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Asia's Surprising Democratic Renaissance

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

As a region that includes some of the world’s most resilient autocracies, Asia has traditionally found democracy to be a difficult subject. Popular conceptions of the region are dominated by the ever-increasing influence of China, the world’s most powerful authoritarian state, and media reports often depict a region of resiliently nondemocratic regimes, ranging from North Korea’s family-based despotism to Myanmar’s repressive military junta.

This viewpoint is out of date. Today, more Asians live in genuine democracies than ever before, and Asian regimes are increasingly using their democratic status to raise their profile in the international arena. Indonesia, with a keen eye on its global role as the world’s largest Muslim democracy, has become an outspoken advocate of democracy beyond its shores. New or restored democracies ranging from Mongolia in the north to East Timor in the south have joined South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines as genuine “Third Wave” democracies in which governments are chosen and changed via the electoral process. With the long-awaited political openings currently taking place in Myanmar and recent democratic gains in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, Asian democrats have reasons for optimism. ...

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