Democracy Report


As in previous years, the BTI 2022 has identified considerable regression worldwide with regard to transformation processes. The guiding principles of democracy and the market economy have been subjected to intense pressure and are being challenged by corrupt elites, illiberal populism and authoritarian rule. For the first time, the Transformation Index lists more authoritarian states than democratic states. At no time in the last 20 years has the BTI assessed levels of socioeconomic development and economic performance as being so low. The quality of government performance has also continued to decline, particularly with respect to the consensus-related aspects of governance.

While this new low results in part from the coronavirus crisis affecting the entire world, it also represents a continuation of long-standing global trends. Due to the high number of infections and deaths around the world, the severe strain on health care systems and national budgets, and the additional challenges to good governance, the COVID-19 pandemic has represented an extreme stress test and left an indelible mark on the second half of the review period.

All BTI Dimensions at a low point | Average scores of 128 countries, BTI 2012-2022

In response to the pandemic, nearly all countries restricted fundamental democratic rights, and most had to make elemental adaptations to their governance mechanisms as a part of their crisis management policies. Although to a much lesser extent than initially feared, measures intended to limit the spread of the virus – such as bans on public assemblies, controls on information, or the assumption of emergency powers – have in some cases provided autocracies, in particular, with a welcome pretext for curtailing civil liberties further and concentrating power in the executive. The BTI’s individual country reports also show that pre-existing governance deficits led to poor crisis management as governments sought to respond to the pandemic.

In this regard, the pandemic-related setbacks have only reinforced the previous decade’s negative developments and problems. While these current declines in political transformation (globally, an average decline of 0.13 points on the 10-point BTI scale) are not insignificant given the high level of aggregation, they are not in themselves dire. Rather, their alarming character comes from the fact that they are only the latest dip in a persistently downward course marked by steadily growing polarization and repression.

The erosion of democracy continues

The scale of this continuing deterioration can be seen in the progressive erosion of the quality of democracy in many countries. The ongoing curtailment of political freedoms and the undermining of rule-of-law standards represent genuine societal setbacks, but they also make it more difficult for positive corrections to be made. By deliberately weakening the separation of powers and reducing the scope for political activity, democratically elected heads of government with authoritarian tendencies are better able to hold on to power. Conversely, opposition parties, minorities and civil society groups critical of the regime in power have less breathing room and fewer institutional safeguards available for redemocratization efforts. The path along this slippery slope often begins with an insufficiently consolidated rule of law. Once set in motion in this way, the erosion of democracy has often proved hard to reverse.

Over the past decade, nearly one in five democracies has experienced a steady decline in its quality of democracy. This group even encompasses countries that were still classified as stable democracies in consolidation in the BTI 2012, including Brazil, Bulgaria, Hungary, India and Serbia. Since the middle of the last decade, Poland has been in this group, as well. These six countries have all lost more than a full point on the overall 10-point BTI political transformation scale and are now classified as defective democracies. In terms of the party-political spectrum, their governments range from conservative to nationalist and are right-wing populist to varying degrees.

The populist claim to be the sole representative of the people inevitably entails a delegitimization of any opposition. The narrative invoked by this kind of rule therefore requires that populists deliberately set themselves apart from former elites, and it often presupposes discrimination against ethnic or cultural minorities as well as the intent to polarize society. The Hungarian model pursued since the 2010s has demonstrated the authoritarian and avowedly illiberal consequences of this kind of confrontational policy, which is designed to strengthen the executive. In order to implement without hindrance the will of the people – as defined by policymakers themselves – Hungary’s government has systematically weakened independent oversight bodies, such as the judiciary and other regulatory authorities. At the same time, it has infringed on opposition forces’ freedom of expression and suppressed political participation by enacting a restrictive press law, centralizing and exerting control over the media, and limiting the right to demonstrate, the freedom of association, and the fairness of elections. Amendments permanently enshrining aspects of the ruling party’s policies in the constitution have rounded off this authoritarian drift.

In East-Central and Southeast Europe, Serbia and Bulgaria suffered the greatest declines during the current assessment period with regard to political transformation owing to a further weakening of the separation of powers and the lack of protection afforded to democratic institutions. In Serbia, parliamentary, provincial and local elections held in 2020 were marked by numerous irregularities, while the risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic were high and turnout rates correspondingly low. Since the main opposition parties boycotted the elections, Serbia has a parliament without a real opposition for the first time in its democratic history. In Bulgaria, the government inhibited the freedom of association, especially for the Macedonian minority. Moreover, the separation of powers was undermined in part by a politicized judiciary that failed to punish abuse of office consistently. Hungary, with its further curtailments of political participation rights, and Poland, with its increasing erosion of the rule of law, have continued their authoritarian drift. Passed in March 2020, the Hungarian law establishing a state of emergency in response to the spread of COVID-19 allowed for governance by decree without parliamentary approval. In so doing, it was probably the most extreme example among the democracies of an executive exploiting the pandemic to concentrate power further in itself.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s aggressive right-wing populism has perpetuated the political polarization that has defined the country in recent years. The president has sought to reverse past emancipatory and social-policy advances in the interests of his clientele of evangelicals, social conservatives and business lobbyists. While Bolsonaro’s overtly anti-democratic aspirations have been kept within bounds by an independent judiciary and a strong civil society, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has in contrast been able to pursue his Hindu nationalist course relatively unhindered, resulting in a deterioration of 0.95 points relative to the BTI 2020, the largest such decline in the current edition. According to the BTI country report, India’s democracy currently stands at a tipping point. Modi’s re-election in 2019 gave his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) an absolute majority of seats in India’s lower house of parliament. Since then, the country’s Muslim minority has faced increasing marginalization and discrimination, and the government has acted to stifle dissent and criticism while further curtailing press freedom.

There has been no positive counterweight over the last 10 years to the clear downward political trend shown by democracies formerly in consolidation. In the last decade, only one country, Bhutan (+2.25), has shown a continuous and clear upward political trend, as was recently reflected in a peaceful change of governing party following its democratization. With a score of 7.05, it has now reached the same level of political transformation as Brazil, though it still remains a defective democracy. The same is true of the other three countries – Armenia (+1.50), Sri Lanka (+1.37) and Tunisia (+2.70) – that have undergone a lasting regime change from autocracy to democracy within the last 10 years and consequently also rank among the decade’s biggest gainers. Moreover, the quality of democracy in these latter three countries has again declined somewhat over the past two years. In Armenia, this was due to war-related restrictions on press freedom; in Sri Lanka, to a strengthening of the ethno-nationalist executive at the expense of the separation of powers; and, in Tunisia, to a state of emergency decreed by the president in the summer of 2021 (i.e., after the end of the review period) that at least temporarily disempowered the parliament.

None of the developments in these countries are irreversible, and countries such as Ghana and Romania have shown that temporary slumps in democratic quality can be followed by renewed phases of consolidation. Bulgaria, for example, elected a new government after the end of the review period to replace a corrupt conservative government that had been isolated after mass protests. The new government committed itself to social reforms and a strict anti-corruption policy.

It is also worth noting that 14 democracies have been consistently classified as consolidating and stable over the past 20 year in addition to being able to maintain their high level of democracy despite myriad transformation challenges. This group includes: Botswana and Mauritius in Africa; South Korea and Taiwan in Asia; Chile, Costa Rica and Uruguay in Latin America; Jamaica in the Caribbean; and, finally, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia in Europe.

Nevertheless, both the short- and long-term trends are negative even when looking solely at the more advanced democracies, and both become even more pronounced when the defective democracies are also factored in, many of which have ended up under authoritarian rule after a long downward trend. Of the 39 defective democracies listed by the BTI a decade ago, more than a third are classified in the BTI 2022 as highly defective democracies or moderate autocracies. Niger (–0.70 in comparison to the BTI 2012) is representative of a number of African states that have had to cope with exceptionally difficult transformation challenges, such as extreme poverty, rapid population growth, a sharp rise in the incidence of natural disasters and extreme weather events, and intensifying ethno-religious conflicts. Political participation rights in Niger have been severely curtailed by authoritarian backsliding over the past decade. Nevertheless, unlike many states in its regional neighborhood, the country has managed to maintain at least a highly defective democratic system and seen fairly peaceful transfers of power following elections. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Lebanon (– 0.80 points each), Mexico and the Philippines (–1.00 each) also fall into the category of highly defective democracies. In Bosnia and Herzegovina and Lebanon, institutional blockades have resulted from an intra-elite struggle over the distribution of sinecures and political influence. In Mexico and the Philippines, organized drug crime and the exceedingly brutal fight against gang activities have undermined the quality of democracy, especially the freedoms of assembly and the press. In both countries, the separation of powers has been impaired by a concentration of power in the executive branch.

Rising number of autocracies

Nine defective and six highly defective democracies have undergone such pronounced regressive tendencies over the last decade that they must now be classified as moderate autocracies. Turkey, which was classified as an autocracy for the first time in the BTI 2020, can be regarded as prototypical of this decline. At the beginning of the last decade, the country was still being lauded as a positive example of the compatibility of Islamism and democracy, and it had distinguished itself with continuously rising rule-of-law standards, particularly with regard to the separation of powers. However, beginning in 2013, the AKP-led government under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reacted sensitively and with mounting repression to civil society criticism of Erdoğan’s increasingly patriarchal leadership style and the country’s creeping Islamization. The failed coup attempt of 2016 was then used to legitimize the transformation into a presidential republic, a shift that undermined the separation of powers and severely curtailed a significant body of political participation rights. Over the last two years, following the lifting of the state of emergency, a number of the decrees restricting fundamental rights and granting extraordinary powers to the executive have been incorporated into regular law. President Erdoğan has exploited a populist nationalism to polarize the country and inflamed sentiment against the Kurdish minority, in particular, but also against secular reform forces. With a decline of 2.85 points, Turkey’s overall political transformation score has fallen further than that of any other country surveyed in the BTI over the last 10 years.

The regional focal points of these long-term autocratization trends are in Central America, which is plagued by corruption and drug-related crime, and sub-Saharan Africa, which is politically unstable and faces major obstacles to transformation. In Central America, corrupt and status-securing elites in Guatemala (–1.45 over the last decade), Honduras (–1.98) and Nicaragua (–2.10) continued to dismantle the last remaining vestiges of the rule of law and participatory politics, thereby finally eliminating democratic accountability. In Kenya (–1.43), Burundi (–1.60), Uganda (–1.85) and Mozambique (–1.97), political systems characterized by long-standing cults of personality or single-party dominance have proved susceptible to a creeping rollback of democratic processes. Among those still resisting these backward political steps have been Ecuador, a former highly defective democracy that has once again stabilized after overcoming the left-wing populist authoritarian tendencies prevailing under Rafael Correa, as well as Burkina Faso and Malaysia, which have both reached the level of highly defective democracy but remain vulnerable to autocratization.

Seven countries, all in sub-Saharan Africa, are newly classified as autocracies in the BTI 2022. This group is made up of Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Madagascar, Mali, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zambia. For the first time, the BTI now identifies more autocracies than democracies. The index lists 67 democratic governments and 70 autocratic regimes, a clear reversal of the ratio seen in the BTI 2020 (74-to-63).

Autocratic majority | Regime categories, BTI 2020 and 2022

The seven new autocracies are representative of a creeping erosion of respect for democratic institutions and rights across large parts of the African continent. For the most part, this has been evident in a growing concentration of power in executives. After initially curtailing the rule of law, governments have reacted to protests against corruption and abuses of power and then ultimately encroached further on civil rights and political freedoms. Disregard for presidential term limits has also increased significantly. In Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria and Tanzania, contested and manipulated elections have furthered authoritarian regression. Madagascar, Tanzania and Zambia, in particular, have seen their democratic institutions erode due to a progressive weakening of the separation of powers.

Here, too, it should be emphasized that the negative trend being outlined is reversible. For example, following the end of the review period, opposition parties won presidential elections in Honduras and Zambia, and a possibly more reform-oriented former vice president took over the presidency in Tanzania. These events hold out hope that the course of autocratization in each of these three countries can be reversed.

Efficiency versus democracy

At the same time, the last 10 years have seen not only a significant drop in the overall number of democracies, but also a decline in the stability and quality of those that have remained. In recent years, this has frequently been associated with rhetorical attempts to portray efficient governance and democratic processes as being incompatible or at least conflicting goals. In some defective and highly defective democracies, political liberties and rule-of-law achievements have been willingly abandoned in favor of a more paternalistic bureaucratic authoritarianism, though to different degrees and with varying intensities. In these countries, government leaders without an obvious ideological agenda, and sometimes with strong popular support, have positioned themselves aggressively against existing democratic institutions and processes, which they describe as inefficient, corrupt or obstructive.

During the period under review, this was most evident in Benin (–0.85 relative to the BTI 2020), where a reform of the electoral code initiated by President Patrice Talon in 2018 was justified as a means of eliminating the party-system fragmentation that had brought policymaking to a standstill. However, in the end, the new law was heavily biased toward the governing party, as it made it more difficult for parties to win approval to participate in elections and set a high hurdle (10% of the vote) as the threshold for gaining seats in parliament. Opposition parties subsequently boycotted the 2019 parliamentary elections, leaving Talon with a parliament entirely loyal to his government. Promising opposition candidates were excluded from the April 2021 presidential election, and some left the country altogether. Talon won a second term with 86% of the vote despite originally announcing he would govern for only a single term. However, the voter turnout rate was low.

In El Salvador (– 0.50), President Nayib Bukele was elected in 2019 as an alternative to the entrenched polarization between the parties on the left and right that had ruled the country since the end of the civil war. His governing style is characterized by impulsiveness and a disdain for constitutional procedures. This was well illustrated in February 2020, when the military occupied the parliament after lawmakers refused to allow Bukele’s government to take out a loan to better equip the police and military in the fight against armed gangs. Nonetheless, frustrated with established parties that had failed to reduce the country’s severe social inequality and high crime rates, voters rewarded Bukele for his populist-authoritarian course by giving his party a two-thirds majority in the February 2021 parliamentary elections. This allowed Bukele to replace the members of the Constitutional Court and appoint a new attorney general in May 2021, among other steps.

In the Philippines (–0.35), President Rodrigo Duterte, who has held office since mid-2016, presents himself as a determined opponent of corruption and drug-related crime while continuing to enjoy high popular approval ratings and to hold a clear majority in both houses of parliament. This support has persisted despite his militarization of politics, intimidation of opposition figures and government critics, extrajudicial killings of drug dealers, publicly expressed contempt for and violation of political freedoms and human rights, and cooperation with influential family clans. The government took a highly repressive approach in its response to the pandemic, arresting tens of thousands for quarantine violations. In addition, Duterte signed a new anti-terrorism law that gives the government broad powers to suppress criticism, restrict basic civil liberties and arrest people based simply on suspicion of being involved in terrorism-related activities.

Finally, in Tunisia, following the end of the BTI review period, President Kais Saied dismissed the government and suspended parliament in July 2021, controversially justifying his actions by pointing to powers outlined in the country’s state-of-emergency regulations. In doing so, he clearly took sides against the Islamist Ennahda party, the strongest faction in the country’s domestic political disputes. Nonetheless, since the various factions had for years been unable to agree on an appropriate composition for the Constitutional Court or an effective approach to fighting corruption, he was able to present these measures as a nonpartisan step geared toward overcoming institutional deadlock. The president’s unilateral assumption of greater power was welcomed by significant segments of the Tunisian population owing in large part to widespread public disenchantment with years of political paralysis.

All these examples illustrate that after years or decades of cronyism and mismanagement, many countries’ populations are desperate for good governance. In some cases, they seem to discount the question of whether this is to be realized through democratic mechanisms or by weakening the separation of powers and fundamental rights. This conclusion is given further weight by the fact that public approval of democratic institutions and processes in the 57 countries classified as democracies in both the BTI 2012 and the BTI 2022 has declined by an average of about half a point over the past decade. The acceptance of and commitment to democratic institutions among policymakers also declined over the same period in these 57 countries, and to an even greater extent (–0.65). By employing political rhetoric that calls for cutting the Gordian knot of institutional deadlock and elitist hostility to reform rather than untying it democratically, many democratically legitimized heads of government have begun drawing from the authoritarian playbook, by emphasizing the advantages of effective state-led action as compared to the lack of resolve in politically fractured democracies.

More repression and civil society resistance

During the review period, numerous autocracies used the pandemic and the need for firm crisis management as a pretext for tightening restrictions on civil rights and prohibiting criticism of their regimes. This manipulative instrumentalization of the coronavirus era’s exigencies – resulting, for example, in the suppression of demonstrations and other critical expressions of opinion – took place both in moderate autocracies, such as Algeria, Singapore and Turkey, and hard-line autocracies, such as Cambodia, Oman and Venezuela. In consolidated and technologically advanced autocracies, such as China, increased data collection on individuals and their movements also allowed the digitally enhanced control of the citizenry to be expanded.

On the whole, however, most undemocratically governed countries had already undergone their most radical autocratization push before the BTI 2022 review period, with many authoritarian regimes intensifying repression and curtailing rights in the middle of the last decade in response to the Arab Spring or the Euromaidan protests, among other factors. In the 50 countries classified as autocracies in both the BTI 2012 and the BTI 2022, the freedoms of assembly and association (–0.64 each) and the protections afforded to civil rights (–0.50) have been severely curtailed over the last 10 years, with the already-narrow spaces allowed for civil society activity also being progressively circumscribed.

During the current review period, the most significant political regressions among autocracies were seen among the regimes that met extensive mass protests with the harshest repression. In Belarus, President Alexander Lukashenko responded with unprecedented violence to the protest movement that emerged in reaction to the rigged presidential election of August 2020. Hundreds of people were injured, numerous demonstrators were killed, and the government systematically engaged in the torture of political prisoners. In Nicaragua, President Daniel Ortega brutally suppressed mass demonstrations in April 2018 and has continued his very repressive policy against protests since then. His government has intensified its crackdown on civil society and the free press by revoking the legal registration of NGOs, closing media outlets, arresting journalists and ending the mandates of several international human rights organizations. Both regimes are following the Syrian and Venezuelan example of riding out overwhelming mass protests while discrediting and brutally suppressing them as the opportunity arises. In Haiti, one of the nine failing states identified in the BTI 2022, President Jovenel Moïse has restricted civil rights, ruled by decree without an elected parliament and after having largely sidelined the judiciary, and supported gang leaders who now control parts of the capital and other areas of the country. Moïse was assassinated in July 2021, after the end of the BTI review period.

Even if the overall decline in political transformation scores was not as significant over the last two years as it had been in previous periods, it has become even more difficult in many authoritarian-governed countries to protest against political subjection, corruption and mismanagement. Remaining opportunities for participation have been curtailed, civil society spaces have been further constricted, and regime critics have been subjected to harsh repression – all to such an increasing extent that a near third of the countries surveyed by the BTI must now be classified as hard-line autocracies.

Given these circumstances, the fact that interest groups’ organizational capacities, representativeness and willingness to cooperate have bucked the generally negative political trend of recent years is a welcome finding. The same holds true regarding the extent of trust and self-organizational capacity that contribute to civil society’s social capital. These gains have been evident within democracies and autocracies alike. Civil societies often represent the last and most tenacious bastion of resistance against autocratization, sometimes at the cost of great sacrifice, as was seen in Belarus, Myanmar and Sudan. Citizens have vehemently called for overdue societal reforms, whether this be for greater social inclusion and representativeness in Chile or consistent adherence to the peace agreement in Colombia. They have successfully denounced corruption and office abuse and been able to herald political change in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Romania and Slovakia, among other countries. During the pandemic era, they have often filled gaps left by a lack of state services in the health sector or in the care of socially disadvantaged groups, as has been the case in the Czech Republic, Poland and Ukraine.

Tellingly, these activities often intensify at a time when the local country’s government is reducing or actively obstructing civil society participation in decision-making processes. In Sudan, the sit-in that stretched from April to June 2019 was a historic event that demonstrated solidarity and trust among citizens. Before its violent dispersal, demonstrators were brought together by the goal of making the revolution a success, but they also shared food, shelter and medical supplies among themselves. In Belarus, civil society forces continued to find new, innovative ways to network and use the internet to organize against electoral fraud and for peaceful protest. They also set up online platforms for social services and counseling in addition to collecting crowdsourced donations to cover hospital bills, drawing on civil society solidarity to counter the state’s disregard for the impacts of COVID-19. In Lebanon, the social protest movement of 2019 and 2020 featured a high degree of cooperation across sectarian lines, which was in remarkable contrast to the confessionally delineated patterns of patronage and corruption among the political elite. Demonstrators commemorated victims of the regime’s violence in various ways; for example, in October 2019, they formed a chain of tens of thousands of people stretching from the country’s north to south to demonstrate solidarity and national unity.

Political disenfranchisement, corruption and social exclusion have fueled protests around the world. For example, for the period between January 2019 and January 2021, the Global Protest Tracker recorded a total of 126 major protests in 72 of the 137 countries analyzed by the BTI. On the one hand, the high number of protests testifies to civil society’s continuing ability to mobilize even under repressive circumstances. On the other hand, it is also an expression of the lack of responsiveness on the part of governments as well as a lack of institutional channels of mediation and weak structures of representation.

Polarization and rising conflict intensity

Socioeconomic disruptions exacerbated by the pandemic have contributed to the weakening of social cohesion in several ways in recent years. First, in the majority of the countries analyzed by the BTI, social exclusion and a broad lack of economic prospects have become perpetual features of the social landscape, and there are no signs that the political and economic elites are making any credible effort to bring about a change in the status quo. Second, despite rapidly rising inequality levels, many countries had managed over the past decade to significantly reduce their poverty rates. However, these poverty-reduction gains are now in danger of being wiped out as a direct result of the pandemic’s effects. Third, this negative economic dynamic means that significant portions of the population are at risk of renewed social decline, whether through relegation to the informal sector, the loss of an already precarious foothold in the lower middle class, or a regression into absolute poverty.

Lasting social marginalization undermines people’s faith in the prospects for overall societal development while diminishing their confidence in the government’s competence and increasing their skepticism that those in positions of political responsibility intend to engage in reforms. By increasing economic need, this marginalization also pushes people to turn to alternative care infrastructures based on families or other identity-based groups. This does not necessarily call into question the legitimacy of the state, but rather its capacity to engage in reform and provide its population with the services it needs. As a result, socioeconomic exclusion contributes to a greater turn toward particularistic, non-state forms of organization as well as toward ethnic, religious or clan-based identities. This can lead to political destabilization in some cases, as has been particularly evident in the failing states of Libya and Yemen, for example, as well as in fragile Nigeria.

On the other hand, the promotion of specific dominant identity-based interests has increasingly been used to legitimize rule, with religiously based patterns of polarization playing a particularly important role. In Myanmar, after the close of the review period, ultranationalist Buddhists supported the military’s coup. The regimes in Hungary, India and Turkey, in particular, have instrumentalized identity politics in a polarizing way. The right-wing populist course taken by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán explicitly derives its national- conservative, minority-excluding character from the country’s Christian culture. In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalism is undermining the pluralistic and secular foundation of the multiethnic state in addition to exacerbating conflicts with the Muslim minority using ethnocentric measures, such as the new citizenship and immigration law and the abolishment of Kashmir’s autonomous status. And Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s authoritarian Islamism is directed against the followers of the Gülen movement, who have been declared enemies of the state, as well as the Kurdish minority. Overall, the influence of religious dogmas on legal systems and political institutions has declined in only 11 countries over the past decade while increasing in 54 countries.

Given these increasingly identity-based, polarizing and exclusionary trends, the intensity of conflict has risen significantly in many countries. This is less true at the level of full-scale armed conflicts, such as war or civil war. Granted, among the 128 countries surveyed continuously since the BTI 2012, the number of states engaged in such all-out fighting has increased from 12 to 16. In the current study, this was particularly evident in Ethiopia, where growing ethno-political tensions broke out into open civil war, leading to large numbers of fatalities.

However, a much larger share of the overall rise in global conflict intensity can be attributed to the fact that violent acts have become a part of the political environment in a growing number of countries. The group to which this applies has increased from 71 countries a decade ago to 82 today. On the one hand, rifts between societal groups, drawn along ethnic, religious or other social dividing lines, have deepened. On the other, an increasing number of discredited dictators are using their state security apparatuses to engage in brutal repression and hold on to power at all costs even in the face of mass demonstrations. This was the case in Belarus, for example, both during and after the review period.


The BTI 2022 finds evidence of a new low in terms of political and economic transformation. Poor governance has exacerbated this development. Most countries do not guarantee political participation rights and the rule of law to the extent needed to provide the population with a free and self-determined voice in the political decision-making process.

On the other hand, the results of the BTI 2022 also give some cause for hope. First, there is and for some time has been a group of stable democracies that have proved resilient in the face of crisis and demonstrated successful transformation paths. Some of these democracies, such as the Baltic states and Taiwan, are today being threatened by authoritarian powers, such as Russia and China. The goal of a values-based foreign policy should be to support them to the greatest extent possible while countering this menace with democratic solidarity.

Second, some of the authoritarian backsliding recorded in recent years appears to have been temporary. The electoral successes of opposition candidates Xiomara Castro in Honduras and Hakainde Hichilema in Zambia following the end of the BTI review period open up the prospect of redemocratization, as does the assumption of office by Tanzania’s new president, Samia Suluhu Hassan. Developments in East-Central and Southeast Europe are also positive, as Bulgaria and the Czech Republic – following similar reversals in Northern Macedonia, Romania and Slovakia – have proved able to halt the right-wing and authoritarian trend with the election of more liberal governments. Developing countries with prospects of democratization need international support, and this should be provided by a values-based foreign policy. Conversely, governments that undermine democratic processes, as is currently the case in Tunisia, should be resolutely condemned. Efficient governance must not be regarded as being incompatible with democratic processes. All of the BTI’s findings demonstrate – and to a rather striking extent – that democracies are the more efficient governments by a wide margin.

Third, and finally, the civil society forces pushing for peaceful and democratic change even in highly repressive environments, such as Belarus, Myanmar and Sudan, are impressive in their perseverance and creativity. They have exhibited an immense amount of courage and determination, which in turn demands dedicated external advocacy and support. This calls for a values-based foreign policy that not only unequivocally condemns the ruling regimes’ repressive actions, but also actively supports the civil society forces and provides them with safe haven should they fail.

The results of the BTI 2022 are undoubtedly sobering. However, rather than paralysis, the response to this should be even more foreign- and development-policy engagement. There are positive signs.