Causes of Democratic Backsliding in South Asia

Ms Medha Majumdar1

1The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

In the last two decades, there has been no net expansion in the number of democracies and a decline in freedom globally. Democratic backsliding is an emerging field of research explaining the deterioration of the qualities of democratic governance. While lead by political elites through the overreach of executive power, declining public support for democracy is a critical component of democratic backsliding. It allows elites to make authoritarian advances, under the guise of democracy. Public support for democracy is essential to political stability and legitimacy. However, previous studies have not explored the social and institutional conditions which causes declining support for democracy and democratic backsliding thereafter. This paper explores the causes of democratic backsliding, by drawing on the case study of South Asia. It is a comparative study of democratic transition, consolidation and deterioration in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Afghanistan. This paper assesses the theoretical foundations of the social and institutional conditions which causes of democratic backsliding. It focusses on political culture, political leadership and parties, public institutions, economic performance and intraregional conflict. This theoretical paper is part of a larger study of democratic backsliding and declining public support for democracy, utilising quantitative analysis of the World Value Survey, Asian Barometer Survey and the Asia Society Afghan People’s Survey.


Medha Majumdar is a PhD candidate in the School of Politics and International Relations, The Australian National University, and Westpac Future Leaders Scholar 2019. Her PhD research is a quantitative study of the social and institutional conditions which cause democratic backsliding.



The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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