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Politics

Democracy rankings put Asia in poor standing

Six of seven regions around the world slipped in freedoms for 2017

An Indonesian Muslim holds up a poster during a rally calling for the arrest of Jakarta's then-incumbent governor Basuki Purnama.   © Reuters

TOKYO Asia witnessed the biggest deterioration in its democratic conditions of any region in 2017, as minorities in countries including Indonesia and Myanmar suffered.

In the annual democracy index ranking compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit think tank, overall democracy deteriorated in six of the world's seven regions. Asia and Australasia -- the Asia-Pacific region -- dropped the most of all, logging a score of 5.63 on a scale of 0 to 10. This marks a fall of 0.11 point from a year earlier.

"Since we began producing the Democracy Index in 2006, Asia and Australasia has made more headway in advancing democracy than any other region, increasing its regional average score from 5.44 to a peak of 5.74 in 2015," noted the EIU. "But after stagnating in 2016 progress in advancing democracy in the region underwent a reversal in 2017. The regional average score fell sharply, reflecting a tumultuous year of negative change for many countries."

The Asia and Australasia region does have two democracy standouts in New Zealand and Australia, which scored 9.26 and 9.09 respectively.

Indonesia was the worst-performing country out of all those observed in 2017, falling by 20 places in the global ranking from 48th to 68th. The EIU said democracy in the country suffered after the election in Jakarta last year, which saw the then-incumbent governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who hails from the minority Chinese-Christian community, arrested for alleged blasphemy.

"His conviction, and effective exclusion from politics ... demonstrate how the country's draconian blasphemy laws are used not only to restrict freedom of expression but also to constrain political actors," the EIU said.

Minorities were also under attack in Myanmar and India, the EIU said. In Myanmar, the treatment of the Rohingya Muslim community drew widespread international condemnation, pushing the country seven spots down to 120th.

India dropped to 42nd from 32nd.

"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," the EIU said.

For Cambodia, the forced dissolution of the main opposition party in November, "turned the country into a de facto one-party state." Cambodia came 124th in the overall ranking.

China dropped three spots to 139th. It also ranked joint 154th in a separate media freedom ranking. "China's president, Xi Jinping, has presided over a media crackdown since he took power in 2012, including tough censorship of social media and the arrest of hundreds of dissidents," the EIU said.

Unsurprisingly, North Korea ranked last of all, at 167th, scoring 1.08.

A few countries in the region moved up the ranking, including Nepal (102nd to 94th) and South Korea (24th to 20th).

"Nepal successfully held a series of local and provincial elections under the constitution that was ratified in 2015. In South Korea a popular movement eventually led to the impeachment of the then-president, Park Geun-hye, who was found guilty of embezzlement," the EIU said.

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