Asian democrats can help fill vacuum on democratic renewal


It is too early to know if the current democratic recession represents a blip or something more malignant, says a leading expert.

“But the recession is certainly deepening,” Stanford University’s Larry Diamond told The World Weekly. “There is no natural and inevitable stopping point, and Russia, China, and Iran would certainly like to arrest democratic progress anywhere in the neighborhoods. It is a very vulnerable moment.”

Asia has not been unaffected by the democratic recession. Democracy has retreated in a number of emerging Asian democracies, including the Philippines, where an illiberal president threatens the rule of law; Thailand, where a military junta has cemented its control; and Bangladesh, where a single party holds authoritarian power while extremists kill bloggers and other independent voices, the National Endowment for Democracy’s Carl Gershman notes.

While these developments are worrying, the trends in Asia are actually more encouraging than in other regions, he told the Seoul Forum of the Asia Democracy Network:

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, since it began producing its Democracy Index in 2006, Asia has made more headway in advancing democracy than any other region. …. The progress of democracy in Asia has not been limited to democratic expansion and the consolidation of democracy in South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, Mongolia, and other countries.  According to a recent article by Charles Welzel and Russell Dalton in the Asian Journal of Comparative Politics, growing social and political modernization in Asia has brought about a shift toward “a more assertive model of citizenship,” which has had the effect of producing “more effective and accountable governments.”

Nevertheless, Asia’s democracies are confronting corruption and threatened by a growing source of strategic instability at the sub-state level, as increasing religiosity and extremist ideologies gain momentum in the national consciousness of several countries in the region.

The Prague Appeal called for the creation of a new Coalition for Democratic Renewal that will be a moral and intellectual catalyst for the revitalization of the democratic idea, said the NED’s Gershman (left). “In the past, leadership and solidarity in the struggle for democracy came from the transatlantic heartland of global democracy,” he said. “For now, though, Asian democrats must help fill the vacuum.”


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