Thailand was the EIU’s best performing democracy in 2022
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DCHURCH FAILURE there were a few bad years in Asia. Myanmar’s army ousted Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s civilian leader, in a coup. A drug-running theocracy took control of Afghanistan. China and Hong Kong have become increasingly authoritarian. Freedoms across the region have been retreating since 2015 and are near the lowest level recorded on the Democracy Index, an annual ranking by EIU, our sister company. But signs of hope are emerging. Asia and Australasia, together in the index, arrested a year-long democratic decline in 2022. And Thailand, run by a former general who seized power from an elected government in 2014, was the best ranked democracy. Why?
EIU assesses countries in five categories of democratic health and then ranks governments on a ten-point scale, from full democracy to autocracy. Asia and Australasia is home to seven “authoritarian regimes”, including Afghanistan, Myanmar and North Korea – the three lowest ranked of the 167 countries and territories in the index. The category also includes five “full democracies”, seven “hybrid regimes” – places that retain some freedoms but are often imposed by leaders who defy democratic norms – and nine “flawed democracies”. ”, including Thailand.
Thailand’s rise, from 72nd in the index in 2021 to 55th last year, was partly due to a healthier political opposition. The ruling party’s rivals scored significant wins in local elections and by-elections in 2022. They also launched a petition against Prayuth Chan-ocha, Thailand’s prime minister, alleging that he had passed on the eight-year term allowed by the constitution. He was suspended from office for more than a month while the court heard the argument. Mr. Prayuth has promised to hold a general election, possibly in May; his political enemies could win big. Thailand was also one of the earliest Asian countries to relax its covid regulations in 2022, increasing its score.
Other Asian countries also climbed the rankings. Cambodia’s score rose by the second highest percentage in Asia last year; they plan to hold elections in July where the ruling party is not sure that they will run all of them. But such advances should be treated with caution: Hun Sen, the country’s aging strongman, continues to press political opposition.
Viewers should also be wary of Thailand’s progress. His army still appoints a senate, which helps elect the prime minister and vetoes elected lawmakers. And it is far from certain that Thailand’s rulers will hold free and fair votes in May (or accept the result if they lose). The turnout in the 2019 general election was marred by irregularities. When a party critical of military rule was popular, it was disbanded and its leader prosecuted under lèse-majesté laws, which banned criticism of the king. The government has used these laws to lock up hundreds more in recent years. Those who betray the green roots of freedom in Asia should be skeptical.■