Asia Does Not Have A Single ‘Fully Democratic’ State

Source: Asian Correspondent

In the latest edition of The Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2017 Democracy Index, there are 19 “fully democratic” countries in the world. None of them are located in Asia.

At best, Asian nations such as Japan and India are found to be “flawed democracies” while North Korea and Myanmar are among its most authoritarian.

Globally, this year’s edition recorded the “worst decline” of democracy in years. Not a single region’s average scores improved since 2016. It’s said to be the worst performance worldwide since the aftermath of the 2010-11 global economic and financial crisis.

Around the world, said Joan Hoey, editor of the report, “Freedom of expression faces a threefold threat. The state in democratic and authoritarian countries is deploying defamation, prevention of terrorism, blasphemy and other laws to curb freedom of expression.”

More than half the countries in the latest update of a democratic-health index saw their scores decline

“Non-state actors, including militant Islamists, criminal gangs and vested interests use intimidation, threats, violence and murder to stifle free speech. Those claiming the right not to be offended are demanding ‘safe spaces,’ ‘trigger warnings,’ ‘hate speech’ laws and regulation of social media to cleanse public life of alleged offensive content.”

Democracy is an elusive term to describe. However, the EIU has narrowed its analysis of 165 independent states down to 60 indicators. These include electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture.

Their scores then classify them as one of four types of regime: full democracy; flawed democracy; hybrid regime; or authoritarian regime.

A tumultuous, regressive year for Asia

In a reversal of recent trends, Asia is the worst-performing region this time around. Its regional score fell sharply and declined for the first time since 2010-11.

Japan, once a shining beacon of “full democracy” in 2015, is now a “flawed democracy”, thanks to its relative weak perfromance in the political participation and political culture categories.

One of the starkest divide can be seen in the Korean Peninsula. South Korea is the top-performing Asian country, while its northern neighbour occupies its lowest rungs at 167th spot.

China, the region’s superpower, is branded an authoritarian regime and occupies the 139th spot.

India and Indonesia, the region’s two largest emerging democracies, slid down the rankings significantly in this latest assessment. They join 11 other “flawed democracies” in the region, such as South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.

In Asean, Timor-Leste is the most democratic, followed by the Philippines and Malaysia. Sinking deeper into authoritarianism are Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar – all performed worse this time around.

Jakarta’s incumbent governor from a minority community, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama’s (known as Ahok), blasphemy charge was the major setback in Indonesia’s performance last year. In what is called a “minority crisis”, the archipelago is seeing conservative religious ideologies impinge on minority rights and freedom of expression among Indonesia’s moderate Muslim majority.

Here’s how Asian democracies performed in the index:

CountryOverall ScoreGlobal RankingRegional Ranking*Regime Type
South Korea8203Flawed democracy
Japan7.88234Flawed democracy
Taiwan7.73335Flawed democracy
India7.23426Flawed democracy
Timor-Leste7.19437Flawed democracy
Philippines6.71518Flawed democracy
Malaysia6.54599Flawed democracy
Mongolia6.56010Flawed democracy
Sri Lanka6.486211Flawed democracy
Indonesia6.396812Flawed democracy
Singapore6.326913Flawed democracy
Hong Kong6.317114Flawed democracy
Papua New Guinea6.037515Flawed democracy
Bangladesh5.439217Hybrid Regime
Nepal5.189418Hybrid Regime
Bhutan5.089919Hybrid Regime
Thailand4.6310720Hybrid Regime
Pakistan4.2611021Hybrid Regime
Myanmar3.8312022Authoritarian
Cambodia3.6312423Authoritarian
China3.113924Authoritarian
Vietnam3.0814025Authoritarian
Afghanistan2.5514926Authoritarian
Laos2.3715127Authoritarian
North Korea1.0816728Authoritarian

* Region refers to Asian and Australasian states

Source: The Economist Intelligence Unit

 

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