It's interesting for me, how it is decided by western community. For example, we have country "A" (imagine, parliament republic), which holds elections.

Note also, that it's not about "interchanging" - current president of Montenegro is in power since late 90th. A.Merkel was in power for approximately 15 years - so it's ok.

How (or using which techinques) do western countries decide if elections hold, or country in general is "democratic"? Not some rating to watch, but principle it decided - that is the main point


It's also interesting, from what point such democracy can defend itself from protests, in ways like described here.

  • 4
    It's not always a binary yes/no thing. Democracy Index is probably a good starting point for research.
    – Jontia
    Commented Jul 26, 2021 at 8:10
  • It's interesting for me in terms of "protecting democracy", which I've mentioned in politics.stackexchange.com/questions/66672/… - from what point opponents suppression is allowed by "international community"? Commented Jul 26, 2021 at 9:27
  • Also, @Jontia, main interest is not some "rating", but the way its formed. I think, that's more interesting - who and how decide if the country A is a democracy, or not. Commented Jul 26, 2021 at 9:39
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    This question seems to assume that "western community" is a hive-mind which just decides which countries are democracies and which are not. This is not the case. There are a lot of cases where different governments will have different opinions, and even individual people within governments might have very different opinions.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jul 26, 2021 at 10:36
  • Yes, you've get it right. And what you've said is very unusual for me. Is there any example of true democracy, which is not assumed as such by western community? I'm re-asking, because it's rather shocking for me, to hear such things. And why then you call it a democracy? Commented Jul 26, 2021 at 12:54

3 Answers 3


Anybody can make their own decisions.

This is like asking "what is a wine glass" (to pick a random example). You can drink wine out of many different containers. Some people will be happy to drink wine from glass tumblers, tea-cups, plastic mugs, shoes(!?) If you want to accept those as "wine glasses" you can. Some people will be very particular about the particular shape and style. If you prefer you can be picky.

There is a general consensus that a wine glass should be made of glass, have a stem, not be too small... And people who are experts in wine can probably give good advice on what is usually accepted as a wine glass.

So it is with democracy. Many countries claim to be democratic. There is a general acceptance that a democratic country should have open and free multi-party elections with wide participation and a functioning government that can implement the policies chosen by the party that wins elections. Experts can give advice (such as the democracy index) on which countries meet these standards. But you are not forced to accept their judgement.

If you want to apply different criteria, that is up to you. The who and the how is "everybody" and "by consensus". Nobody "decides" that. There are lots and lots of opinions by more or less qualified experts. In some cases they mostly align, in other cases the expert opinions are more diverse. But they are almost never unanimous. So which experts you agree with is a matter of personal opinion.

  • Am I right, that being or not is decided by expert opinion about being elections "free" or not "free" and other points you've mentioned? Commented Jul 26, 2021 at 10:21
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    @user2501323 I think the point this answer makes is that nobody "decides" that. There are lots and lots of opinions by more or less qualified experts. In some cases they mostly align, in other cases the expert opinions are more diverse. But they are almost never unanimous. So which experts you agree with is a matter of personal opinion.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jul 26, 2021 at 10:44
  • I'll steal^H^H^H^H^H use that in my answer
    – James K
    Commented Jul 26, 2021 at 11:11

The principle of democratic government is succinctly summarized under Article 21, Clause 3 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

Couple important points from this statement:

  • A country is only democratic if its government derives its legitimacy from the mandate of the people.

  • A country is only democratic if the mandate of the people is regularly renewed through free and fair election.

  • A country is only democratic if its elections allow everyone to vote (with limited restrictions such as age and citizenship). The election must be conducted in a manner wherein all voters have equal voting power and no one has to disclose who they voted for at the polls.

It's important to point out that while virtually every country on Earth claims to derive its legitimacy from the will of its people, not all of them have free and fair elections. The presence of periodic election, and the manner in which these elections are carried out, are critical at determining whether a country is democratic.

To further standardize this evaluation process, many models have been developed to rank countries in terms of how democratic they are. While each model varies in terms of methodology, all of them comply with the principle set out by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

See here for a full list of these models (i.e. indices): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_freedom_indices#Prominent_indices

  • With all respect, question particularly specifies, that "how" and "by whom" are the main points of the question. Not the abstract indices table. Commented Jul 26, 2021 at 12:52
  • @user2501323 I thought it should be a given that no one has monopoly on the definition of democracy. Whether a country is democratic or not is recognized by consensus of international community. Commented Jul 26, 2021 at 12:57
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    I would add a free press as well. Without it, a government can spin news to the point where they can get support from a majority of people, without having to engage in much outright coercion. With it, the mandate of the people comes from informed people, a crucial difference. Commented Jul 26, 2021 at 22:28
  • From the point of CPR, US press is not free, and from the point of the US, CPR press is not free. So what? Which one is "free" from your POV? Commented Jul 27, 2021 at 1:24
  • @user2501323 the claim that "not free in US" == "not free in China" is quite disingenuous. during Trump years, very anti-gov press was allowed to operate, from CNN to Huff Post. Now, with Biden, you have Newsmaxx and Fox, also anti-gov. Regardless of the quality or not of those press organs, claiming the US govt can control anti-govt press flies against that evidence. Contrast w China or Russia. Not to disclaim more subtle nudging as in Manufacturing Consent, but direct gov control is 🤣🤣🤣 (funny) when when compared to Hong Kong press shutdowns for example. Commented Jul 27, 2021 at 18:30

The two answers by James K and QuantumWalnut are good, but I believe that they miss some relevant points.

Despite the UN, there is no such thing as a world government. There is no effective world court, either. Nations are mostly assumed to be sovereign in the Westphalian model, and concepts like the Responsibility to Protect are only slowly making inroads. There is no global requirement for countries to be democratic, and for much of the 20th century there were major, non-democratic powers like the Soviet Union.

What does exist are groups of countries which affirm common standards on democracy and human rights. The Soviet Union signed up to some of them, like the Helsinki Accords. Groups like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe are sending election monitors to many states.

Here is the initial OSCE report on the 2020 US elections. Here is the final OSCE report on the 2017 German elections. As you can see, both are somewhat critical. Here is the final report on the 2018 Russian Presidential elections. Compare the tone of the recommendations in this case. And there was no invitation to Belarus 2020.

There is no requirement to accept OSCE monitors and similar groups. A country which fails to do so is still sovereign. But it would lose "face" in the international community at large.

And then there is the debate among political thinkers about if and when there is a right of revolution. Some argue that populations (or individuals?) have the right to overthrow a non-democratic government, while in a democracy they must limit their campaigns to the ballot box. Democracies might be unwilling to extradite revolutionaries to non-democracies.

Countries are also free to offer preferential trade deals and things like visa rules to other countries they approve, and to deny them to countries they disapprove. And having the same views on democracy tends to cause mutual approval. Compare the EU rule of law conditionality.

  • Hard to transfer idea to another language. And I don't mean english. What does "international community" means in your answer? Those 20 countries lead by G7? Really? Commented Jul 27, 2021 at 1:21
  • Since I was talking about a hard-to-quantify concept like "loss of face," there is no standing definition of the community. If a country wants easier visa from the EU, it has to convince the EU. If it wants foreign investment, it has to convince global companies rather than governments. Or the Chinese, if it wants to ally with them.
    – o.m.
    Commented Jul 27, 2021 at 4:08

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