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How to Make Democracy Democratic?

How to Make Democracy Democratic?

Recovering Fundamental Elements of Democracy through Citizens’ Assemblies in Sweden

Sep 14, 2022

Good Governance Final Version
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The GPRG Team is thrilled to share the release of our last policy paper: How to Make Democracy Democratic? Recovering Fundemental Elements of Democracy through Citizen's Assemblies in Sweden, written by lead authors Alfred Hjelmhammar, Bahadir Sirin, and Júlíana Amalía E. Sveinsdóttir!

Democracies around the world are undergoing a painful period. More nations than ever, including established democracies, are experiencing “democratic erosion”, a deterioration in democratic quality. In 2021, as many as 60 countries experienced “democratic backsliding”—an intensified version of democratic erosion and a state-led debilitation or elimination of dem- ocratic institutions.

Even in some of the richest and most politically stable parts of the world, democracy appears to be in grave decay. In the established democracies in North America and Western Europe, faith in political institutions, such as parliaments and elections, has notably decreased over the past three decades. This trend has been accompanied by a stark decrease in voter turnout. Resultantly, people are less likely to support establishment parties and voters are drawn to populist candidates, single-issue groups, or “anti-system” parties that describe themselves as opponents of the status quo.

Against the backdrop of democratic decline, Swedish democracy has consistently ranked high in various democracy indices. Up until 2010, the degree of polarization within the country re- mained low compared to its Western European peers. However, researchers are increasingly observing indications of widening ideological gaps in discussions centered around multiculturalism, identity, globalization, and migration. This gap may help explain recent events, including the rise of populist movements: exemplified, for one, by the Sweden Democrats’ electoral victories. Even so, Sweden continues to be one of the most robust democracies. This optimistic picture, however, does not directly take away the inherent risk that every democracy faces: abrupt regime change.

The rapidity at which significant change can occur is arguably the most intriguing aspect of stories of regime transitions. This speed is also the aspect that makes such events feel so rel- evant from a modern perspective. However, history also shows that such abrupt changes are the result of long subtle build-up: the decay starts well before a cavity manifests itself. In this context, we cannot take our democracy for granted and thus, we need to take deliberate steps to strengthen even the strongest of democracies, such as Sweden, before any notable decline is allowed to occur.

This policy paper is the last in GPRG's Election Series, a series composed of four policy papers that center around topics relevant to the upcoming Swedish elections, which took place on the 11th of September.

You can find the full version of the paper above.

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