Results prompt worries about democratic decline . . .
People in Asia broadly support the idea of democracy but are tepid in their support for specific democratic principles. That trend is evident in a recently-published 34-country survey by Pew Research, which included India, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, and South Korea. The survey was conducted amid an ongoing, longer-term trend of democratic recession in parts of the region, defined in part by illiberal, strongman populism in Southeast Asia and the ruling party’s shaky commitment to secularism in India.
Lukewarm on judicial impartiality . . .
One of the survey’s findings was how few people in Asia believe it is ‘very important’ to have an impartial judiciary (other response options were ‘somewhat important,’ ‘not too important,’ ‘not important at all’ and ‘don’t know/refuse to answer’). Only 64 per cent in the Philippines believe this is very important, which is higher than in Indonesia (60%) and India (58%). Even in South Korea, only 64 per cent say it is very important to have a judicial system that treats everyone fairly, which is the same level of support seen in Kenya, and lower than the two other African participants, Nigeria and South Africa (both at 69%). Even Japan (72%) fell well below the global median of 82 per cent and well below all four Middle Eastern countries surveyed.
Surging and sagging support for free speech, media . . .
Responses to questions on a free and uncensored media were more encouraging. In Indonesia, 45 per cent said it was very important for people to be able to speak without government censorship, a 10-point gain from five years ago. Support also grew in the Philippines – from 53 to 64 per cent – over the same time period, which is notable given President Rodrigo Duterte’s threats to shut down the country’s largest TV network. Support for free speech declined in India from 44 to 32 per cent since 2015. Such polls provide a useful temperature check on the health of the region’s democracies and offer clues to how citizens might react to non-democratic actions by their elected officials.
- Al Jazeera: India’s media is failing in its democratic duty
- Council on Foreign Relations: Southeast Asia’s democratic recession
- Pew Research: Democratic rights popular globally but commitment to them not always strong