Authoritarian Nostalgia in Asia

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  • Authoritarian Nostalgia in AsiaChang, Yu-tzung.Zhu, Yunhan.Pak, Chong-min, 1956-

    Journal of Democracy, Volume 18, Number 3, July 2007, pp. 66-80 (Article)

    Published by The Johns Hopkins University PressDOI: 10.1353/jod.2007.0043

    For additional information about this article

    Access Provided by University of Prince Edward Island at 02/21/13 7:52PM GMT

    http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/jod/summary/v018/18.3chang.html

  • AUTHORITARIAN NOSTALGIAIN ASIA

    Yu-tzung Chang, Yun-han Chu, and Chong-Min Park

    From Bangkok to Manila, Taipei, Seoul, and Ulaanbaatar, East Asiasthird-wave democracies are in distress. The most dramatic sign oftrouble has been the September 2006 military coup in Thailand, wherethe opposition had earlier boycotted a parliamentary election. (Thai-land was also the scene of the regions last full-scale democratic break-down, a 1991 coup.) In Taiwan and the Philippines, the losers of themost recent presidential elections have challenged the results. In SouthKorea, the incumbent president has found himself crippled by flaggingpopular support and deserted by his own partys National Assemblydeputies. Mongolia is mired in party stalemate. Even the regions old-est democracy, Japan, has been beset by endless corruption scandalsand consistent failures to come to grips with the challenges of defla-tion, stagnation, and the need for structural economic reform. Underthese stressful circumstances, can democracy still endure and flourishin East Asia?

    Although many forces can affect a democracys survival chances, nodemocratic regime can stand long without legitimacy in the eyes of itsown people. Scholars have long known that beliefs and perceptionsregarding legitimacy have much to do with whether a regimeparticu-larly one founded upon popular consentwill endure or break down.1

    What elites think matters, but for democracy to become stable and ef-fective, the bulk of the citizenry must develop a deep and resilientcommitment to it. A necessary condition for the consolidation of de-mocracy is met when an overwhelming proportion of citizens believe

    Yu-tzung Chang is assistant professor of political science at NationalTaiwan University and program manager of the Asian Barometer. Yun-han Chu is Distinguished Research Fellow at the Institute of PoliticalScience at Academia Sinica and director of the Asian Barometer. Chong-Min Park is professor of public administration at Korea University inSeoul and directs the Asian Barometer Survey in South Korea.

    Journal of Democracy Volume 18, Number 3 July 2007 2007 National Endowment for Democracy and The Johns Hopkins University Press

    The Democracy Barometers

  • Yu-tzung Chang, Yun-han Chu, and Chong-Min Park 67

    that the democratic regime is the most right and appropriate for theirsociety, better than any other realistic alternative they can imagine.2

    Data from the first and second Asian Barometer Surveys (ABS)3 canhelp us systematically to assess the extent of normative commitment todemocracy that citizens feel in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Mongolia,the Philippines, and Thailand. The assessment involves seeking an-swers to the following interrelated questions: Has the growth of demo-cratic legitimacy in East Asia stagnated or even eroded? How detachedare East Asians from authoritarian alternatives? What do East Asiansthink of how democracy works in their countries? Is there a link be-tween how citizens rate democracys performance and how committedto democracy they feel? Is popular support for democracy deeply rootedin a liberal-democratic political culture? Let us begin by briefly ex-plaining the strategies that we have chosen for measuring democraticlegitimacy.

    Measuring Democratic Legitimacy

    Public opinion plays a crucial role in determining legitimacy. Inter-national donors, think tanks, and experts can publish all the ratingsthey like, but a democracy will be consolidated only when most of thosewho live within its borders believe that democracy actually is better fortheir society and that democracy of an acceptable quality is being sup-plied. In a nutshell, the citizens are the final judges of the legitimacy aswell as the characteristics of their democracy. Surveys such as the AsianBarometer open a window on whether citizens think that their politicalinstitutions are delivering acceptable degrees of democracy and goodgovernance. In particular, such surveys make possible an empirical as-sessment of the extent of normative commitment to democracy amongthe public at large and thus tell us much about how far a given politicalsystem has really traveled toward democratic consolidation.4

    Those who seek to gauge popular support for democracy have longasked respondents to choose among three statements: Democracy isalways preferable to any other kind of government, Under some cir-cumstances, an authoritarian government can be preferable to a demo-cratic one, and For people like me, it does not matter whether we havea democratic or a nondemocratic regime. But the single-item measure-ments thus reached always lack conceptual breadth and depth, and areless reliable than measurements drawn from multiple indicators.5

    Like any other complex concept, normative commitment to democ-racy consists of many attitudinal dimensions. Richard Rose, Doh ChullShin, and their colleagues have respectively highlighted four other im-portant aspects of democratic legitimacy.6 First is the desire for democ-racy, the level of democracy that citizens want for their political regime.7

    Second is the suitability of democracy, the degree to which citizens feel

  • Journal of Democracy68

    that democracy is appropriate for their country.8 Third is the efficacy ofdemocracy, which involves the effectiveness of the democratic regimein addressing the countrys major problems.9 Fourth is the priority thatcitizens place on democracy as compared to other societal goals.10 TheABS contains specific items designed to measure these four additionaldimensions, thus generating a five-item battery that can be used to gaugepopular support for democracy.

    As important as such support is, robust legitimacy entails more. Italso requires that citizens profess authoritarian detachmentin otherwords, that they reject nondemocratic alternatives. Referring to Win-ston Churchills famous 1947 quip that democracy is the worst form ofgovernment except all those other forms that have been tried from timeto time, Rose and his colleagues argue that democracy often survivesnot because most people believe in its intrinsic legitimacy, but ratherbecause there are simply no preferable alternatives.11 This suggests thataversion to authoritarianism weights as heavily as attachment to de-mocracy in sustaining a democratic regime. Hence our surveys askedrespondents a set of three questions, exploring whether or not they wouldfavor the return to any of the three conceivable authoritarian alterna-tives: strongman rule, single-party rule, and military rule.

    One of the ABSs important methodological innovations is its use ofitems meant to probe further into the substance and depth of popularcommitment to democracy. These items intentionally omit the worddemocracy itself since use of the d-word could invite answers thatmight seem socially desirable, but which may not be deeply felt. In ourtime, after all, even the least democratic rulers and regimes habituallyspeak of democracyit is a word whose very prestige has led to itsexcessive and at times less-than-honest use. Fortunately for us, how-ever, there is no need to invoke the d-word in order to probe respon-dents value orientations toward such fundamental organizing principlesof liberal democracy as liberty, the rule of law, the separation of powers,and the duty of government to answer to the governed.

    The batteries for measuring popular attachment to democracy, de-tachment from authoritarianism, and liberal-democratic value orienta-tion have been consistently applied in two rounds of surveys between2001 and 2006, yielding for the first time a database that is longitudi-nal across time rather than a snapshot of opinion at a given moment.

    Teetering Support for Democracy

    When we began our analysis we did not expect to find a strong andresilient popular base for democratic legitimacy in East Asias new de-mocracies, let alone any enhancement of it over time. We knew thatmany East Asian democracies display socioeconomic features that inprinciple should be friendly to the growth of democratic legitimacy

  • Yu-tzung Chang, Yun-han Chu, and Chong-Min Park 69

    (sizeable middle classes, well-educated people, and many ties to theglobal economy). Yet at the same time we feared that the regions over-all geopolitical configuration, political history, and predominant cul-tural legacies would act as strong drags on the development of robustdemocratic political cultures.

    Let us discuss these three factors in more detail. First, over the lastthree decades East Asia has in a significant way defied the global demo-cratic trend known as the third wave. Most of the regions people remainunder one form or other of authoritarian or at best semidemocratic rule.In 2006, only six of the regions eighteen sovereign states received aFreedom House (FH) rating of Free. Five of the six Free countries,moreover, had become democratic only during the recent era of the thirdwave. (The five were Mongolia, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan,and Thailandthe last of which has now received an FH ranking of NotFree in the wake of its 2006 military coup.) Furthermore, with the shiftof the regions center of economic gravity from Japan to China, EastAsia has become one of the few places in the world where regime charac-teristics pose no barrier to trade and investment and perhaps the onlyregion where newly democratized countries have become economicallyintegrated with and dependent on nondemocratic countries.

    Second, few of the regions former authoritarian regimes have beenthoroughly discredited. Indeed, all too many people are wont to creditthem with having fostered social stability, stunning economic growth,and an apparently greater resistance to money politics or other cor-rupt dealings. Because many an East Asian authoritarian order permit-ted limited pluralismallowing some forms of electoral contestation aswell as the existence of an oppositioncitizens in the regions newdemocracies have not known the dramatic increases in rights and free-doms that their counterparts in many other third-wave democracies havewitnessed. Moreover, many of East Asias new democracies have foundtheir performance hampered by grave governance challenges flowingfrom political strife, bureaucratic paralysis, recurring scandals, slug-gish economic growth, and foggy economic outlooks. At the same time,the authoritarian or semiauthoritarian regimes of Singapore, Malaysia,China, and Vietnam have seemingly shown themselves able to handleeconomic globalization as well as other complex problems. The achieve-ments (real or putative) of the regions less-than-democratic regimesboth past and present have saddled its young democracies with unrea-sonably high public expectations.

    Finally, there is the argumentproffered by such influential West-ern scholars as Lucian Pye and Samuel P. Huntingtonthat dominantEast Asian cultural traditions pose an obstacle to the acquisition ofdemocratic values.12 Echoing this view for their own purposes, certainfigures in the region have embraced the idea of Asian values thatprivilege group over individual interests, authority over liberty, and

  • Journal of Democracy70

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    duties over rights. Such values, it is said, draw a sharp line between EastAsia and the West and make the former less prone to embrace liberaldemocracy.

    The ABS confirms that East Asian citizens feel ambivalent aboutdemocracy, and that the regions new democracies have seen their popu-lar legitimacy stay flat or even drop slightly. On the one hand, a greatmajority of ordinary citizens find the ideal of democracy appealing.Between 2001 and 2003, fully 88 percent of those surveyed across allfive new democracies (Mongolia, the Philippines, South Korea, Tai-wan, and Thailand) deemed democracy to be desirable for our countrynow, while 80 percent considered democracy suitable for our coun-try, and 70 percent believed that democracy is capable of solving theproblems of our society (see Table 1). On the other hand, fewer thanthree out of five respondents (59 percent) considered democracy pref-erable to all other kinds of government, while barely more than a third(35 percent) said that it was equally or more important than develop-ment. Even in Japan, the regions oldest democracy, only two-thirds ofrespondents said that democracy is always preferable.

    More disturbingly, when we surveyed people in the five new democ-racies again in 20052006, every indicator of average support for de-mocracy showed a decline. The preference for democracy and the per-ceived efficacy of democracy each dropped by about 8 percentage points.Some countries declined sharply on other measures, too. Between thetwo surveys, a quarter of Thais and a sixth of South Koreans lost confi-dence in democracys efficacy, and the belief among Mongolians thatdemocracy is always preferable fell 16 points, to only 39 percent.Outside East Asia, such a low level of support was found only in somestruggling Latin...

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