The state of democracy assessment

January 6, 2005
Singapore Democrats

This post is at least a year old. Some of the links in this post may no longer work correctly.

The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) publishes an online Democracy Assessment Questionnaire. IDEA is an intergovernmental organization with member states across all continents and it seeks to support sustainable democracy in both new and long-established democracies. (http://www.idea.int/) We reproduce below the questionnaire for our readers interest:

Democracy Assessment Questionnaire

What is a democracy assessment?

The idea is a very simple one. It involves a systematic assessment of a countrys political life in order to answer the question: how democratic is it? Where is it satisfactory from a democratic point of view, and which features should be a cause for concern? How far have we progressed, and what remains still to be done? How can we improve on what we have already achieved? This questionnaire provides you with the tools to make a set of provisional or impressionistic judgements about these questions, as a basis for discussion, or for more systematic enquiry and assessment.

How was this questionnaire developed? It was developed as the key instrument for International IDEAs programme on the State of Democracy. This programme was designed to assess the condition of democracy in countries from every region of the world. The framework of questions was agreed by an international panel of experts after exhaustive discussion and comparison of existing assessment frameworks and methodologies. Our assessment framework is based on a number of distinctive assumptions:

democratisation is a process that is never completed, and those working to establish or consolidate new democracies, and those seeking to renew established ones, are engaged in a similar enterprise, share similar values and confront similar problems, though these may indeed be more acute in some countries than others.

the idea of democracy is a common one, and can be disaggregated into a set of specific criteria or indices, which are of general applicability, however much countries may differ in their cultural traditions or development status.

the best people to act as auditors or assessors of a given countrys democratic condition are its own citizens, rather than outsiders sitting in judgement upon it, and the chief purpose of such an exercise is to contribute to the democratisation process through internal debate and discussion.

But what exactly is democracy?

A simple answer is that democracy is based on two key principles: popular control, meaning the people having the right to a controlling influence over public decisions and decision makers; and political equality, meaning that the people should be treated with equal respect and as of equal worth in the context of such decisions. Although these two principles are nowhere fully realised, to the extent that they are, we can call a system of public decision-making democratic. Democracy is not an all-or-nothing state of affairs, but a matter of the degree to which these two principles are realised in practice.

These two principles have taken many different historical forms, and have been realised at many different societal levels. In the context of the modern state, however, they require a distinctive set of institutional and societal components for their realisation. The key ones are the following:

1. A guaranteed framework of equal citizen rights, including access to justice and the rule of law, as well as the freedoms of expression, association and assembly, and the basic economic and social rights to enable citizens to exercise these freedoms effectively.

2. Institutions of representative and accountable government, including not only free and fair elections to provide the means for popular choice and control over government, but also procedures to ensure the continuous accountability of officials, elected as well as non-elected, to the public.

3. A civil or democratic society, including free and pluralistic media of communication, and the civic associations, consultative processes and other forums necessary to ensure popular participation in the political process, and to encourage government responsiveness to public opinion and the more effective delivery of public services.

These three components of democracy provide the structure for the assessment framework that follows. Each component contains a number of sections. The first has sections on: nationhood and citizenship; the rule of law; civil and political rights; economic and social rights. The second has sections on: free and fair elections; the democratic role of political parties; government effectiveness and accountability; civilian control of the military and police; minimizing corruption. The third has sections on: the media in a democratic society; political participation; government responsiveness; decentralisation.

There is a fourth section devoted to the international dimensions of democracy, which includes issues of governmental autonomy from external control, as well as the supportiveness of government policy towards democracy abroad. This is a large agenda, so the sections are arranged so that they can be handled separately and selectively, according to the time available and choice of priorities.

Each section comprises a list of questions with a grid for you to tick your provisional assessment under each question. Of course making such an assessment involves a complex judgement about the state of actual democratic practice in your country, as well as the legal or constitutional position under each heading. It also depends on whether you are looking back to assess the progress already made, or forward to what still has to be done. The most that is asked for, however, is your impressionistic judgement (or `best guess), which can be further developed in discussion with others. And the questions at the end of each section will assist your judgement, by identifying what you consider to be the best and worst features of your countrys situation from a democratic point of view, and what might be done about the latter.

What purposes are served by your completing this questionnaire?

We suggest the following:

It will help you to understand the different dimensions of democracy, and what is involved in a democracy assessment.
You can use our framework as a tool to critically assess your own democracy, both its strengths and limitations.
By sending us your results you can help us build up a profile of citizens assessments of different democracies around the world.
We would also welcome any comments you have about our assessment framework, so that we can continue to improve it.

You are invited to tick one of the boxes in answer to each question in the
accompanying list. The classifications are:

VH = very high;
H = high;
M = middling or ambiguous;
L = low;
VL = very low

As an example, under question 1.1, if you consider that there are serious exclusions on rights to citizenship in your country, then you might tick L or low for your assessment of the level of inclusiveness of citizenship entitlements.

The numbering of the boxes corresponds to the relevant questions on the lists. For each section you are then asked to specify what you consider a) the best feature, and b) the most serious problem in your country from a democratic point of view; then c) to suggest what you think might be done to improve this problem.

I CITIZENSHIP, LAW AND RIGHTS

1.0 Nationhood and Identity: Is there public agreement on a common citizenship without discrimination?

1.1 How inclusive is the political nation and state citizenship of all who live within the territory?
1.2 How far are cultural differences acknowledged, and how well are minorities protected?
1.3 How much consensus is there on state boundaries and constitutional arrangements?
1.4 How far do constitutional and political arrangements enable major societal divisions to be moderated or reconciled?
1.5 How impartial and inclusive are the procedures for amending the constitution?

Best Feature………………………………………………………….Most serious problem………………………………………………………….
Suggested improvement………………………………………………………

2.0 The rule of law and access to justice: Are state and society consistently subject to the law?

2.1 How far is the rule of law operative throughout the territory?
2.2 To what extent are all public ofcials subject to the rule of law and to transparent rules in the performance of their functions?
2.3 How independent are the courts and the judiciary from the executive, and how free are they from all kinds of interference?
2.4 How equal and secure is the access of citizens to justice, to due process and to redress in the event of maladministration?
2.5 How far do the criminal justice and penal systems observe due rules of impartial and equitable treatment in their operations?
2.6 How much condence do people have in the legal system to deliver fair and effective justice?

Best Feature………………………………………………………….
Most serious problem………………………………………………………….
Suggested improvement………………………………………………………

3.0 Civil and political rights: Are civil and political rights equally guaranteed for all?

3.1 How free are all people from physical violation of their person, and from fear of it?
3.2 How effective and equal is the protection of the freedoms of movement, expression, association and assembly?
3.3 How secure is the freedom for all to practise their own religion, language or culture?
3.4 How free from harassment and intimidation are individuals and groups working to improve human rights?
Best Feature………………………………………………………….Most serious problem………………………………………………………….
Suggested improvement………………………………………………………

4.0 Economic and social rights: Are economic and social rights equally guaranteed for all?

4.1 How far is access to work or social security available to all, without discrimination?
4.2 How effectively are the basic necessities of life guaranteed, including adequate food, shelter and clean water?
4.3 To what extent is the health of the population protected, in all spheres and stages of life?
4.4 How extensive and inclusive is the right to education, including education in the rights and responsibilities of citizenship?
4.5 How free are trade unions and other work-related associations to organise and represent their members interests?
4.6 How rigorous and transparent are the rules on corporate governance, and how effectively are corporations regulated in the public interest?
Best Feature………………………………………………………….
Most serious problem………………………………………………………….
Suggested improvement………………………………………………………

II. REPRESENTATIVE AND ACCOUNTABLE GOVERNMENT

5.0 Free and fair elections: Do elections give the people control over governments and their policies?

5.1 How far is appointment to governmental and legislative ofce determined by popular competitive election, and how frequently do elections lead to change in the governing parties or personnel?
5.2 How inclusive and accessible for all citizens are the registration and voting procedures, how independent are they of government and party control, and how free from intimidation and abuse?
5.3 How fair are the procedures for the registration of candidates and parties, and how far is there fair access for them to the media and other means of communication with the voters?
5.4 How effective a range of choice does the electoral and party system allow the voters, how equally do their votes count, and how closely does the composition of the legislature and the selection of the executive reect the choices they make?
5.5 How far does the legislature reect the social composition of the electorate?
5.6 What proportion of the electorate votes, and how far are the election results accepted by all political forces in the country and outside?

Best Feature………………………………………………………….
Most serious problem………………………………………………………….
Suggested improvement………………………………………………………

6.0 Democratic role of political parties: Does the party system assist the working of democracy?

6.1 How freely are parties able to form, recruit members and campaign for ofce?
6.2 How effective is the party system in forming and sustaining governments in ofce?
6.3 How free are opposition or non-governing parties to organise within the legislature, and how effectively do they contribute to government accountability?
6.4 How fair and effective are the rules governing party discipline in the legislature?
6.5 How far are parties effective membership organisations, and how far are members able to inuence party policy and candidate selection?
6.6 How far does the system of party nancing prevent the subordination of parties to special interests?
6.7 To what extent do parties cross ethnic, religious and linguistic divisions?

Best Feature………………………………………………………….
Most serious problem………………………………………………………….
Suggested improvement………………………………………………………

7.0 Government effectiveness and accountability: Is government accountable to the people and their representatives?

7.1 How far is the elected government able to inuence or control those matters that are important to the lives of its people, and how well is it informed, organised and resourced to do so?
7.2 How much public condence is there in the effectiveness of government and its political leadership?
7.3 How effective and open to scrutiny is the control exercised by elected leaders and their ministers over their administrative staff and other executive agencies?
7.4 How extensive and effective are the powers of the legislature to initiate, scrutinise and amend legislation?
7.5 How extensive and effective are the powers of the legislature to scrutinise the executive and hold it to account?
7.6 How rigorous are the procedures for approval and supervision of taxation and public expenditure?
7.7 How comprehensive and effective is legislation giving citizens the right of access to government information?

Best Feature………………………………………………………….
Most serious problem………………………………………………………….
Suggested improvement………………………………………………………

8.0 Civilian control of the military and police: Are the military and police forces under civilian control?

8.1 How effective is civilian control over the armed forces, and how free is political life from military involvement?
8.2 How publicly accountable are the police and security services for their activities?
8.3 How far does the composition of the army, police and security services reect the social composition of society at large?
8.4 How free is the country from the operation of paramilitary units, private armies, warlordism and criminal maas?

Best Feature………………………………………………………….
Most serious problem………………………………………………………….
Suggested improvement……………………………………………………..

9.0 Minimizing corruption: Are public officials free from corruption?

9.1 How effective is the separation of public ofce from the personal business and family interests of ofce holders?
9.2 How effective are the arrangements for protecting ofce holders and the public from involvement in bribery?
9.3 How far do the rules and procedures for nancing elections, candidates and elected representatives prevent their subordination to sectional interests?
9.4 How far is the inuence of powerful corporations and business interests over public policy kept in check, and how free are they from involvement in corruption, including overseas?
9.5 How much condence do people have that public ofcials and public services are free from corruption?

Best Feature………………………………………………………….
Most serious problem………………………………………………………….
Suggested improvement………………………………………………………

III. CIVIL SOCIETY AND POPULAR PARTICIPATION

10.0 The media in a democratic society: Do the media operate in a way that sustains democratic values?

10.1 How independent are the media from government, how pluralistic is their ownership, and how free are they from subordination to foreign governments or multinational companies?
10.2 How representative are the media of different opinions and how accessible are they to different sections of society?
10.3 How effective are the media and other independent bodies in investigating government and powerful corporations?
10.4 How free are journalists from restrictive laws, harassment and intimidation?
10.5 How free are private citizens from intrusion and harassment by the media?

Best Feature………………………………………………………….Most serious problem………………………………………………………….
Suggested improvement………………………………………………………

11.0 Political participation: Is there full citizen participation in public life?

11.1 How extensive is the range of voluntary associations, citizen groups, social movements etc. and how independent are they from government?
11.2 How extensive is citizen participation in voluntary associations and self-management organisations, and in other voluntary public activity?
11.3 How far do women participate in political life and public ofce at all levels?
11.4 How equal is access for all social groups to public ofce, and how fairly are they represented within it?

Best Feature………………………………………………………….
Most serious problem………………………………………………………….
Suggested improvement………………………………………………………

12.0 Government responsiveness: Is government responsive to the concerns of its citizens?

12.1 How open and systematic are the procedures for public consultation on government policy and legislation, and how equal is the access for relevant interests to government?
12.2 How accessible are elected representatives to their constituents?
12.3 How accessible and reliable are public services for those who need them, and how systematic is consultation with users over service delivery?
12.4 How much condence do people have in the ability of government to solve the main problems confronting society, and in their own ability to inuence it?

Best Feature………………………………………………………….
Most serious problem………………………………………………………….
Suggested improvement………………………………………………………

13.0 Decentralisation: Are decisions taken at the level of government which is most appropriate for the people affected?

13.1 How independent are the sub-central tiers of government from the centre, and how far do they have the powers and resources to carry out their responsibilities?
13.2 How far are these levels of government subject to free and fair electoral authorisation, and to the criteria of openness, accountability and responsiveness in their operation?
13.3 How extensive is the co-operation of government at the most local level with relevant partners, associations and communities in the formation and implementation of policy, and in service provision?

Best Feature………………………………………………………….
Most serious problem………………………………………………………….
Suggested improvement………………………………………………………

IV. DEMOCRACY BEYOND THE STATE

14.0 International dimensions of democracy: Are the countrys external relations conducted in accordance with democratic norms, and is it itself free from external subordination?

14.1 How free is the governance of the country from subordination to external agencies, economic, cultural or political?
14.2 How far are government relations with external donors and international institutions based on principles of partnership and transparency?
14.3 How far does the government support UN human rights treaties and respect international law?
14.4 How far does the government respect its international obligations in its treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, and how free from arbitrary discrimination is its immigration policy?
14.5 How consistent is the government in its support for human rights and democracy abroad?

Best Feature………………………………………………………….
Most serious problem………………………………………………………….
Suggested improvement………………………………………………………