from Asia Unbound

Are the New Democracies Pro-Democracy?

December 17, 2012

Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi scatters rose petals at the memorial of India's first prime minister Jawaharlal N...hi November 14, 2012. In the past, Suu Kyi has expressed disappointment with India for engaging with Myanmar's military junta.
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Last month, democracy icon and Burmese parliamentarian Aung San Suu Kyi traveled to New Delhi at the invitation of Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh to deliver the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Lecture.  Despite the two countries’ close proximity—India and Myanmar share an 800-mile border—the occasion marked Suu Kyi’s first visit to India in forty years. In recent years, Suu Kyi has publically expressed her disappointment in the Indian government’s decision to reverse decades of pro-democracy support regarding Myanmar, and pursue a more realist policy of accommodating the ruling junta. Thus, Suu Kyi’s address in New Delhi marked a potential shift in Indian-Burmese relations, and an opportunity for India to publically express support for its neighbor’s democratic transition. But, as M. Kim, a Burmese activist and coordinator at the Burma Centre in Delhi, recently pointed out in a piece for The Irrawaddy, the Indian government prohibited press from attending the address: “Once again, India failed to seize the moment…There was no better moment to highlight the cause of the Burmese people to the local population, who know little of their eastern neighbor.”

India’s failure to promote democracy in Myanmar, and elsewhere in its neighborhood, is indicative of larger trend in the world;  Today, the biggest emerging democracies have not only failed to step up as advocates for democratization, but have also, in many cases, continued to prop up authoritarian regimes.  In a new piece for the Boston Globe, I examine how emerging powers like India, Brazil, and South Africa have thus far avoided a leadership in democracy promotion commensurate with their new global statuses. This trend is just one part of the larger democratic regression that has been occurring worldwide for the past decade —a rollback that I detail in my forthcoming book Democracy in Retreat, which is being published by the Council on Foreign Relations and Yale University Press in early 2013.

You can read my piece for the Boston Globe “Are the New Democracies Pro-Democracy?” in its entirety here.