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The EIU's 2018 Democracy Index: Advances, A Long Way To Go

Press release

9th January 2019

For immediate release

Democratic advances, and a long way to go

Asia in The EIU's 2018 Democracy Index
Since we began producing the Democracy Index, Asia and Australasia has made more headway in advancing democracy than any other region, and, after a tumultuous two years during which the process of democratisation appeared to be going into reverse, the region made modest renewed gains in 2018. Nevertheless, at 5.67, the score remains substantially lower than its historical peak of 5.74, registered in 2015-16. Furthermore, Asian democracies continued to lag behind North America, Western Europe and Latin America. Asia also remained the region with the biggest deviation in scores among its countries: top scoring New Zealand (9.26) retained its 4th position in the global ranking (out of 167 countries), while persistent laggard North Korea (1.08), ranked last at 167th. Australia and New Zealand remained the only two “full democracies” in the region.

Democracy Index 2018, by regime type

No. of countries % of countries % of world population
Full democracies 20 12.0 4.5
Flawed democracies 55 32.9 43.2
Hybrid regimes 39 23.4 16.7
Authoritarian regimes 53 31.7 35.6
Note. "World" population refers to the total population of the 167 countries covered by the Index. Since this excludes only micro-states, this is nearly equal to the entire estimated world population.
Source: The Economist Intelligence Unit.


Key highlights from the report for Asia:

• The improvement in the region’s score in 2018 was driven by rising political participation across the region. The improvement was most significant for Malaysia (currently ranked 52nd) and Afghanistan (143rd). Both countries successfully held major elections in 2018. Voter turnout for Malaysia’s general election in May was close to 80%, and it delivered a surprise upset for the incumbent. In Afghanistan voter turnout (3m out of 8.8m registered voters cast their ballot) was healthy, considering the extreme threat to security from terrorist groups that oppose the country’s democratic institutions.

• A majority of countries saw their ranking improve in 2018. It was the region’s least democratic nations that saw the most significant improvements in rank in 2018. China rose nine places in the global ranking, although it remains classified as an authoritarian regime and its climb in the index mainly reflects the worsening scores of other countries in the index, particularly in Latin America and Eastern Europe.

Sri Lanka fell back more than any other country in the region. It saw a marked decrease in its score from 6.48 in 2017 to 6.19, driven by a worsening in the functioning of government and in civil liberties.

Little change was felt in Asia’s two largest democracies: India (ranked 41st) and Indonesia (65th). Both are readying themselves for elections in 2019.

Among the democracies of East Asia, Japan experienced the largest increase in its score, thanks to recent efforts to increase women and youth participation in democracy.

Hong Kong, by contrast, saw a slight decline in its overall score. The government banned the Hong Kong National Party, in a clear setback for Hong Kong’s already weak democracy. The territory’s election commission is now also screening candidates more aggressively and has barred several who support greater autonomy from mainland China from standing for office.

There was a small uptick in Singapore's score, but it remains classified for the fifth consecutive year as a "flawed democracy". Parliamentary elections take place at least every five years and are considered free. Moreover, the ruling party is generally seen by both supporters and critics as effective with regard to the formulation and implementation of policy. Civil liberties remain a cause for concern in the city state, as the government continues to control freedom of speech and the right to assemble.

Although Asia’s score in the Democracy Index improved marginally in 2018, and although there were some clear bright spots, such as Malaysia, there were dampeners: including a controversy over electoral irregularities in Pakistan, the jailing of two local journalists belonging to the foreign press corps in Myanmar, and legal attacks made by the government of the Philippines against any form of opposition. All this served as a reminder that there is still a long way to go for democratic values to be entrenched in Asia.

The Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index 2018 is available free of charge at www.eiu.com/democracy2018


Full release with world rankings: The_EIU__Democracy_Index_2018__Press_Release__Asia.pdf

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