Thailand’s ranking on a democracy index has improved more than any other country in the world over the past year, even as other nations in Asia have seen their scores fall.
The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) ranked Australia as 15th in the world — six places lower than the previous year — coming behind New Zealand and several European countries.
The rankings are based on the EIU’s analysis of five key areas, including electoral processes, the functioning of government, political participation, political culture and civil liberties in 165 countries.
Australia lost some ground on the political culture and civil liberties measurements, compared to 2021’s rankings.
Thailand recorded the biggest overall score improvement in the world in 2022, rising from 72nd to 55 in the global ranking.
The EIU attributed the dramatic improvement to greater space for the country’s opposition parties, more political participation and a reduced threat from secessionist movements.
However, Thailand still had some way to go in improving democracy, the EIU said, because the government had command of its security apparatus and judiciary.
Political parties in Thailand seeking to form a coalition government after the 2023 election will also need to win the support of the military establishment.
Of the 28 countries in Asia, nine improved their scores, seven did not change and 12 recorded a decline last year.
COVID lockdowns in China and an ongoing military coup in Myanmar resulted in those countries recording a slide in their democracy rankings.
Some of the worst performers in the world were in Asia; Afghanistan, Myanmar and North Korea were the lowest-ranked countries, the report said.
Overall, the global score improved marginally, up from 5.28 in 2021 to 5.29 last year.
“This is a dismal result given that in 2022 the world started to move on from the pandemic-related suppression of individual liberties that persisted through 2020 and 2021,” the report said.
Nordic nations and Kiwis dominate top rankings
“Asia and Australia have five “full democracies”, including New Zealand, Taiwan, Australia, Japan and South Korea.
The region’s overall score has been worsening or stagnating for the past six years, but it is still above the global average at 5.46.
The region underperforms compared with North America (8.37), Western Europe (8.36) and Latin America (5.79),” the report found.
“But [it] outperforms Eastern Europe (5.39), Sub-Saharan Africa (4.14) and the Middle East and North Africa (3.34).”
“According to the 2022 Democracy Index, 72 of the 167 countries and territories covered by the model, or 43.1 per cent of the total, can be considered to be democracies,” the report said.
“The number of full democracies increased to 24 in 2022, up from 21 in 2021.”
Five of the top six countries were Nordic, with Norway taking out the top spot.
The EIU said Norway maintained its position at the top because it ranked highly across all five categories of the index.
The only non-Nordic country in the mix of the leaders was New Zealand in second place.
“These countries boast high scores across all categories, particularly electoral process and pluralism and functioning of government,” the report said.
Iceland came third, followed by Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Switzerland, Ireland, Netherlands, Taiwan and then Australia.