Special Reports



This is the SEVENTEENTH 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 table with its subsidiary statistical tables. 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); many polemical, geopolitical 'special reports', plus five years worth of easily accessible archive material.

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

As Stalin is said to have observed “its not important who stands for elections – what matters is who counts the votes.” and recently his disciples in Zimbabwe, most of the FSU republics, and numerous other sovereign states have learned that lesson well!

This is misuse of democracy as a ‘cosmetic convenience.’ It has come to mean for objective commentators, that for nations outside established democratic practice and the rule of law, how many genuine impartial observers witness the events in all its key stages, and what is their judgement. In 2008, several of the FSU countries led by Russia are now concentrating on diminishing the role of the respected and experienced electoral observers from the OSCE, by substantially reducing their numbers that they will permit to attend. In Russia’s presidential election this year the 400 OSCE observers who were at their last major elections, were to be 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. 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. However, mighty Russia now ranks as 125th for democracy in the world, co-equal with Burundi, and that says it all.

But America too in its imperial mode, has used democracy as a cosmetic convenience, in a way they would never dare to, or dream of doing in their own country. This is what Ayad Allawi, Iraq’s Prime minister (2004-2005) has recently said about the elections forced on his country by the ‘international community’, despite leaders from all Iraq’s major parties asking for a delay of these elections. He says: “it was entirely predictable that as a result there would be the present paralysis that has affected the government in Baghdad and that the failure to move towards reconciliation and the continuing sectarian disputes, were the product of the senseless rush to hold national elections in January 2005”. 

The format chosen was, he says, a “misguided closed party list system. Rather than choosing a candidate, voters across the country chose from among rival lists backed and organised by the American nominated political parties. The system was entirely unsuitable given the security situation, the lack of accurate census figures, heavy intimidation from ethnic and religious militias, gross interventions by Iran, dismantled state institutions, and the use of religious symbols by parties to influence voters. Accordingly the vast majority of the electorate based their choices on sectarian and ethnic affiliations, not on genuine political platforms”.

In these circumstances it is clear that the Iraqi election was basically no more than a nationwide adult population census, as between’ parties’ of Sunni, Shia and Kurds, whose policies 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 sprang up like dragons teeth so quickly and already with ‘leaders,’ 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 leader was the Shiite Ayatollah Sistani, who would not engage with the American invaders at all. 

The urgency of rushing the election in 2005 related not so much to the Iraqi interest as to the 2004 US mid-term elections and the need for the White House to be able to brag about ‘creating a democracy’. The way this election was framed, regrettably guaranteed that secular parties would come nowhere, so as has happened, quarrelsome religious sects and political power have become contiguous. That is to be the way of the future for this benighted country.

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 and Algeria were both recent examples of such a stark choice. Iran's version of conducting elections is that all candidates in the ballot have to be pre-approved by the religious authority, (just as in the USSR all candidates had to be members of the Communist Party), and this religious authority answers only to other religious, and ultimately, (presumably at the end of time) to God. The criterion the ‘Guardians’ as they describe themselves, use is something they describe as ‘Religious Authority’’. If you don’t have it, forget it – and they decide!    

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 corrupts, but the more developed democracies have an even 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 the most mature democracies ensure that the administration of the electoral process is out of the control of party political officers. 

The 1999 US presidential elections in Florida in particular failed to meet these specifications, being under the ultimate control of a politically partisan governor, the brother no less, of one of the two competing presidential candidates. Since the outcome of the whole 2000 US national election pivoted on this one state's result, it is not surprising that there was widespread outrage at the scandalous way in which the electoral administrative procedures, before, during and after the election, seemed to be so grotesquely distorted in favour of the state governor's brother, who indeed won by this process. 

This election also raised serous questions over the separation of powers in the USA, between the Legislature, the Executive and the Courts of Justice, a separation long held to be a fundamental test of democracy. When this Florida election result was challenged at the level of the US Supreme Court, the politically-appointed highest justices in the land were seen to 'vote the party-line,' and support the candidate of the party that had nominated them to the bench. This whole sequence of events inevitably shocked America's friends and admirers, and sadly brought the US electoral, and inevitably its independent justice process, into disrepute, from which it has not yet recovered. 
A critical situation in this category is now ongoing in South Africa (see Public Corruption below)

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

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 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 and physical harm, then that person is living in a fear society.“[a reader pointed out that there are town squares like that in certain southern states of the USA].

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 "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.

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. There is a massive scandal ongoing in South Africa involving corruption charges against the suspended Vice-President, Jacob Zuma, who as the newly elected President of the ANC had otherwise every expectation of assuming the nation’s top job when the incumbent President M’Beki retires at the end of his term. Zuma is seeking to stop the trial, so now the separation of powers between the judiciary and the politicians in South Africa, acknowledged to be the continent’s leading nation (ranking 40 in our world tables), is itself on trial.  

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: Finland (1), Denmark (2), Sweden (3), New Zealand (4), Switzerland (5), Netherlands (6), Norway (7). Looking back to the turn of the millennium, indeed to our founding in 1997 eleven years ago, it was even then these same countries in a slightly different arrangement. Congratulations to the peoples and governments of all those enlightened countries. The very specific democratic criteria set out above are amply demonstrated in all of them. For most people who have ever visited them, these 'stats' will reflect the anecdotal experience of being there. They are mature democracies – the real thing. Visitors may indeed look on them as somewhere perhaps enviable for what they have achieved. Given their consistency of excellence they are because they exist perhaps, the very models that the world needs. 

Remarkably, and speaking to consistency, the top 25 nations in this survey retain their exact positions from our last 2007 audit. Then comes a dramatic plunge for disgraced Latvia from co-equal 27th down to 39, and out of the First Division to the Third. This was a matter of a drop in political rights due to a series of corruption-related scandals implicating high-level government officials.

The British Commonwealth scores well in Division 1, with New Zealand (4), Canada (8), Australia and United Kingdom jointly on (9). 

The top Africans are Mauritius (32) and Ghana (35), which have passed South Africa (40) and Botswana (41), with Namibia at (43).

Leading East Asia are Japan (30), South Korea (32), Taiwan (38). 

South and South East Asia has India up front at (47), Singapore (74) moving up from 77, Malaysia (82). Philippines (85) has dropped 17 places from (68), due to Political Rights being marked down as a result of serious high level corruption allegations, the pardon of former President Estrada, and a spike in political killings in the run-up to the 2007 legislative elections.    

Latin America has Chile (21) in the lead, with Uruguay hot on their heels at (22), Costa Rica (25) and Panama (37), all of these classed as full democracies.

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

Europe accounts for twenty three of the twenty nine 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 (50), in the Third Division and Bulgaria in the Second at (36), they are all in the first Division. 

Israel (31), 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. The prime minister here was 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 (81), Egypt (100), Saudi Arabia (119), Iraq (132). Syria is (138) as is also Iran. 

Two of the 'colour revolutionaries' both continue to do better than nearly all their FSU category but Georgia formerly 70 has dropped 16 places to (86) back to Division Four, due to a deterioration in political rights, whilst Ukraine now (69), has moved up two places. 

They had both previously moved up to Division Three from the ultimate democratic wastelands of Division 4. Ukraine are now better than halfway in the world rankings which apart from the Balts, is unique amongst FSU nations.

Of the three 'Baltics': Estonia (18) and Lithuania (25), seem firmly lodged in the First Division, whilst Latvia’s rating has collapsed back into Division Three as commented on above. It follows that these three are still the highest-ranking former Soviet republics - far ahead, as are Ukraine (69) and Georgia (86) - of their enforced former 'mother' Russia, itself way down at (125). The other FSU republics (ahead of Russia) are Mongolia, "the unofficial 16th FSU republic" at (52), Moldova (105) Armenia (103), Kyrgyzstan (116). Below Russia (125), further down the FSU component of the democracy table, come: Azerbaijan (128), Kazakhstan (132) also Tajikistan (132), Belarus (144), 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 (142), Zimbabwe (144) and Uzbekistan (148), Somalia (146). Turkmenistan way down at (149) has been under new management during 2007 but these 2008 figures reflect no change (note that the data was largely collected during 2007). As we have followed their story since in newnations.com, it does not look promising. But even worse than all of these, almost certainly, is North Korea. Although ranked as (75) this is an anomaly, 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 monthly 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 (144), is Europe's only 'last ten' listing. This former soviet republic excoriated as Europe's last dictatorship, plus Myanmar and Zimbabwe, make it onto 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 are Cuba, Iran 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 (119), 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, in fact we invite readers to make their own lists and send them to our blog: geopolemics.com.

With US foreign policy dominated by energy-security and anti-terrorism, it leaves democracy, human rights etc, a distant diplomatic prospect where tyrannical nations within two particular categories are concerned. Those that happen to be 'special cases' to the US, are either substantial contributors to the world's energy pool (excluding only Iran where the rift has lasted some 30 years) - or at some degree, military allies or hosts involved in US military 'global reach'. 

Division Four of our Democracy league table lists half of the world's nations, seventy-four of them, including by any criteria a large and easily identifiable selection of 'fear societies,' although there are some benign dictatorships. But there is certainly a way to go before Condi (or the rest of us), can or should  “rest”. 

This latest democracy audit tells that there are thirty seven down from thirty-eight, (down from forty countries in 2006), now listed in our First and Second Divisions, regarded therefore as unquestionably free. Not a lot in anybody's terms, only a quarter of the 150 states listed here, but happily we can report continuing progress. In the longer term we do observe upwards mobility. 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 nine. 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 (9), was then in the second division at (15), as was Germany (11)) - then 16th. In the case of the UK the big difference is the stabilisation of Northern Ireland, 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, together with a growing gap between government and governed. The United Kingdom (9) is capable of doing better, but is adversely affected on the press-freedom criterion by the lack of diversification of British media ownership, (the Murdoch group alone own some 40% of UK media) and the BBC, albeit benign by virtue of its charter, nevertheless is a large chunk of the UK media. 

MID-TABLE…and below
The Third Division lists thirty-eight countries comparing with the thirty eight 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 (53), 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 the most 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 nevertheless emerging….! Most have never had any tradition or experience of democracy and 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. It is grounds for optimism!

Division Four includes seventy-four nations, nearly a half of all those nations of the world with more than a million population. Many former communist - and all five of the continuing communist nations 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 (74) which may at last be ‘getting there,’ since it has gained seven places over the last year. This rich and almost totally corruption-free small state is literally an island of tranquillity, 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. Since 2007 the UAE improved 8 places to (77), like Singapore (74) very close to the tipping point separating Division Four from the rest. Kuwait also is better by 8 places at (80), Malaysia improved by 8 places to (82). Saudi Arabia remains at (119). Given 'the war on terror', it can be assumed that some of these will be unlikely to extend fully democratic rights to their citizens any time soon in today's circumstances, nor indeed within the near future, often for reasons to do with the survival of the ruling elites. Nevertheless 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 include in our individual World Audit Country Report pages) These include:The unique Amnesty on human rights; the truly excellent Freedom House covering political rights, press freedom and civil liberties; 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 nations 'in transition,' and a geopolitical overview we offer our own www.newnations.com

All of these, together with Transparency International, who have justly achieved recognition for their penetrating surveys of corruption, make life just a little less comfortable for the many major actors worldwide who are the power holders and beneficiaries of malfeasance. And for those far more 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 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 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 show 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 in 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 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 and democracy. 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 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.

Consulting the histories of many leading corruption-free countries might give an indication. My own country the UK an early democracy, was without question in earlier centuries corrupt across the board in public life, quite on a scale with many of today's worst offenders. But things started to radically improve with the advent and exercise of the electoral franchise, and the emergence of a genuinely free press, both in the 19th century. It seems that accountability had arrived! 

The statistics are not without their curiosities. A steady 8 of the top 10 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 that it has taken many centuries of gradual maturity for those nations that could do so, to fashion the numerous compromises to be made. That very process in an accelerated form could be seen to be at work in the late 20th century in Spain (19), a nation that earlier in that century saw more than its fair share of horrors in governance, before settling for a constitutional monarchy. It is 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 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 our 74 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 within the democratic process – the rest are more or less immovable except by the passage of time, or violent intervention. 

At this time, the 'accountability disparity' is wide indeed!

Clive Lindley - April 2008