Bertelsmann Transformation Index 2024: Another indictment of Bangladesh’s state of governance

Bertelsmann Transformation Index 2024: Another indictment of Bangladesh’s state of governance

One more report on the global state of democracy delivered bad news last Tuesday. Bertelsmann Stiftung, a German research institution, publishes an index of the political and economic transformation of 137 countries every two years. Its 10th report, published on March 19, offers a global and regional picture and discusses the state of the economy, politics, and governance of selected countries. The assessment is called the Bertelsmann Transformation Index (BTI) and was first published in 2003 but became a regular publication in 2006. The 2024 report covers the period between January 2022 and December 2023. The report's assessment of the global state of democracy, as well as of South Asia and Bangladesh's governance warrants our attention.

The BTI report's overall assessment of the global state of democracy is sobering. The 2024 report classified 74 countries as autocracies, of which 25 are moderate autocracies while the remainder are hard autocracies. Bangladesh, since 2018, has been classified as a "moderate autocracy." The moderate autocracies are home to four billion people. Sixty-three countries, classified as democracies, are divided into three categories: 15 democracies in consolidation, 37 defective democracies, and 11 highly defective democracies. These countries are home to three billion people.

There are a few deeply concerning global trends that have emerged. The most important, according to the report, are "deliberate efforts to undermine the authority of oversight bodies such as the judiciary, legislature, regulatory agencies, and the media. This inclination is facilitating the concentration of power within the executive branch and undermining the principle of separation of powers. During the period under review, it has primarily been increasingly authoritarian heads of state who have criticised efficiency shortcomings and championed a strong executive as a solution to corruption and reform backlogs." This trend is easily discernible in Bangladesh's political situation of the past decade.

It has been noted by democracy watchers such as Freedom House and Varieties of Democracy Institute (V-Dem) that, for the past 15 years, the quality of elections has eroded in many countries. Once considered a tool of democratisation, elections have become an instrument to legitimise autocratic rule in countries where autocrats have risen. According to the BTI 2024 report, "in the last two years alone, elections in 25 countries were less free and fair." While this report did not include Bangladesh's 2024 election, one can recall the conclusion of the EU's election expert mission's report published on March 9: "The 2024 parliamentary election in Bangladesh did not meet some key international standards for democratic elections." This conclusion echoed the statements made by the United States and the United Kingdom immediately after the election. According to the US, "the election was not free or fair." The UK's statement said that essential elements of the democratic process, such as respect for human rights, rule of law, and due process, were not consistently met during the election period.

It is not only that the electoral process was undermined in various countries, but a few other fundamental elements of democracy have also been emasculated. For example, according to the BTI 2024 report, "assembly and association rights in 32 states have been increasingly curtailed and the freedom of expression in 39 countries has faced tightened controls." Where does the erosion of these basic features of democracy take a country? There is an unequivocal answer to this question in the report: "This gradual erosion of democracy can provide a pathway for the establishment of authoritarian rule, a trend exemplified by the cases of Bangladesh, Mozambique and Türkiye."

BTI's assessment of a country's economic and political governance cumulates them by two indices: status index and governance index. The status index comprises political and economic transformation, while the governance index documents the political leadership toward democracy and a market economy. Simply put, the status index provides an overall picture while the governance index examines a more nuanced state of how the country is run.

The picture of South Asia that has emerged from the report is not encouraging by any standards. Of the seven countries, four have been classified as defective democracies (Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka), two have been described as hard autocracies (Afghanistan and Pakistan), and one as a moderate autocracy (Bangladesh). Among these, Bhutan has the best scores in the status index and governance index at 6.46 and 7.20, respectively, on a scale between 1 and 10. While India has been classified as a flawed democracy, several aspects of democratic rights are noted to be on a downward trend. Association and assembly rights, freedom of expression, separation of powers, independent judiciary, and civil rights have seen significant erosion in the past decade under the Modi government. The worrying aspect for India, which used to claim to be the largest democracy, is the decreasing support for democracy among its citizens. The report draws on 2019/2020 survey results conducted by the Pew Research Center which showed that only 46 percent of Indian respondents indicated a preference for democracy, while 48 percent mentioned that they would prefer "a leader with a strong hand." As a March 13 Pew report showed, 67 percent of Indian respondents preferred a "strong leader" governing the country while 72 percent supported military rule. Among the countries surveyed, support for autocratic leadership was the strongest in India.

The BTI's 2024 report provides an opportunity to examine a decade-long trend of democracy and governance in Bangladesh. A clear and remarkable downward trend is documented in the data available from 2014 to 2024. Over the past decade, Bangladesh's overall status score has declined from 5.69 to 4.45. The most significant decrease is noticed in the democracy index: a staggering decline of 1.92 points, from 5.95 in 2014 to 4.03 in 2024.

For those who have been following Bangladesh's politics and governance for decades, these would not come as a surprise, as other available democracy indices have amply documented this pattern. Yet, these numbers are once again a reminder of where the country is heading. One can say that this is another indictment of the state of politics and governance in Bangladesh.

In the BTI report, Bangladesh has been referred to several times in the discussion of the global scenario as an example, including for usurpation of power by the executive branch using the parliamentary majority to "dismantle horizontal accountability"; lack of willingness and ability to engage in international cooperation; and curtailment of judicial independence following an earlier weakening of the separation of powers. A combination of these had already made the country a "moderate autocracy" by 2018. But with the engineered election of January 7, 2024, it appears to be heading towards becoming a "hard autocracy." Clearly, the BTI report is yet another sounding of the warning bell.

Ali Riaz is a distinguished professor of political science at Illinois State University, US, and a non-resident senior fellow of the Atlantic Council. His recent publications are 'Pathways of Autocratization: The Tumultuous Journey of Bangladeshi Politics' (Routledge, 2024) and 'The Charade: Bangladesh's 2024 Election' (Prothoma, 2024).

News Courtesy:

Daily Star: March 24, 2024

An unhandled error has occurred. Reload 🗙