26 September 2010

Article: Asia's Dithering Democracies

On 1 January 2009, "Time" published on its website an article titled "Asia's Dithering Democracies", authored by the magazine's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief, Hannah Beech, who is of Japanese and American parentage.

The full text of the article can be read free of charge here:


Excerpts: "After the shackles of colonialism were overthrown, largely after World War II, the 21st century was supposed to herald the ascent of democracy in Asia. While parts of the region – from Burma and North Korea to Laos, Vietnam and China – are still governed by diktat, the past couple of decades have created a region that to all outward appearances is largely democratic. [...] Yet throughout 2008, many Asians appeared to progressively lose their faith in democratic politics. [...] In many ways, the challenges of Asian democracy are a reflection of its youth. Democracy in the West evolved over centuries – and, even then, its proponents understood its limitations [....] Asia, for the most part, has raced through the democratization process in just a couple of decades. [...] Growing pains may be forgiven in emerging democracies. But if the current political instabilities are allowed to metastasize, Asian nations could tire of the notion of democracy altogether because it's considered too messy, ineffectual or corrupt.

"In South Korea, Mongolia, Taiwan, Thailand and the Philippines, a study by the governance-tracking Asian Barometer Project found that more citizens believed that the nations' recent democratic transitions had brought no improvement to their lives than those who saw positive changes. With time softening the memories of autocratic rule, nostalgia for overthrown dictators is spreading. Some are even calling for a resurgence of so-called 'Asian values,' a mix of paternalistic discipline and market economics that fell into disregard after the 1997 financial meltdown [...]. In [...] many parts of Asia, members of the educated élite bristle at the notion that Western-style democracy is a one-size-fits-all political system. [...]

"Although the Asian Barometer Project found that the majority of Asians say they support most democratic ideals, their commitment to limits on a leader's power is far lower than that of people polled in Europe or even sub-Saharan Africa. [...] This ruler-knows-best attitude can make Asians act more like subjects than citizens. Militaries – the other power pole in much of Asia – can meddle in politics without much public distress from the masses. [...] When Asians finally do react against their governments, it is often in extremis, anger spilling onto the streets in revolutionary-style rallies. [...] For frustrated farmers or construction workers or street vendors, it may be easier to imagine political change through a groundswell of antigovernment rallies rather than through checking one of many underwhelming candidates on a ballot. [...] The backlash against electoral politics by the very people who were recently its proponents may be the most troubling sign of Asian democracy under siege."

It is not mentioned whether the article appeared in print too.

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