Reporter 442, 8 November 1999

Democratic audit takes on the world

Every country in the world is to have its state of democracy assessed in an ambitious new project co-ordinated by a University politics professor. David Beetham has already helped deliver a less-than-glowing verdict on the UK system and is now turning his attention overseas.

"Democracy is becoming a universal aspiration across the globe," said Professor Beetham. "We will be trying to assess how democratic each country is in practice, and how this affects its citizens."

Professor Beetham played a key role in the first ever assessment of democracy in the UK, completed last year. The findings would not have pleased Oliver Cromwell.

The audit concluded parliament had little control or scrutiny over the actions of government, a situation Professor Beetham believes has worsened since Tony Blair came to power. "A great many civil and political rights in the UK have also been at the discretion of government," said Professor Beetham. "People have only been allowed to do what the law does not prevent them doing, though this will change with the incorporation of the European Convention into UK law."

Professor Beetham is now drawing on this analysis to investigate foreign countries across four continents in a pilot study. The project is being carried out with the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance in Stockholm, Sweden and the first verdicts will be published next year. It will then be extended to include every country in the world.

Professor Beetham believes such assessments can help encourage the development of global democracies. They can help highlight problems in a given country, identify weaknesses in systems and spread examples of good practice, he said.

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