The advancement of democracy throughout the world has always been uneven, and fraught with setbacks and false miracles. The last few years have demonstrated this powerfully.

Latin America is becoming, overall, more democratic. This is good news, but lamentable anti-democratic tendencies in Venezuela and elsewhere warrant close watching.

Democracy in Africa is a mixed bag, with failed states and entrenched poverty proving to be as much, if not more, of an obstacle to democratisation as authoritarian regimes. In countries such as the Democratic republic of Congo, free elections have not increased security. What Africa needs most at this time is not a rapid proliferation of free elections (which could actually do far more harm than good), but rapid stabilisation, regional cooperation, and pro-poor economic development.

In Asia, the minority of democracies seem stable for now, but so do the majority of non-democratic regimes. The Saffron Revolution in Burma failed to cause the collapse of that country’s brutal junta, despite the unfathomably brave actions of its long-suffering citizens. Pakistan has just been put under martial law, with opposition activists and lawyers being rounded up en masse and independent media severely curtailed. China, the region’s fastest rising power, continues to be a powerful refutation of the oft-espoused idea that market liberalisation naturally brings greater freedom for ordinary people.

The same can be said for Russia, where civil society has been marginalized in the public sphere and repeatedly bludgeoned by the ever more anti-democratic policies of the Government of President Vladimir Putin. 

Democracy is ailing in Russia’s "Near Abroad" as well, with Central Asia dominated by authoritarian regimes of varying degrees of brutality, and the Caucasus region remaining volatile, and largely un-democratic. Just the other day, it became clear that the OSCE will not be able to effectively monitor Russia’s upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections, and may have it’s election monitoring activities restricted or curtailed altogether in countries such as Armenia, increasingly swayed more by Russia’s anti-Western line than the European Union’s promises of closer ties.

If liberal democracy is entrenched anywhere, it is in Western Europe. But, even there, the forecast is not uniformly blue skies and sunshine. The rise of right wing parties is posing unprecedented social and political challenges in relatively tolerant countries (such as Switzerland and Belgium) and even the most tolerant, such as the Netherlands.

And now we come to the United States and Canada, to the majority Anglophone democracies North America. Canada, democracy-wise, falls more in line with Western European states than it’s nearest southern neighbor. With strong and independent institutions and a dynamic multi-party legislature, Canada isn’t perfect by any means, but its system is open, self correcting, and self-improving.

Tragically, this is no longer so in the United States. Eight years of unrelenting, unpunished corruption and law-breaking have badly damaged the United States’ democracy in reputation and in practice. Public faith in the legislative and executive branches are at historic laws. The Department of Justice, with its long string of corruption scandals and reputation for politically-tainted policy, can lamentably be now seen as neither as a pillar of the rule of law nor an independent branch of government. But the problem is even more severe than that: with more and more evidence surfacing of Justice Department officials –from the Attorney General on down– collaborating in criminal actions by the Bush Administration, the Justice Department itself is becoming the country’s most destructive underminer of the rule of law. To these alarming realities, American civil society has been slow to react, but rule of law organisations, most prominently the Center for Constitutional Rights and ACLU, are now, at this very late stage, working to together to strike back hard at the administration that has turned what was a flawed liberal democracy into something unrecognizable to its own citizens and the people of the world.