These are the Most Democratic Countries in the World

These are the Most Democratic Countries in the World


Did you know there are only 19 true democracies
on the planet? According to the Economist’s Intelligence
Unit’s (EIU) yearly ranking, fewer than 10 percent of all the countries in the world
are “full democracies.” That means you’re statistically likely to
be reading this from a place which didn’t make the hallowed top 20. Bummer. Still, if you’re now looking around the
dystopian wasteland you live in and wondering where it all went wrong, fear not! We’ve compiled a list of the top 10 fullest
democracies on Earth. These are the nations that value free speech,
that have a vibrant press, don’t allow mean-spirited defamation lawsuits, and give all people access
to as much education and voting opportunity as they’ll ever need. Fed up with languishing just outside the top
20? (America.) Unhappy you only cracked number 14? (UK.) Try moving to one of these democratic wonderlands. Spoiler alert: nearly all of them are in northern
Europe. 10. Switzerland Landlocked Switzerland is an ongoing, highly
interesting experiment in what happens when you take the concept of democracy and pump
it so full of steroids it becomes a gigantic, unstoppable beast. This is a nation that doesn’t just conduct
regular referendums, it conducts endless polls on nearly every aspect of life within its
26 cantons. Anyone can call a referendum on anything,
you just need to be a Swiss citizen, and collect 100,000 signatures in 18 months. Then the whole country votes and lives by
the results, even in cases that are patently ridiculous. Amazing as this sounds – almost gets rid
of the need for political parties, doesn’t it? – the system has its drawbacks. Because voters needed to approve giving women
the franchise, for example, Swiss women were held back from voting until 1971. In one canton, the motion didn’t pass referendum
until 1991. Other absurd votes have included giving all
Swiss free money (rejected) and giving all Swiss six weeks paid holiday a year (also
rejected). Man, who are the people saying no to free
money and extra holidays? 9. Finland Given its proximity to and history with Russia,
you might expect Finland to suffer similar sorts of democratic failings as other Russian
neighbors (the three Baltic states – Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia – don’t make the
top 20; Ukraine and Belarus probably don’t make the top 100). Well, you’d be wrong, and probably not for
the first time either. Despite being part of the Russian Empire up
to the end of WWI, Finland has far more in common with its Nordic neighbors. Specifically, Finland conducts democracy like
a freedom-lovin’ boss. There are so many ways Finland leads the pack
that it’s impossible to separate them all. First off, the country has historic, world-beating
levels of female participation in politics, with some 60% of ministers being women. Then there’s Helsinki’s commitment to
getting ordinary people involved in the daily business of government, like those times they
held actual cabinet meetings in front of an audience of 600 people – and did it outside
the capital, where real Finns could witness it. Freedom of the press is also so enshrined
in law that the nation is ranked higher than the US for freedom of speech. Not bad for a cold country of under 5.5 million
people. 8. Australia For most of us living several thousand kilometers
away, Australia isn’t somewhere we associate with world beating democracy. We’re far too busy associating it with drop
bears and killer jellyfish and spiders so big they could cover your entire face. But for those who live there (and have managed
to find a way to block the aforementioned face-sized spiders from their minds), the
truth is as plain as day. The continent Down Under is one of the most
democratic places to live in the world. Australia has a founding myth as a free and
open society, where everyone can have a “fair go,” and it certainly shows. The EIU gives the antipodean nation a perfect
10.0 on civil liberties, even after a decade in which anti-terrorism laws had some locals
worried about surveillance. While Australia’s ranking could yet slip
in the future, for now Canberra is laughing all the way to the major functioning democracy
bank. Not that Australia is perfect. The country gets through so many Prime Ministers
that it’s amazing the government continues to function at all. But what do Aussies care? They’re too busy enjoying the sea and sun
in a desperate attempt to forget the lurking face spiders to worry about little details
like that. 7. Canada Oh, come on. You all knew Canada would be rearing its cold,
ice-encrusted head on here somewhere, didn’t you? An attempt to imagine what America might be
like if it was entirely filled with characters from Fargo, Canada has always had a reputation
as a nice place where nothing much happens except snow and hockey. But behind the scenes, Canada is far from
the friendly, boring place it’s always depicted as. As this ranking shows, there’s a well-oiled
machine at the heart of government, ensuring freedoms are protected at all costs. The Economist report highlights how Canada
commits to freedom of expression, religion, and tolerance. The country led the charge on gay rights in
North America, for example, and the rights of the French-speaking minority in Quebec
are fiercely protected in law (despite the province’s repeated attempts to split off
over the decades, but that’s an aside for another time). There are also solid rules governing the rights
of minorities, which is good, as Canada kinda spent a lot of the first half of the 20th
Century acting like those guys didn’t exist, and stealing their babies. 6. Ireland Across the choppy Atlantic seas, the Emerald
Isle is a place with a history as famous and as storied as any number of significantly
larger countries. But is it really known as a beacon of democracy? Well, it certainly should be. Freedom of speech is enshrined in the Irish
constitution, with only a small number of limitations where it might incite violence,
or can be linked to stuff like the exploitation of children. That’s not quite as airtight as the guarantees
in the American constitution, but it’s still fairly robust. Polls tend to show that the Irish reject even
the slightest reduction in this freedom, no matter the cause. It wasn’t always this way. During the Troubles in Northern Ireland, there
were restrictions on what you could say on the radio or TV, if it related to the conflict
or was deemed to promote terrorism. Thankfully, these controls were relaxed as
the conflict wound down, rather than staying in place eternally 5. Denmark Whenever there’s a list written for the
internet about good countries doing good things, you can be sure that Denmark will feature
on there prominently. The home of Hans Christian Andersen, Copenhagen,
and Carlsberg is one of the world’s happiest countries, one of its most-livable, one of
the nations with the best welfare states, and a world leader in green energy. Oh, and it just happens to have a thriving
democracy. But then you probably already expected that,
didn’t you? Freedom of the individual is a core component
of Danish law and society, and everything in the country reflects this. In some ways, Danes interpret this in a slightly
different way from Americans or Brits, with an ultra-generous welfare state. Yet, on an individual level, the core concepts
are identical. The country also scores ridiculously highly
on gender balance in the workplace and in political life, and features so much transparency
in government that visitors to Copenhagen risk walking smack into the parliament building,
like birds hitting a window. Only less painful, because it’s clearly
a metaphor. 4. New Zealand New Zealand is what would happen if you took
Canada, squashed it down to a fraction of its size, dragged it halfway across the world,
and dumped it next to Australia. Oh, and took away hockey and replaced it with
rugby. And swapped maple syrup for a monstrosity
known as Vegemite. OK, the simile sucks on several levels, but
hey! At least it works where democracy is concerned. New Zealand is so committed to freedom, it
makes even Denmark look like a prison. Indeed, New Zealand actually tops most rankings
of freest countries in the world, with its long history of tolerance for gay people,
giving women the vote before literally anyone else, and not oppressing their native population
even while everyone else was indulging in some baby snatching and forced removal. On more practical matters of democracy, Middle
Earth’s real-life twin scores highly, too. Government generally functions, minorities
are represented, the leader is female (Jacinda Ardern), and the scenery is beautiful. Yeah, we know that last one has absolutely
nothing to do with democracy, but give us a break, huh? We’re too busy drowning in jealousy and
Vegemite to worry about little mistakes like that. 3. Sweden OK, from here on out it’s all Scandinavia. Big surprise. And our final Nordic dominance of this list
begins with Sweden, a country that gave us Volvo, Ikea, and ultra-violent thrillers starring
feminist heroes. Yep, Europe’s conscience is exactly as committed
to upholding democratic principles as you’d expect (i.e. very). Incredibly, this actually represents a slide
from its previous position. Back in 2006, Sweden was #1 in the entire
world. Gee guys, what happened? You start excluding women from the Ikea canteens
or something? Interestingly, despite its democratic credentials,
Sweden is home to one of the most openly corrupt instances of botched investigation in history. Prime Minister Olof Palme was gunned down
exiting a theater one freezing night in 1986, and the culprit was never found. An enduring conspiracy theory has it that
the police – who were slow to respond and bungled the investigation – were involved. Hmm. That’d knock Sweden down a few pegs on these
rankings, if it was ever proven. 2. Iceland On paper, Iceland shouldn’t work as a country. It’s a sparsely inhabited lump of frozen
rock about the size of England that seemingly only exists to periodically ignite in gigantic
volcanic eruptions. It spent most of its life as a small fishing
outpost, before becoming a casino banking mecca and then imploding in the 2008 crash. There are so few people that the entire population
is smaller than the city of Anaheim, California. And yet, Iceland not only works, it works
so well that only one other nation on Earth is more democratic than it. Like many Nordic nations, Iceland has a long-standing
commitment to equality and treating other human beings as human beings, rather than
annoying lumps of flesh who consistently vote the wrong way. Women are represented well in politics, most
of the citizenry are switched on and engaged with their democracy, and freedoms are guaranteed
by law. In fact, the only place where Iceland really
falls down is in its post-2008 habit of getting through governments faster than most of us
change our pants (everyone only changes their pants twice a year, right?). Both the Panama Papers scandal and a secret
deal to pardon a pedophile have caused Prime Ministers to fall or governments collapse
in the last 22 months. 1. Norway Is Norway the perfect country? It’s beautiful, wealthy, happy, and full
of people so attractive that mingling with them is like getting an instant insight into
the life of Joseph Merrick. Only Norwegians are also too nice to point
out what a sallow, portly America/Brit/German/Australian you clearly are. See what we mean? Awesome place. Throw in one of the world’s best democracies
and it’s easy to wonder why we aren’t all moving to Norway (answer: because it has
one of the tightest immigration systems on the planet). Norway’s commitment to democracy comes in
many forms, but it’s plain to see in all walks of life. For example, voter registration is automatic
in Norway, which is useful as difficult registration requirements are exactly why you’ll always
hear people accusing certain US states of disenfranchisement. There’s also an incredibly high rate of
political participation, meaning people would rather go out and vote than spend the afternoon
splayed out on the sofa, their cheese-stained frame bloated by a diet of junk food and voter
apathy. Despite our opening question, though, Norway
isn’t perfect. Beer costs 10 Euros a bottle.