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Social Climate

The Democracy Index

/ 01:32 AM November 15, 2014

Democracy, like human development, is something that matters.  Furthermore, democracy is not an either-or, black-or-white, but has degrees, of greater or lesser magnitude.  In other words, it can be measured by an index, just as human development is measured by the Human Development Index (see “Lagging behind in Southeast Asia,” Opinion, 10/25/2014).

Since 2006, the Economic Intelligence Unit (www.eiu.com), an independent business firm within the Economist group, has been making a Democracy Index—being branded, it is capitalized—specifically for its cross-country analysis.  This Index is published for 2006, 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2012.  The latest report has scores for 167 countries, including 10 from Southeast Asia.

The Democracy Index is based on answers to a questionnaire of 60 items about conditions in a country, mostly answered by country specialists, but with up to 12 items drawn from existing national surveys.  The 60 items have five categories, allowing five category-indexes, which are averaged, without weights, into an overall index.  The indexes are scored from 0 to 10—democracy is complete at 10, and nonexistent at 0.

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The Democracy Index classifies countries with a score of 8 or more as “Full Democracies.”  Those with scores from 6.0 to 7.9 are termed “Flawed Democracies.”  Those with scores from 4.0 to 5.9 are “Hybrid Regimes,” and those below 4.0 are “Authoritarian Regimes.”  Country No. 1 is Norway (9.93), and country No. 167 is North Korea (1.08), as of 2012.

Democracy in Southeast Asia. Based on the Democracy Index, the quality of democracy in Southeast Asia differs widely, but no country is a Full Democracy.  The highest score is that of Timor Leste (7.16)—which declared its independence from Portugal in 1975, was annexed by Indonesia in 1976, and regained its independence only in 2002.

Southeast Asia has five so-called Flawed Democracies, namely Timor Leste (7.16), Indonesia (6.76), Thailand (6.55), Malaysia (6.41), and the Philippines (6.30). It has two Hybrid Regimes, namely Singapore (5.88) and Cambodia (4.96).  And it has three Authoritarian Regimes: Vietnam (2.89), Myanmar or Burma (2.35), and Lao PDR (2.32).  (Brunei is not indexed, thus far.)

The world rankings in Southeast Asia, according to the Democracy Index, are: 43. Timor Leste, 53. Indonesia, 58. Thailand, 64. Malaysia, 69. Philippines, 81. Singapore, 100. Cambodia, 144. Vietnam, 155. Myanmar, and 156. Lao PDR.

Components of the index. The Democracy Index’s five categories are as follows (with the number of question-items per category in parentheses):

1. electoral process and pluralism (12),

2. functioning of government (14), 3. political participation (9), 4. political culture (8), and

5. civil liberties (17).  They are arranged here as sequenced in the questionnaire—as apparently addressed to the country-specialists.  Each question-item is answerable by Yes (which is given 1 point), or No (0 point), and sometimes is answerable by Moderate (0.5 point).  The category-index for a country seems to be the total number of points given to the country, divided by the maximum number of points for the category, times 10.

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The Philippines, in particular, got category-scores of 9.12 in civil liberties, 8.33 in electoral process and pluralism, 5.56 in political participation, 5.36 in functioning of government, and 3.13 in political culture, for an overall score of 6.30.

If the EIU terminology is applied to its components of democracy, then full democracy prevails with respect to civil liberties in the Philippines (9.1).  This is the highest score for any category, in the entire region—well over the 8.0 boundary, which second-placer Timor Leste (7.94) does not reach.  (I find this personally gratifying, because fullness of civil liberty is, for me as a researcher, the most important element of a true democracy.)

Aside from civil liberties, the only other category where full democracy prevails, anywhere in Southeast Asia, is the electoral process. There are only two countries with full democracy in this regard, namely Timor Leste (8.67) and the Philippines (8.33).

In all other categories, democracy is flawed, at best, throughout Southeast Asia.  Lao PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam are entirely authoritarian, except in political culture, where Lao PDR and Myanmar are hybrid regimes, and Vietnam is a flawed democracy.   Lao PDR and Vietnam have cellar scores of 0.00 with respect to their electoral process.

Cambodia and Singapore (both at 3.33) are authoritarian in political participation.  In other respects, Singapore is mostly a flawed democracy, and Cambodia is mostly a hybrid regime.

The Philippines is classified as authoritarian in political culture, its 3.13 being the lowest of all countries.  It is a hybrid regime in terms of governmental functioning, with its 5.36 only good for seventh place, ahead of Vietnam (3.93), Lao PDR (3.21) and Myanmar (1.79).  These are the matters where our democracy is relatively weak, according to EIU.

In terms of political participation, Indonesia top-scores at 6.11. Then come Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Timor Leste, all tied at 5.56.

Indonesia and Singapore have relatively high scores in governmental functioning (tied for second place at 7.50) and civil liberties (third and fourth, respectively).  Malaysia has the top score in governmental functioning (7.86), but is relatively weak (sixth place) in civil liberties (5.88).

Whatever counts deserves to be counted.  If it hasn’t been counted before, then devise a way to count it.

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Contact mahar.mangahas@sws.org.ph.

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