Badly needed good news

As surveys by Freedom House have persistently reported, democracy has been on the retreat around the world for the past few years. That's particularly true in Southeast Asia and Eurasia, where China and Russia appear to offer workable models of 21st-century dictatorship. So mass uprisings against corrupt and autocratic rulers last week in both Armenia and Malaysia ought to be celebrated as badly needed good news.

The events resemble the democratic breakthroughs of the 1980s and '90s, when "people power" revolutions drove some dictators from their palaces, while others fell after underestimating the unpredictability of elections. They will surely alarm the rulers of neighboring countries--from Azerbaijan to Thailand--that thought their repression of nongovernmental groups and independent media could prevent such upheavals.

Malaysia's turnabout is dramatic. The prime minister sworn in Thursday is Mahathir Mohamad, who ruled the country from 1981 to 2003 and who turned on former Prime Minister Najib Razak because of allegations that he and cronies looted a government investment fund of $4.5 billion. In his day, it must be said, Mahathir ruled without much respect for democratic norms, but last week he partnered with the opposition movement led by Anwar Ibrahim, a leading advocate of liberal democracy in the Muslim world, who has been imprisoned twice on trumped-up sodomy charges--once by Najib, once by Mahathir himself. Anwar has been promised a pardon and succession to Mahathir as prime minister within two years. That offers a ray of hope in this dark political era.

Editorial on 05/15/2018

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