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Report: Populist Leaders Can Make Corruption Worse


AfD (Alternative for Germany) chairwoman Frauke Petry, right, Far-right leader and candidate for next spring presidential elections Marine le Pen from France, center, and Dutch populist anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders, left, stand together after their speeches at a meeting of European Nationalists in Koblenz, Germany, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

A new report says countries that elect populist leaders can have increased problems with inequality and government corruption.

Watchdog group Transparency International (TI) released its findings Wednesday in an annual report on worldwide corruption.

The Corruption Perceptions Index 2016 cited examples of how corruption and inequality have helped fuel growing populist movements around the world.

Many traditional politicians promise to get rid of corruption, but end up failing in the end, according to the report. This can cause unhappy voters to turn to populist candidates to “break the cycle of corruption and privilege,” it added.

In many cases, the election of populist candidates worsens the same corruption that helped launch the populist movements, the report concludes.

“In countries with populist or autocratic leaders, we often see democracies in decline and a disturbing pattern of attempts to crack down on civil society, limit press freedom, and weaken the independence of the judiciary,” said TI chairman Jose Ugaz.

The best and the worst

The watchdog ranked 176 countries on a scale of 0-100. Zero has the highest level of corruption, while 100 has the least corruption. Nearly 70 percent of all the countries scored below 50.

In this file photo, boats are anchored in the Nyhavn district of Copenhagen, Denmark, Dec. 5, 2009. Global watchdog Transparency International said Wednesday its latest annual Corruption Perceptions Index report Denmark and New Zealand performed best in 2016.
In this file photo, boats are anchored in the Nyhavn district of Copenhagen, Denmark, Dec. 5, 2009. Global watchdog Transparency International said Wednesday its latest annual Corruption Perceptions Index report Denmark and New Zealand performed best in 2016.

At the top of the list were Denmark and New Zealand, both with a score of 90. Finland came next with a score of 89, followed by Sweden with 88. The report said each of these countries had an open government, free press and independent judicial systems.

Coming in last was Somalia – with a score of 10 – which TI concluded had the worst corruption problems. It has received the lowest score for the past 10 years. The report cited corruption problems in Somalia’s parliamentary and presidential elections.

In this file photo, people stand and walk on a beach in the old port of Mogadishu, Somalia, Nov. 13, 2013. In a report released Wednesday, global watchdog Transparency International ranked Somalia last in the world for corruption problems.
In this file photo, people stand and walk on a beach in the old port of Mogadishu, Somalia, Nov. 13, 2013. In a report released Wednesday, global watchdog Transparency International ranked Somalia last in the world for corruption problems.

Other nations at the bottom were South Sudan (11), North Korea (12), and Syria (13).

TI said low-ranking countries were found to have police and court systems that are not trusted by the public. In addition, many of these nations lacked basic services because government money is mismanaged. Anti-corruption laws either do not exist or are ignored, and people often face extortion, the report added.

Two examples of nations that dropped on the list in recent years are Turkey and Hungary. The report said the reason was that both countries saw a rise in “autocratic leaders.” On the other hand, Argentina improved in the rankings after electing a new president to replace a populist government.

The United States came in at number 18 on the list - down from 16 the previous year - with a corruption score of 74.

Finn Heinrich is the research director for Transparency International. He said the organization will be watching the direction of the U.S. government under President Donald Trump.

He said Trump had repeatedly promised to get rid of corruption in Washington, D.C., by “draining the swamp.” However, Heinrich told the Associated Press, “the people in his Cabinet have many conflicts of interest. They are not people who stand for transparency."

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from VOA News, the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse. Hai Do was the editor.

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Words in This Story

privilege n. a right or benefit given to some people and not to others

autocraticadj. relating to a ruler who has absolute power

disturbingadj. upsetting or unsettling

extortionn. to get money from someone by threatening harm

transparencyn. the quality of being transparent, or clear

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