division Four, therefore easily capable of promotion to the semi-democratic category of Division Three. This rich and almost totally corruption-free small state is literally an island of tranquility, a safe and stable society with many admirable facets. It has a good sense of civic duty and played an outstandingly generous role helping its neighbours during the regional Tsunami crisis. Yet, the political process is deeply flawed, when measured by the same democratic criteria applied to all the nations in our survey. Opposition politicians get short shrift in numerous underhand ways and the media is a state ‘poodle’, largely self-censoring, but apt to be punished by losing government advertising income if they step out of line. These two factors are the antithesis of democracy, which accounts for the low marking. It has been described as a benign dictatorship, not that of an individual but of a party. It is all the more puzzling because for historical and ethnic reasons, the government party is monolithic, does an excellent managerial job and is never likely to be seriously challenged in elections. It is hard to see now that the cold war is over, why they feel they need to maintain these negative features, in an otherwise admirable society. In the jargon - why don't they loosen up? This is not at all an evil society and really does not belong in the company of many of the delinquents in this division. 

There are a massive amount of the world's states, many listed here, where life is not only blighted by poverty but also by the misery caused by political cliques arrogating all power to themselves and exploiting the rest of the citizenry, 'to the last squeeze'. Slavery still exists, as UN reports tell us. The unacceptable treatment of women as fundamentally inferior, unequal before the law - based on 'tradition', 'religion,' or other codes invented by men, are normally, if not exclusively to be found in this lower half of the table. Democracy really cannot just be a male preserve in the 21st century. Sadly, just as some economies are not emerging, but in truth submerging, many states are politically not in transition at all, but rigidly in stasis where power holding is concerned.

There are prosperous, rich, and very rich states here. The UAE at (73), like Singapore (71) is now very close to the tipping point separating Division Four from the rest. Kuwait at (77), Malaysia (82) have been moving up. Saudi Arabia is at (108). If they would separate the powers of the courts from the administration, allow for an early version of a free press, grant basic civil and human rights, then they would quickly advance up these Democracy tables, even without an unimpaired free vote. 

The statistics in our tables tell the barebones story, (necessarily this is amplified by the well informed individual national reports of the major NGO's that we feature in our individual World Audit Country Report pages) These include: the truly excellent pioneer of American NGO’s, Freedom House, covering political rights, press freedom and civil liberties - a main source of our data; Transparency International – THE world authority on corruption and another leading author of our data; The unique Amnesty on human rights; the International Commission of Jurists, with their 'Attacks on Justice'; and the invaluable Human Rights Watch - right there and ready to speak out on just about every case that matters. For monthly analytical reports on some forty nations 'in transition,' and a current updated geopolitical overview, we offer our own www.newnations.com

All of these NGOs, make life just a little less comfortable for the many major actors worldwide who are the power holders and beneficiaries of malfeasance. For those numerous observers that would prefer not to see, it becomes less easy just to look away. Many of the perpetrators are certainly beyond shaming, but they and their families and cronies sometimes go out well-funded into the wider world, and given the power they control in their own countries, they seek amongst other things, 'respect'. The world should know at least who and what they are, and offer to each exactly that degree of 'respect', which they deserve. . 

Our Democracy league tables also include sidebar mini-tables extrapolating the statistics of member states from the EU; NATO; OECD; G8; ASEAN; APEC; AFRICAN UNION; ARAB LEAGUE; and the nations of LATIN AMERICA. They illustrate the great wildernesses of democratic deficit, as well as the regional connection between economic success and thriving democracy. 

The league table of the Index of Economic Freedom is included on this site but not factored into the divisional rankings, because, although we are clear that it is not unrelated, it cannot 'per se' be a measurement of democracy. That we perceive to be assessed in terms of human rights, political rights, corruption and free speech.

In our economic groupings, alongside the democracy statistical table, the EU, OECD, G8, ASEAN, APEC, as with the Index of Economic Freedoms - and check out our two top divisions - it jumps off the screen that strong economies are good for democracy and vice-versa
.  Similarly, the absence of public corruption, as demonstrated by Transparency International, seems an essential precondition for economic success within democracies.

What is not yet clear is the question as to whether the economy of a country needs to first be successful enough to pay it's public servants properly, and thus avoid the most obvious cause of corruption - officials arbitrarily helping themselves? Or, does it just come down to a matter of honest leadership and draconian penalties for all ranks of corrupt transgressors, eventually leading to the sunlit uplands of national prosperity? 

However that might be, it would be a myopic individual indeed who could not see relevance across the majority of nations, between advanced or retarded economies, and the equivalent in democracies. The extreme strain which many economies are now experiencing, is hardly likely to advance the cause of democracy. We have to hope it doesn’t set back the progress that has been made.     

The statistics are not without their curiosities. Eight of the world’s top twelve nations are constitutional monarchies even if some only technically so, from which it might be deduced that this is the most successful democratic model yet devised by man? In fact, on reflection, one may observe from the history books that it has taken many centuries of gradual maturity for those nations that could do so, to fashion the numerous compromises to be made. Yet that very process in an accelerated form could be seen to be successfully at work in the late 20th century in Spain (22) a nation that earlier in the 20th century saw more than its fair share of horrors, before settling for a constitutional monarchy. The phenomenon may be worth studying because of its demonstrated success in the ‘old countries’, partly for the ‘grand compromise’ that includes allowing the hereditary principle to determine the nominal Head of State, a critical factor of which is that "everybody knows” that there are checks and balances, to ensure that substantive power remains vested in the people and their elected representatives. 

It seems clear that the essential part of any established democracy is the concept of 'accountability' - the chance for citizens to dismiss their government if they fail adequately to perform, or to 'behave'. Europe, which contains many nation states of differing sizes and has by far the largest proportion of democracies, witnesses annually the holding of many free elections. It surprises nobody when a change of government is the outcome. 

By contrast with most of the eighty Division Four countries, what would really surprise (and delight), would be ANY genuinely free and fair election, certified as such by respected independent international monitors - let alone a resulting change of regime. 

The ultimate test of genuine accountability is the ability if needs be, for the citizens of any country "to throw the rascals out
." Apart from regular statutory elections in parliamentary systems, this at the extreme can be brought about by votes of "no confidence". In a fixed term presidency, only impeachment can seemingly achieve that objective.
But to keep matters in perspective, only about half of the world’s national rulers are even within the democratic process – the rest are more or less immovable, except by the passage of time, or violent intervention.

Clive Lindley - January 2010