New Zealand tops world for civil liberties - report

Despite grumbles from gun owners and free speech advocates over the past year, New Zealand has scored a perfect 10 for civil liberties in a new report.

The latest edition of the Economist Intelligence Unit's (EIU) annual Democracy Index was released on Thursday, and once again New Zealand has received a glowing report, ranking fourth overall.

Ranked out of 10 on five different metrics - electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, political culture and civil liberties - New Zealand scored 9.26, behind only Nordic nations Norway (9.87), Iceland (9.58) and Sweden (9.39). 

We ranked one place above Finland, with Ireland, Denmark, Canada, Australia and Switzerland rounding out the top 10. 

While the news is good for New Zealand, globally a darker picture is being painted. Only 5.7 percent of the world's population live in what the EIU defines as a 'full democracy' - down from 8.9 percent five years ago. 

Much of the decline is down to the increasing dysfunction of the United States,  which the report blames on both Republicans and Democrats "increasingly seen as being focused on blocking each other's agenda" and President Donald Trump's willingness to circumvent Congress in making policy decisions.

The US is now considered a 'flawed democracy' alongside the likes of Mexico, Colombia, Thailand and Hong Kong.

Sixty-eight countries saw their scores decline from last year's report, none more than China, which fell 23 places to 153rd. 

"Discrimination against minorities, especially in the north-western region of Xinjiang, intensified and digital surveillance of the population continued apace," the report noted. 

Bottom of the list, as always, was North Korea - with a stunning zero out of 10 for both electoral process (there is none) and civil liberties (ditto). The reclusive dictatorship's top score was for functioning of government at 2.5, for an overall score of 1.08 out of 10. 

Other countries bringing up the rear include Congo, Central African Republic, Syria, Chad, Turkmenistan, Equatorial Guinea, Tajikistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. 

The world's government types.
The world's government types - green good, red bad. Photo credit: EIU

Overall, the average score fell from 5.48 to 5.44 - the worst since the EIU began producing the Index in 2006, continuing a downward trend - particularly in civil liberties.

More than a third of the world's population live under an authoritarian government, the report notes, most of them in China. Almost half live in some form of democracy - mostly flawed - while the remainder reside in countries with a 'hybrid' regime which has elections, but they're hardly entirely democratic - think Turkey, Fiji or Ukraine.