Statement: ANFREL dismayed by prolonged democracy score decline in Asia; raises concerns about Democracy Index methodology  

The Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) is dismayed by the continuous retreat of democracy in Asia, as measured by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU)’s latest Democracy Index.

The overall regional average score for Asia and Australasia peaked at 5.74 in 2016, and has continuously declined since 2019 from 5.67 to 5.62 in 2020 and 5.46 in 2021, with Myanmar and Afghanistan largely responsible for the dip as they became this year the two most authoritarian countries in the world according to the Index.

ANFREL once again expresses its solidarity with the people of Myanmar and Afghanistan, as well as their struggling democracy and human rights defenders, who remain vulnerable under the military and Taliban regimes. We will continue to advocate for the immediate end of violence and reinstatement of democratically elected governments in these countries. We also urge the international community to support the establishment of a democratic mechanism in Myanmar and Afghanistan.

However, we also believe that some countries’ scores do not accurately reflect the actual situation, rendering EIU’s methodology questionable. For example, political rights and civil liberties in India have been deteriorating as a result of increased pressure on human rights groups and violent attacks aimed at Muslims, but its civil liberties and overall scores have nonetheless improved in the Democracy Index.

Similarly, Hong Kong’s civil liberties received a high score of 8.53 out of 10, despite the fact that its freedoms of expression, association, assembly, and the press were declining rapidly last year.  Thailand’s own score of 7.00 on electoral process and pluralism is also unreasonably high given the continued rule by the military junta under a facade of fictitious parliamentary democracy. Bangladesh is much more restrictive than its overall score of 5.99 suggests and should by no means be on the brink of being considered a “flawed democracy”.

Such inconsistencies and inaccuracies abound in the report when addressing the situation of democracy in the Asia and Australasia region, which unfortunately casts a shadow on the reliability of the Democracy Index as a whole.

Furthermore, there are regional issues that the report fails to address, such as the continued shrinking of civic space through administrative and legal instruments through measures purportedly against anti-terrorism or anti-money laundering. Thailand, the Philippines, and India for instance are in the process of restricting the environment for civil society by such means.

Moving forward, ANFREL urges the international community to pay close attention to the upcoming national elections in Asia, including in Cambodia, India, Malaysia, Nepal, the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand and Timor-Leste. We hope that through greater international solidarity and support, we will be able to push for a more democratic system and avoid further erosion of the democratic space in every Asian country.

We also call for solidarity with other Asian countries and territories that have suffered democratic backsliding and increased restrictions on civil liberties, among them Bangladesh, Cambodia, Hong Kong and Thailand. These governments must halt the crackdown against opposition, activists and dissidents. 

ANFREL commits to continue supporting and advocating for democratic governance in 2022. We call on all actors in Asia and beyond, including civil society, media, governments, regional and international organisations, to work together toward this goal.

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