Asia’s Dysfunctional Democracies

The abrupt resignation of Thailand’s Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is but another sign of a disturbing paradox: the more “vigorous” Asian democracy becomes, the more dysfunctional it is.

There is no shortage of examples. The attempt by opposition parties last year to impeach South Korea’s President Roh Moo Hyun on the flimsiest of excuses; Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian’s inability to pass legislation through a parliament controlled by the opposition Kuomintang; Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s stalemated first term and the repeated rumors of looming coup attempts against her: each bears testimony to a form of democratic paralysis in Asia.

If deadlock and confusion were the only results, such political impasses might be tolerable. But chronic stalemate has confronted many Asian democracies with the threat of being discredited, a potential for violence, and the prospect of economic decline.

Indeed, the precedents of democratic immobility in Asia are hardly encouraging. For example, since Pakistan’s creation in 1947, partisan divisions ensured that no elected government has been able to serve its full term. So Pakistanis grimly learned to accept military rule as their destiny.