Asia's Democracy Backlash

Op-Ed Current History
Asia once was regarded as the vanguard of a global wave of democratization that, over the past three decades, has swept through southern Europe, Latin America, and Africa as well. In recent years, however, Asia has witnessed a democracy backlash.
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So intense is the chaos in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka that to an outsider it often seems miraculous that the city actually functions.  At intersections, mobs of rickshaws, motorcycles, and luxury cars vie for space with vendors and homeless people wandering in all directions.  Sidewalks are crowded with so many people—the megacity is one of the largest in the world—that you must push through the pack just to move.

Normally, the city’s politics mirrors its daily life.  For years, university students allied with either of the two major parties have led boisterous rallies and street protests at election time, demonstrations often so fevered that they descend into violence.  Vendors sell huge numbers of vernacular and English-language newspapers, which offer tens of thousands of words of political coverage.

But over the past two years, Dhaka—or at least its politics—has quieted considerably.  In January 2007, a caretaker government preparing for a new Bangladeshi election stepped down, probably because of pressure from the military, and the army soon asserted itself even more.  Working only barely behind the scenes, it organized a new government, declared a state of emergency, and soon detained thousands of political activists, putatively as part of a campaign to eliminate graft from politics.  After promises to hold a new election, the military and its caretaker regime scheduled voting for the late date of December 2008.

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In Fact



of the Chinese general public

believe their country should share a global leadership role.


of Indian parliamentarians

have criminal cases pending against them.


charter schools in the United States

are linked to Turkey’s Gülen movement.


thousand tons of chemical weapons

are in North Korea’s possession.


of import tariffs

among Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru have been eliminated.


trillion a year

is unaccounted for in official Chinese income statistics.


of GDP in oil-exporting Arab countries

comes from the mining sector.


of Europeans and Turks

are opposed to intervention in Syria.


of Russian exports to China

are hydrocarbons; machinery accounts for less than 1%.


of undiscovered oil

is in the Arctic.


U.S. government shutdowns

occurred between 1976 and 1996.


of Ukrainians

want an “international economic union” with the EU.


million electric bicycles

are used in Chinese cities.


of the world’s energy supply

is consumed by cities.


of today’s oils

require unconventional extraction techniques.


of the world's population

will reside in cities by 2050.


of Syria’s population

is expected to be displaced by the end of 2013.


of the U.S. economy

is consumed by healthcare.


of Brazilian protesters

learned about a massive rally via Facebook or Twitter.


million cases pending

in India’s judicial system.

1 in 3


now needs urgent assistance.


political parties

contested India’s last national elections.


of Egypt's labor force

works in the private sector.


of oil consumed in the United States

is for the transportation sector.


of Chechnya’s pre-1994 population

has fled to different parts of the world.


of oil consumed in China

was from foreign sources in 2012.


billion in goods and services

traded between the United States and China in 2012.


billion in foreign investment and oil revenue

have been lost by Iran because of its nuclear program.


increase in China’s GDP per capita

between 1972 and today.


billion have been spent

to complete the Bushehr nuclear reactor in Iran.


of Iran’s electricity needs

is all the Bushehr nuclear reactor provides.



were imprisoned in Turkey as of August 2012 according to the OSCE.

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