Myanmar protesters
Anti-coup protesters in Myanmar (Image: AP)

If you asked any South-East Asian diplomat or expert two decades ago which country, in 20 years' time, would have the best functioning democracy with the least oppressive government in the region, you would have been hard pressed to find anyone that answered Indonesia.

Yet Indonesia -- as well as its breakaway republic Timor-Leste -- offers the best model for free and democratic societies. Twenty-three years after people power brought down the regime of General Suharto, it has freedom of the media and religion as well as relatively independent judiciaries.

I've considered all these factors and more to come up with an "indicative freedom ratings" of 8/10 (with 10 being the most free) for both nations. Neither is perfect. Islamic terrorism remains a constant worry in Indonesia. Timor-Leste's politics remains in thrall to ageing freedom fighters. Corruption is too prevalent in both countries. But they are still in many ways bulwarks against the latest wave of authoritarianism sweeping Australia's backyard.