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North Korea evaluated as world’s least democratic state

A set of recently released global democracy indices have highlighted North Korea’s dictatorial state governance again, putting the political and economic backwater at the bottom of their annual rankings.

Pyongyang has so far turned a blind eye to such foreign evaluations, arguing that the outside world should not attempt to forcibly impose its rules and principles on it as it has developed its own style of socialism and governing principles.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (Yonhap)
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (Yonhap)

In the 2015 Index of Economic Freedom, released by the U.S.-based Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal, the North was evaluated as the least economically free country in the world. The country ranked 178th ― right below Cuba ― getting a score of 1.3 with 100 being the perfect score.

In the evaluation, South Korea ranked 29th with 71.5 points, classified as “mostly (economically) free.” Those with scores of 80 or higher are listed as “free.”

Hong Kong with 89.6 points topped the list, followed by Singapore, New Zealand, Australia and Switzerland. The U.S. ranked 12th ― right above the U.K. ― with 76.2 points.

Since the index was incepted in 1995, Pyongyang has remained at the bottom of the list. The index evaluates four policy areas affecting economic freedom: rule of law, limited government, regulatory efficiency and open markets. It also looks into 10 areas of freedom such as labor freedom, monetary freedom and trade freedom.

In the 2014 Democracy Index released by the Economist Intelligence Unit, the research and analysis wing of the British magazine the Economist, North Korea ranked 167th ― the lowest level ― getting 1.08 points with 10 being the perfect score. The North has been at the bottom of the rankings seven times since 2006.

With Asia’s average score being 3.65, far lower than the world’s average of 5.5, Japan ranked first in Asia with 8.08 points, followed by South Korea with 8.06 points.

Norway topped the global list with 9.93 points, followed by Sweden, Iceland, New Zealand and Demark. The U.S. ranked 19th with 8.11 points.

The Democracy index evaluates five major areas: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture. The index categorizes countries into one of four types of regimes: full democracies, flawed democracies, hybrid regimes and authoritarian regimes.

North Korea experts largely concur that such negative evaluations may not further raise political pressure on Pyongyang, given that the flow of information from outside is tightly controlled, and the regime has long resisted foreign values and norms.

But in the long run, there could be some negative ramifications on the North’s efforts to shore up its moribund economy, as the indices have long underscored the unpredictability and opaque nature of the regime.

“These indices are not slapping the North with sanctions or anything like that,” said Chang Yong-seok, senior researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies of Seoul National University.

“But we can’t say that there would be no negative impact, given that these adverse evaluations could get in the way of the North pushing to attract foreign investments and expand development projects with other countries.”

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)
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