We have come a long way – On the development of freedom and democracy in Southeast and East Asia

Dr Rainer Adam, Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom’s Regional Director for Southeast and East Asia, presented the findings of the Third Annual Freedom Barometer Asia in Brussels. Sir Graham Watson MEP, President of the ELDR and Chairman of the European Parliament Delegation to India, opened the presentation of the Freedom Barometer Asia 2011 reminding the audience of the importance of a democratic Asia in light of its growing relevance as a player in the world economy.

The fact that the average Chinese tourist spends around €9,000 on luxury goods in Europe is just another reminder that in the last decade levels of income and prosperity have risen considerably in China. A growing middle class demands freedoms in a way not known before. Japan, the Republic of South Korea or Taiwan can be counted as members of the club of mature democracies. Singapore, however, is only so on first sight; censorship, corporal punishment and executions are in contradiction to a democratic system.  Positive developments are in particular the political changes in Myanmar earlier this year. Freedoms such as the right to form unions, the right to strike or to stage peaceful political protests were unthinkable just a few years ago. Mongolia has put a moratorium on the death penalty and has taken steps to eliminate capital punishment from its legal system.

The Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom is continuing to promote freedom, the rule of law, civil rights and democratic principles

  • in Thailand where the military is the greatest obstacle in the path towards democratization;
  • in Indonesia, where elections are coming up in 2014;
  • in Cambodia, a former Chinese vassal state whose opposition leader lives in exile in Paris;
  • in Malaysia, where the FNF works with the only multi-ethnic party and a liberal coalition.

In a region where liberalism has traditionally had a negative connotation it is already a big success, says Adam, that political groups label themselves as “liberal”: “We have come a long way in the forty years the Foundation is working in the region, where once democracy was not part of the governing tradition, not understood, and not valued.”

The Freedom Barometer allows the Friedrich Naumann Foundation’s Office for Southeast and East Asia to track the performance of the countries in the region over time, bringing relevant issues to the attention of a wider public and to stimulate a debate about political, legal, and economic foundations of freedom. The added benefit of the Freedom Barometer is that it puts into perspective existing indices, which usually measure either economic freedom or political freedom. By compiling the data of existing indices, it reflects all aspects of freedom, be it political, legal or economic. With the newly included Hong Kong, it now covers 17 countries, almost all of Southeast and East Asia.

In 2012 the Regional Office Southeast and East Asia of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation has launched the website Freedom Barometer, which allows its users to systematically search for data and be constantly updated on developments in the region.

You can download the Freedom Barometer Asia 2011 here.


Susan Schneider