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Over the past fifteen years, democracy across Asia has regressed. Although the region still has strong democracies like South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, many other leading Asian democracies and countries with democratic potential have slid backwards, turning into near-autocracies or outright authoritarian states. While Thailand had been one of the freest states in Asia in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it has suffered two military coups in the past decade and now is run by a parliamentary government that took power after a seriously flawed election in 2019.
The novel coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated this democratic breakdown. In a study of the impact of the virus on democracy, “Democracy Under Lockdown,” Freedom House found that “the COVID-19 pandemic has deepened a crisis for democracy around the world, providing cover for governments to disrupt elections, silence critics and the press, and undermine the accountability needed to protect human rights as well as public health.” For more on how COVID-19 has sparked democratic backsliding in Asia, see my new Japan Times article.