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Is Uruguay the strongest democracy in Latin America?

2024-02-21T05:05:38.247Z

Highlights: Uruguayan democracy is consolidating itself as the most stable in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Economist's democratic quality index highlights the stability of the South American country. The index shows that 2023 was the eighth consecutive year of democratic decline in America. The greatest decline was recorded by El Salvador, whose score deteriorated at the behest of the “increasingly authoritarian” government of President Nayib Bukele.. “Political polarization, attempted coups, d’état acts, increased political violence and low economic growth are generating an increasingly deep feeling that democracy is not giving positive results,” says Nicolás Saldías.


The Economist's democratic quality index highlights the stability of the South American country thanks to a strong party system that “prevents the emergence of populist leaders and authoritarian deviations”


Uruguayan democracy stands out in the region and is consolidating itself as the most stable in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the democratic quality index of The Economist magazine.

Uruguay, with 3.4 million inhabitants, is ranked 14th on a list that covers 165 countries headed by Norway and at the same level as Australia and below Canada, the most democratic in the Americas.

According to this ranking, just over 1% of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean enjoys “full democracy”, in Uruguay and Costa Rica, the other highest-rated country and located in 17th place. In South America, Chile is followed (25th place), Suriname (49), Brazil (51), Argentina (54) and Colombia (55), considered “imperfect democracies.”

“The strength of Uruguayan democracy is based largely on a system of strong parties that avoids the emergence of populist leaders and authoritarian deviations, like those we are seeing in other countries in the region,” Nicolás Saldías, doctor, tells EL PAIS. in Political Science and member of the Economist Intelligence Unit, responsible for this index released days ago.

The political scientist highlights that the democratic culture, deeply rooted in Uruguay, was strengthened after the dictatorship that governed the country between 1973 and 1985. “Surveys show that Uruguayans are the most committed to the democratic system in the region, and by far ”explains Saldías by email from Washington, where he resides.

Uruguay obtains the highest score, 10 out of 10, in terms of “electoral system and pluralism”, one of the categories evaluated since 2006. It also appears as one of the best in the world in “civil liberties”, with 9.71 points, while which in “government functioning” obtains an 8.93.

In “political culture” this year the score decreased to 6.88, mainly due to the fact that some Uruguayans have been in favor of experts (without party affiliation) having more political power.

In “political participation” it has 7.78 points, because the mandatory voting that governs Uruguay (as in ten other Latin American countries) is considered a negative indicator by the British magazine.

Going to vote or not, its authors defend, should be a free choice.

Veteran Uruguayan political analyst Oscar Bottinelli, director of the consulting firm Factum, disagrees with this criterion.

For Bottinelli, that is precisely a characteristic that underpins the Uruguayan democratic system: “Compulsory voting makes everyone participate.”

In that sense, he understands that negatively valuing mandatory suffrage “comes from an individualistic liberalism” that has “highly elitist” components.

Tradition shows that in the South American country there is a “sacralization of the vote,” he says.

In the 2019 general elections, participation reached 90% and blank or canceled votes did not exceed 4%.

“This reflects that people choose, giving strength to the system,” he says.

Bottinelli agrees that the solidity of the political party system is a pillar that largely supports local democracy.

The country went from a two-party system with the historic Colorado and Blanco, to a tripartite system with the incorporation of the leftist Frente Amplio, which governed between 2005 and 2020, until reaching the current multi-party system.

“But always within the party system, in Uruguay there are no anti-system movements,” he points out.

Its “stable cast” of political leaders has also had an influence, continues Bottinelli, whose generational renewal began abruptly in the last decade.

“That has been another strength,” he says.

A region in turmoil

The index shows that 2023 was the eighth consecutive year of democratic decline in Latin America and the Caribbean, whose average score fell from 5.79 in 2022 to 5.68 in 2023. Just over 1% of the region's population lives in a full democracy, 54% in defective democracies, 35% in a hybrid regime (between imperfect and authoritarian) and 9% in authoritarian regimes.

The greatest decline was recorded by El Salvador, the report states, whose score deteriorated at the behest of the “increasingly authoritarian” government of President Nayib Bukele and his unconstitutional candidacy for re-election.

“Political polarization, attempted coups d'état, acts of political violence, increased insecurity and low economic growth are generating an increasingly deep feeling that democracy is not giving positive results,” says Saldías about of the context in Latin America and the Caribbean.

For this reason, the political scientist explains, the region has the lowest score in the world in the “political culture” category, which evaluates the degree of social consensus in support of democracy and its political representatives.

“Worse still, the case of Nayib Bukele as a model for some can fuel antidemocratic deviations throughout the region,” he warns.

The risk of insecurity

Despite its good health, Uruguayan democracy is not immune to this reality.

As in almost all countries in the region, Saldías says, Uruguay's main weakness lies in its political culture.

This year, the country's score in this category has decreased compared to previous years.

For what reason?

Saldías attributes this mainly to the fact that more than 50% of Uruguayans have stated that they prefer that experts or technocrats “have more political power,” showing a lack of confidence in traditional politics.

Furthermore, his support for democracy has fallen below the 75% threshold set by The Economist.

“Another risk for Uruguayan democracy is insecurity, which could fuel the emergence of populists with authoritarian policies,” he adds.

To maintain its democratic quality, Bottinelli believes, Uruguay would have to focus and modify its political financing, which would imply reducing costs in electoral campaigns.

According to this political scientist, another weakness that deserves to be addressed is the “imbalance” that exists in the information field.

“Clearly there is a predominance of media that do not worship impartiality and equidistance in information, both in private and public media,” he says.

He also observes that in Uruguay the level of political debate has decreased, which has led to personal disqualification to the detriment of purposeful discussion.

For this reason, he warns: “That can alienate people who feel that their real problems are not on the table.”

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Source: elparis

All news articles on 2024-02-21

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