Asia does not have a single ‘fully democratic’ state
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Asia does not have a single ‘fully democratic’ state

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.”

“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.”

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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.

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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:

Country Overall Score Global Ranking Regional Ranking* Regime Type
South Korea 8 20 3 Flawed democracy
Japan 7.88 23 4 Flawed democracy
Taiwan 7.73 33 5 Flawed democracy
India 7.23 42 6 Flawed democracy
Timor-Leste 7.19 43 7 Flawed democracy
Philippines 6.71 51 8 Flawed democracy
Malaysia 6.54 59 9 Flawed democracy
Mongolia 6.5 60 10 Flawed democracy
Sri Lanka 6.48 62 11 Flawed democracy
Indonesia 6.39 68 12 Flawed democracy
Singapore 6.32 69 13 Flawed democracy
Hong Kong 6.31 71 14 Flawed democracy
Papua New Guinea 6.03 75 15 Flawed democracy
Bangladesh 5.43 92 17 Hybrid Regime
Nepal 5.18 94 18 Hybrid Regime
Bhutan 5.08 99 19 Hybrid Regime
Thailand 4.63 107 20 Hybrid Regime
Pakistan 4.26 110 21 Hybrid Regime
Myanmar 3.83 120 22 Authoritarian
Cambodia 3.63 124 23 Authoritarian
China 3.1 139 24 Authoritarian
Vietnam 3.08 140 25 Authoritarian
Afghanistan 2.55 149 26 Authoritarian
Laos 2.37 151 27 Authoritarian
North Korea 1.08 167 28 Authoritarian

* Region refers to Asian and Australasian states

Source: The Economist Intelligence Unit