Thursday 02 Apr 2020 | 23:34 | SYDNEY
Thursday 02 Apr 2020 | 23:34 | SYDNEY

East Asia discontented democracies


Malcolm Cook

25 November 2008 14:30

As we ponder the first year of the Rudd Government, it is worth reflecting on how much better Prime Minister Rudd and his government have performed than their democratic peers in East Asia. Today’s Australian reports that Rudd and the Labor Party are still very popular and would easily win an election if one were called today.

Yet, to our north, democratically elected governments and leaders are suffering from bad and declining popularity. East Asia’s democracies from Taiwan and Japan to Malaysia to Thailand, with the Philippines and South Korea in the middle, are all discontented. Only President SBY in Indonesia looks relatively comfortable in the run-up to next year’s elections, and even he may face a credible threat from Megawati.

In the Philippines, President Macapagal-Arroyo is the only president in the post-Marcos era to earn negative net approval ratings in the well respected Social Weather Station polls, and she has been in the red for most of her present term. Thailand democracy has been in a state of siege for months now, with a renewed push by the oddly named People’s Alliance of Democracy to topple the government. Malaysia’s Prime Minister Abdullah oversaw one of the worst election setbacks ever for Malaysia’s evergreen ruling coalition, and is now on borrowed time. He didn’t even get to go to APEC.

Things are even gloomier in Northeast Asia. President Lee Myung-bak in South Korea has had a tough first year in office, facing months of street protests and one of the steepest drop-offs in popularity once elected. He now faces serious challenges form his own party. Prime Minister Aso in Japan, the third prime minister in less than three years, faces a similar lack of popularity and a querulous party, as Tobias Harris explains at East Asia Forum. In Taiwan, President Ma Ying-jeou’s international welcome has been longer and warmer than his domestic one, where his popularity rating has plummeted from a Rudd-like 66% to 37%.

In 2009, I will be watching closely how the domestic economic effects of the global financial crisis interact with East Asia’s discontented democracies.