The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU)’s latest Democracy Index brings us two sets of news: the good and the bad.
First, the good. Malaysia has jumped nine spots to take 43rd placing out of 167 countries. The nation’s democracy tale is one of consistent climb from the index’s inception 14 years ago, except in 2015 when it dropped 0.06 points.
Otherwise, our electoral process and pluralism, the functioning of government, political participation, democratic political culture and civil liberties — the five measures on which countries are ranked — are what the doctor ordered. Well, almost.
But our rating of 7.16 puts us just 0.84 points away from being ranked among countries termed “full democracies”, a privilege of top five scorers like Norway, Iceland, Sweden, New Zealand and Finland. Malaysia joins 53 others in what the EIU terms a “flawed democracy”, notwithstanding its improved ranking.
With a little effort here and there, Malaysia should be able to make it to the full democracy list.
Now the bad news. Though the global score has been slipping and sliding away for some time now, the 2019 Democracy Index is the worst since it began in 2006.
The reasons are not hard to uncover. According to the EIU report, the greatest decline in democratic freedoms occurred in China. China’s score fell from 3.32 to 2.26, causing it to slide to 153rd position, close to the bottom of the global rankings where sits Kim Jong-un’s North Korea.
EIU explains its reason thus: “Discrimination against minorities, especially in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, intensified and digital surveillance of the population continued apace.”
India, too, has done badly. Its ranking dropped 10 places to 51st as its overall score fell from 7.23 in 2018 to 6.90 last year. Writing on India’s ranking retreat, The Economist had this to say: “India slid down the EIU’s rankings after the Hindu-nationalist government stripped the Muslim-majority region of Jammu and Kashmir of its statehood in August. The decision by the Indian state of Assam to exclude nearly two million mostly Muslim residents from a tally of native citizens — in effect removing their citizenship — also contributed to the drop.
The passage by Parliament in December of the discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act suggests India’s decline will continue in the 2020 index.”
Malaysia, though neither a Norway nor a Finland, may offer our neighbours and others afar at least one lesson on how to govern a multiethnic country. Sixty-two years of statehood may be a bit on the long side for learning, but we have been a good student of democracy with consistently good scores.
And the lesson is this: drop the “you-are-with-us-or-with-them” politics that turns one against another.
Such ideas are a sure formula for tearing societies asunder. And to take the Democracy Index south. When we should instead rise and go north.