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Democracy Trends in Asia

Democratic Trends in Asia

27 February 2020

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EUI) has just published its annual review of worldwide democratic trends. It states that ‘Asian democracies had a tumultuous year in 2019’ with Thailand marking the biggest jump in the rankings and moving from a ‘hybrid regime’ to a ‘flawed democracy.’

The EUI notes that since they started producing the Democracy Index in 2006, the Asia region has made more progress in improving its standing than any other region. But this positive trend halted in 2018 and 2019 saw a stagnation and even some reverses. Asia is also the region with the biggest divergence in scores: it includes top-scoring New Zealand, which retained its 4th position in the global ranking (out of 167 countries), while persistent laggard North Korea is at the bottom of the global ranking. Australia and New Zealand are the region’s only two ‘full democracies.’

South Korea and Japan, however, are very close to attaining ‘full democracy’ status, but for now they remain ‘flawed democracies.’ The region has 12 other ‘flawed democracies’ after Thailand returned to the fold following the general election in 2019. The region has five ‘hybrid regimes’ and seven ‘authoritarian regimes.’

On India, the EUI states that the new citizenship law has enraged the large Muslim population, stoked communal tensions and generated large protests in major cities. The report is critical of Dutere’s drug campaign in the Philippines and is also critical of moves in Indonesia to abolish direct elections for the president.

It states that the introduction of a ‘fake news’ law in Singapore led to a deterioration in the score for civil liberties in the city-state. The country, it suggests, has a low threshold of tolerance when it comes to criticism of the government, and libel laws are routinely used to muzzle opposition voices. By contrast, Malaysia, which scrapped its ‘fake news’ law in August 2018 made further democratic gains in 2019 rising nine places as campaigning opportunities for all parties improved, especially in the realm of social media.

China is now ranked 153rd, close to the bottom of the global rankings, mainly as a result of its discrimination against minorities, especially in Xinjiang.