Malta relegated to ‘flawed democracy’ by Economist Intelligence Unit

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index has downgraded Malta after developments in the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder case rocked the political establishment

Protests intensified in December, demanding Joseph Muscat's immediate resignation after revelations implicated his closest aide in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia
Protests intensified in December, demanding Joseph Muscat's immediate resignation after revelations implicated his closest aide in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia

Malta has been relegated to a ‘flawed democracy’, making it one of five countries in Western Europe to be classified as such by a reputable index.

The slippage is linked to the political crisis surrounding the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia that forced the prime minister to step down this month, the Economist Intelligence Unit said.

Malta classified as a ‘full democracy’ last year.

Turmoil erupted when the suspected mastermind in the Caruana Galizia murder, Yorgen Fenech, was arrested in November. The situation snowballed into a political crisis after the prime minister’s former chief of staff, Keith Schembri, was implicated in the murder by Fenech and middleman Melvin Theuma, who was granted a presidential pardon.

The revelations led to Joseph Muscat resigning from prime minister and people taking to the streets in protest.

The Democracy Index is released annually and covers 165 independent countries and two territories. The EIU index is based on five categories: electoral process and pluralism; the functioning of government; political participation; political culture; and civil liberties.

For the purpose of the study, the researchers considered ‘flawed democracies’ as those which have free and fair elections and, even if there are problems (such as infringements on media freedom), basic civil liberties are respected.

In these countries, however, there are significant weaknesses in other aspects of democracy, including problems in governance, an underdeveloped political culture and low levels of political participation.

Overall, Malta was awarded a score of 7.95, the lowest since the index started being put together, placing the country in the 26th position globally.

Malta scored the lowest in the ‘political participation’ category (6.11) with both the scores for ‘functioning of government’ (7.5) and ‘political culture’ (8.11) being higher. The electoral process and pluralism were awarded the most marks of all categories reviewed (9.17). Civil liberties were given a score of 8.82.

The index provides a snapshot of the current state of democracy worldwide. 

This year’s edition of the Democracy Index shows that global democracy is in retreat, with the worst average score since the index began in 2006.

Democratic backsliding and a surge in protest movements across the world are noted as the main contributing factors towards the fall in the average score.

The decline in the average global score was driven by sharp regressions in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa.

The average score for Asia and Australasia, eastern Europe, North America and western Europe stagnated in 2019.

According to the EIU's measure of democracy, almost half (48.4%) of the world’s population live in a democracy of some sort, although only 5.7% reside in a ‘full democracy’, down from 8.9% in 2015 as a result of the US being demoted from a ‘full democracy’ to a ‘flawed democracy’ in 2016.

More than one-third of the world’s population live under authoritarian rule, with a large share being in China.

In 2019, some 68 countries experienced a decline in their total score compared with 2018, but almost as many (65) recorded an improvement. The other 34 stagnated, with their scores remaining unchanged compared with 2018.