TWQ: Asia’s Challenged Democracies - Winter 2009
January 1, 2009
East Asian democracies are in distress. From Bangkok to Manila to Taipei to Seoul to Ulaanbaatar, democratically elected governments in the last few years have suffered inconclusive or disputed electoral outcomes, political strife, partisan gridlock, and recurring political scandals. In 2006–2007, frustrated citizens in Manila and Taipei lost confidence in democratic procedures to the point where they tried to bring down incumbent leaders through extraconstitutional demonstrations, while a crippling political crisis in Thailand in 2006 triggered a military coup.
What lessons are the people throughout Asia taking away from these frustrations? To assess Asian publics’ views about political dysfunction and attitudes toward local regimes and democracy, a group of scholars collectively known as the East Asia Barometer (EAB) conducted national random-sample surveys in 2002 in five new democracies (Mongolia, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand), one old one (Japan), one quasi-democracy (Hong Kong), and one authoritarian system (China). Among these eight political systems, public satisfaction with the regime is surprisingly highest in authoritarian China, lowest in democratic Japan and Taiwan, and fragile in the other new democracies. What, therefore, lies ahead for democracy in East Asia?