Elections without democracy in Southeast Asia


August 8, 2016

Read: New Thai Constitution Approved. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-36972396

Elections without democracy in Southeast Asia

by Lee Morganbesser and Tom Pepinskey

The Southeast Asian experience suggests that what would make African states particularly vulnerable to democratisation by elections would be state weakness and the evaporation of patronage resources. The comparative weakness of African states is an established theme in history and the social sciences, as is the failure of patronage mechanisms in the era of structural adjustment, which might explain why democratisation by elections is so much more common in this region.–Morganbesser and Pepinskey

Democracy in Southeast Asia is on the defensive. Why?

A recent map of “Freedom in the World in 2016,” from Freedom House, illustrates the point starkly.

Ferdinand Marcos held a deeply flawed election which led to his downfall

Here, Marcos (above) presided over a weak state in the midst of a long-term economic decline, and then held a deeply flawed election that effectively galvanised opposition forces against his rule. Under these particular conditions, democratisation by elections worked as the literature expected.

However, our close examination of other cases of democratisation in the region—several instances in Thailand, and Indonesia in 1999—reveals that even when elections coincide with democratisation, the causal process often works differently. In these cases, elections mark the culmination of the democratisation process rather than causing democratisation on their own.

“Democracy” by Military Rule in Thailand

In this way, taking Southeast Asian cases seriously tells us not just about the limits of democratisation by elections within one world region, it can also help others to reconsider democratisation by elections as a general theoretical proposition. For example, Africa has figured very prominently in the literature on democratisation by elections. Why that region in particular?

The Southeast Asian experience suggests that what would make African states particularly vulnerable to democratisation by elections would be state weakness and the evaporation of patronage resources. The comparative weakness of African states is an established theme in history and the social sciences, as is the failure of patronage mechanisms in the era of structural adjustment, which might explain why democratisation by elections is so much more common in this region.

Within Southeast Asia, though, the implication is that elections are best understood not as independent causes of democratisation but rather as venues through which regimes and their opponents deploy the resources at their disposal. Rather than examining the venues in which political actors compete, activists and analysts alike might instead consider the resources that they bring to the competition.

Lee Morgenbesser is a Research Fellow at Griffith University. Tom Pepinsky is Associate Professor of Government at Cornell University.

Source:

Elections without democracy in Southeast Asia

One thought on “Elections without democracy in Southeast Asia

  1. The forms and substance of Democracy are important prerequisites for the stable and sustainable development of any nation. Using the former to undermine the latter may make a good umbrella but a poor roof.

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