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Democracy disrupted in Asia: EIU's 2017 Democracy Index

Democracy disrupted in Asia

The EIU's 2017 Democracy Index

Asian democracies had a tumultuous year. After making rapid progress in The Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index rankings in recent years, Asia and Australasia experienced the biggest decline of all regions between 2016 and our latest assessment for 2017. Scoring 5.63, Asia lagged behind North America (8.56), western Europe (8.38) and Latin America (6.26). It also remained the region with the biggest deviation in scores among its countries. Top-scoring New Zealand (9.26) ranked 4th in the global index (out of 167 countries), while persistent laggard North Korea (1.08) ranked 167th. Australia and New Zealand remained the only two “full democracies” in the region as a whole. "It was a year of democratic backsliding for Asia," said Duncan Innes-Ker, Director for Asia at The EIU, "and the most disappointing performance since 2010-11 in the aftermath of the global economic and financial crash. The main regressive trends were a consolidation of power by key leaders in the region and increasing intolerance of minorities and of freedom of expression in some places."

Asia’s two largest emerging democracies, India and Indonesia, suffered significant declines in their scores and fell down the rankings in our latest assessment. India dropped from 32nd position in 2016 to 42nd in 2017, while Indonesia slid to 68th position from 48th. Democracy in Indonesia suffered a setback following the mayoral polls in Jakarta, the capital, in which the incumbent governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (known as Ahok), who comes from a minority community, was arrested for alleged blasphemy. The rise of conservative religious ideologies also affected India. The strengthening of right-wing Hindu forces in an otherwise secular country led to a rise of vigilantism and violence against minority communities, particularly Muslims, as well as other dissenting voices.

In countries as diverse as Japan (ranked 23rd in our latest assessment), the Philippines (ranked 51st) and China (ranked 139th), there was a consolidation of power by the country’s leaders. In China President Xi Jinping further entrenched his power by writing his theoretical contribution to the Chinese Communist Party’s ideology, dubbed “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” (or “Xi Jinping Thought”), into the party’s constitution. In Japan the prime minister Shinzo Abe secured his fourth term in office in a landslide election win. His party, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), remains predominant in the legislature. Finally, the indefinite declaration of martial law in the southern state of Mindanao in the Philippines, and the rule of country’s strongman leader, Rodrigo Duterte, adversely affected the quality of democracy in the Philippines.

A special focus of this year's report, entitled Free speech under attack, is the state of media freedom and freedom of expression around the world. According to our Media Freedom Index, only 30 countries out of the 167 covered by the Democracy Index—representing 11% of the world's population—are classified as "fully free". Another 40 countries, representing 34.2% of the world's population, are classified as "partly free". Some 97 countries in our Media Freedom Index are rated as “unfree” or “largely unfree”. Asia’s average regional score in our Media Freedom Index is 5.5, and its average ranking is 79.4.

The Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index 2017 is available free of charge at: www.eiu.com/democracy2017

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