Being from the West we are constantly bombarded with the notion that our form of the presidential, or parliamentary “democracy” is the only way to do things, and that “everything else” is bad. We even have wars to spread democracy that have cool titles like “Enduring Freedom”. The reality, though, is that the “everything else” tends to be a little open to interpretation. The Western view (and sanctions) heavily criticize countries like Russia, Belarus, Venezuela, and Iran – all of whom have elections (however flawed they might be) – whilst ignoring certain absolute monarchies or dominant-party systems where no one but the leading party has any chance of winning. Is this hypocrisy? Who are we to say? Here are our 5 top non-democracies (by Western standards) you may not know about.
Before anyone gets their panties in a twist – if I were to tell you that there was a country in Asia that had a Communist insurgency, had been ruled by the same party since independence, and had dynastic succession, you’d probably think of North Korea, right? Well, fun fact: North Korea has more opposition political parties in its parliament than Singapore. Is Singapore happy? Yes. It’s also rich, but one could hardly describe it as a flourishing place of free speech. Don’t believe me? According to the press freedom index Singapore scores in the bottom quarter – slightly below Ethiopia, but slightly above the absolute monarchy of Swaziland. Yet at the end of the day Singapore PLC not only has the world’s best airport, but many people from many “real” democracies would kill to live there.
Welcome to the land of smiles! Thailand has had a rich history since 1932, and the end of the absolute monarchy of swapping between civilian and military rule, with the current status quo since the 2014 coup being a military government in civilian clothes. Technically it’s supposed to be a temporary situation, but the reality for most Thais has been that the military government has brought some much needed stability. And to add to this mix the King of Thailand who, whilst technically a symbolic figurehead, is revered to almost god-like stature, and you scarcely have a recipe for egalitarian republicanism.
3) Hong Kong
OK, so let’s get the yawn fest out of the way. Apologies people that want to get all technical, but whilst Hong Kong is technically part of China, in reality it could not be any further from the PRC and has an extremely high degree of autonomy – more so than if they were a member of the EU, for example. Another good myth to kick is that Hong Kong isn’t democratic because of China. In fact, Hong Kong was always ruled by a governor during colonial times, and their first legislative assembly was only introduced by the UK in the 80’s as a way of saying screw you to China. The Chief Executive is indirectly elected and there are elections of a sort (more than in the PRC), but much like Singapore it is run like a business, and run well. High levels of freedom of speech, great economic opportunities, and a good social welfare system will keep people flocking to Hong Kong, despite the politics.
Oh the Sultan of Brunei, he is quite the card! Really rich, like so ridiculously rich from oil that he has golden toilet seats. Well, you would if you could, right? Prior to independence there were various groups that tried to fight for democracy, which the good old Brits helped to quell. Since 1984 Brunei has since flourished into being one of the world’s last truly absolute monarchies, ruled by Sharia law. Smartly the Sultan gives free stuff like healthcare, and all hard labour is imported.
Where to start on this one? Remember when everyone was moaning about Russia getting the Olympics and World Cup because some dogs were getting killed? In the absolute monarchy of Qatar, actual humans are dying to build the World Cup stadiums. The absolute monarchy of Saudi is a country named after a family, and then there’s the tourist Mecca of Dubai and the UAE. The government of the UAE? Seven absolute sultanates that share government jobs around all the royal family. Yet again, for whatever you might say about the lack of democracy, most of these absolute monarchies are full of workers from India, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Indonesia – all bastions of democracy. Read into that what you will.