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Asia’s Democratic Drama

GENEVA – Asia’s political spectrum ranges from the brutal despotism of North Korea to the enlightened constitutional monarchy of Bhutan (so enlightened that it developed Gross National Happiness as an alternative measure to Gross Domestic Product), with many shades in between. But the old charge that Asia is ill-suited for Western-style democracy is being leveled again. Are the skeptics right?

In South and East Asia, democracies outnumber dictatorships by 17 to six. But democracies are facing turbulent times. Thailand’s political impasse, amid massive anti-democracy demonstrations, has hit world headlines, and elections have also been violently contested in Bangladesh. There have been widespread human-rights abuses in Sri Lanka. Cambodians have suffered a brutal political clampdown. And political life in the world’s largest democracy, India, is raucous and unruly.