NEW DELHI – Democracy in Asia lately has proved to be hardier than many might have expected, with free and fair elections enabling the large and divided societies of India and Indonesia to manage important political transitions. But some Asian democracies – notably, Thailand and Pakistan – seem to be losing their way.
Indians have plenty of experience with changing their government through the ballot box, and this year’s election – the country’s 16th since independence in 1947 – was no different. In the world’s largest exercise of democratic franchise, Indian voters rejected the United Progressive Alliance, which had served two terms, in favor of the Bharatiya Janata Party, led by Narendra Modi.
The second-largest such exercise followed in Indonesia. In the country’s third presidential election, voters – familiar with both strong-arm military rule and weak-willed civilian governance – chose the populist mayor Joko Widodo over the former general Prabowo Subianto.
Even war-ravaged Afghanistan held presidential elections to guide its first democratic transfer of power. Though the apparent loser Abdullah Abdullah is vehemently challenging the results, which favor Ashraf Ghani, the dispute has not turned violent; indeed, both parties are participating in US-mediated talks about the possibility of establishing a national-unity government. It is reassuring that, in a land ravaged by civil war and terrorism, neither of the contestants is reaching for his gun.