Asia's technocratic future

The question for Asian societies is not whether they are becoming more democratic, but whether governments are well-placed to deal with challenges of the future

Between mid-2018 and mid-2019, more than two billion Asians will have gone to the polls in national elections, from Pakistan and Bangladesh last year to the upcoming elections in India, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Clearly, Asia is not a monolithic authoritarian challenge to Western democracy! Outside of China and several small countries, democratic politics is very much the norm. Furthermore, almost all societies in the world today declare national agendas of social inclusion, and governments - both democratic and otherwise - feel growing pressure to deliver on their promises through the twin forces of transparency and accountability. This applies as much to South Korea's elected leaders as to the military junta in Thailand.

Global political discourse is shifting onto a post-ideological terrain where performance - based on measurements of high-quality governance and citizen satisfaction - is the arbiter of success. All societies want a balance of prosperity and liveability, openness and protection, effective governance and citizen voice, individualism and cohesion, free choice and social welfare. Everyday people don't measure these things by how democratic their country is but by whether they feel safe in their cities, can afford their homes, have stability in their work, have a plan for growing old, and can remain connected to friends and family. As in natural evolution, success and failure are determined not by preconceived theories but by adaptability.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 13, 2019, with the headline 'Asia's technocratic future'. Subscribe