An index for democracy in Asia was unveiled at the biennial conference of the World Forum for Democratization in Asia held in Taipei this week.
The Asia Democracy Index 2005 was a project conducted by the Alliance for Reform and Democracy in Asia (ARDA), one of the organizers of the forum.
The 16 territories or countries surveyed in the project are Japan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
Afghanistan, India and China were not surveyed because of the size of China and India's respective populations, the ARDA said, without citing specific reasons for the exclusion of Afghanistan from the index. Countries such as Vietnam and Laos could not be surveyed because of political situations, it said.
ARDA chairman Chee Soon Juan, from Singapore, said that the index will help to fathom democratic progress in Asia, will provide an ongoing study of how governments and countries rank according to the index, and will promote democracy.
The survey was carried out by local grassroots organizations, which ARDA deemed to be more reliable and unbiased, using survey takers who were "politically aware."
The Taiwan Foundation for Democracy was in charge of the survey in Taiwan in which 500 people were polled.
The survey questions were divided into six categories: civil rights, elections and political processes, governance and corruption, media, participation and representation, and rule of law.
Questions such as whether people can openly question and discuss official policies without fear and whether the government allows peaceful demonstrations were asked under the civil-rights category, in which Taiwan ranked second.
Taiwan was also ranked in the top five for government transparency and accountability, which fell under the "governance and corruption" category, and for the "rule of law," which indicated a judicial system that effectively protects human rights and democratic principles. Overall, Taiwan was ranked third.
However, the rankings should not be thought of as a mere comparison between the 16 countries, said Paul Scott, a professor at Kansai Gaidai University in Japan.
"For example, Japan cannot be compared to Cambodia in many aspects," Scott said. "The results of the survey indicate the state of democracy as applicable in the country polled."
"What the index and survey results show is that Asia is still promoting democracy and that democratization still has a long way to go in the region," Scott said. "The index measures progress, not results, or else I wouldn't be at this conference."
Sharing his perception on the democratization of Taiwan, Scott said that Taiwan was deemed rather successful.
"People sacrificed a lot for democracy in Taiwan, so they have high expectations of it. Sometimes they even have over-expectations of what democracy can deliver," Scott said.
"Democracy is a learned culture. It takes time to develop, and what is happening in Taiwan with political parties is a predictable and necessary step in the process of democratization," Scott said.