New Zealand remains world's fourth best democracy, according to The Economist Democracy Index 2020, in the year of Covid-19 lockdowns

RYAN ANDERSON/STUFF
In case you didn't get the message already - PM Jacinda Ardern really wanted you to 'stay at home' during the coronavirus lockdown.

New Zealand remained the world’s fourth best democracy in 2020, according to The Economist .

For the world as a whole, democracy declined last year, largely because of government-imposed restrictions on individual freedoms and civil liberties in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the publication’s Democracy Index 2020 report said.

The leaderboard was unchanged, with Norway, Iceland and Sweden – in that order – ahead of New Zealand in the 2019 and 2020 reports.

The Government shut down large parts of normal life during the Covid-19 lockdown in late March and April 2020
DAVID WHITE/STUFF
The Government shut down large parts of normal life during the Covid-19 lockdown in late March and April 2020

The Economist gives each country an overall score out of 10, after looking at five aspects of democracy.

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New Zealand’s overall score edged lower in 2020 – to 9.25 from 9.26, with The Economist thinking the functioning of government and civil liberties aspects of democracy declined a bit in this country from 2019, while political culture improved.

The global average score for the 165 independent states and two territories in the index fell to 5.37 – the lowest score since the index was first produced in 2006.

Protesters opposing a Covid-19 lockdown march down Queen St in central Auckland in September
MELANIE EARLEY/STUFF
Protesters opposing a Covid-19 lockdown march down Queen St in central Auckland in September

Across the world in 2020, citizens experienced the biggest rollback of individual freedoms ever undertaken by governments during peacetime, and perhaps even compared to wartime, the report said.

“The willing surrender of fundamental freedoms by millions of people was perhaps one of the most remarkable occurrences in an extraordinary year.

“Most people concluded, on the basis of the evidence about a new, deadly disease, that preventing a catastrophic loss of life justified a temporary loss of freedom,” it said.

“Many critics of the lockdown approach accepted that some form of social distancing was necessary to contain the spread of the disease, but they failed to put forward convincing alternatives to the policy of enforced lockdowns.”

This is Japan's second lockdown after the first emergency was declared in April last year.

The report also said few lockdown sceptics had been prepared to say how many deaths would be acceptable as the price of freedom, but it added that did not mean governments and media should have censored the sceptics.

Top improver in the index was Taiwan, which rose 20 places to 11th in 2020, and moved from being considered a “flawed democracy” to be in the “full democracy” group. National elections in January 2020 demonstrated the resiliency of the country’s democracy, the report said.

France and Portugal moved from the “full democracy” to “flawed democracy” category, while Japan and South Korea moved into the “full democracy” group.

Israeli police officers clash with ultra-Orthodox Jews during a protest over coronavirus lockdown restrictions in late January.
Oded Balilty/AP
Israeli police officers clash with ultra-Orthodox Jews during a protest over coronavirus lockdown restrictions in late January.

According to the index just under half of the world’s population live in a democracy of some sort, and just 8.4 per cent – in 23 countries – live in a full democracy.

Australia is in 9th-equal place on the index and the UK is at 16.

The US is placed 25th, among the flawed democracies, with an improvement seen in the number of Americans engaged in politics.

“Several factors fuelled the continuation of this trend in 2020, including the politicisation of the coronavirus pandemic, movements to address police violence and racial injustice, and elections that attracted record voter turnout,” the report said.

On the negative side, trust in institutions and political parties was extremely low, there was deep dysfunction in the functioning of government, increasing threats to freedom of expression, and a degree of polarisation within society that made consensus almost impossible.

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