Compromising Democracy: Agents of Democratic Regression in Southeast Asia
Part 1Session 6
Thu 14:00-15:30 Room 3.06
Part 2Session 7
Thu 16:00-17:30 Room 3.06
- Jessica Soedirgo University of Amsterdam
- Kikue Hamayotsu Northern Illinois University
- Megan Ryan University of Michigan
- Tomas Larsson University of Cambridge
- Ward Berenschot Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies
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Autocratic Backsliding and the Limits of Hybrid Tribunals: Evidence from Cambodia
Rachel Jacobs Dickinson College
Authoritarian backsliding has accelerated in Cambodia, particularly after the 2013 national elections. One of the primary avenues through which the regime has consolidated power has been through the politicization of the legal system and a shift from rule of law to rule by law. The acceleration of authoritarian backsliding after 2013 was a key turning point for the legal system, and, as I argue in this paper, had a chilling effect on the internationally-led Khmer Rouge Tribunal (the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia or ECCC) as well. The ECCC began its work in 2006 to try the senior leadership of the Khmer Rouge regime for genocide and crimes against humanity. By December 2021, the court issued terminations to the remaining cases, after convicting only 3 individuals. While the convictions are important, and groundbreaking in their own right, the ECCC was designed in part to socialize Cambodian lawyers into international legal norms. However, the domestic political context has instead served to limit the scope of investigations of the hybrid tribunal. The issue is not that the court is ineffective, or that international law is only what states make of it, but rather that the expansion of the tribunal was subject to the same political dynamics - autocratic backsliding- as the domestic legal system. Through this case, this paper demonstrates that domestic politics can shape the reach of international institutions, despite the aims of using such institutions to socialize domestic actors into international norms.
Crowdsourcing Dictatorship in Thailand
Aim Sinpeng University of Sydney
Why do ordinary people in democracies oppose democracy? Under what conditions do people in democratizing societies turn against democratic regime? The extant literature on democratic breakdown tends to focus on structural factors such as economic crisis and inequality or on elite factors such as intra-elite conflict in explaining the breakdown of democracy. The assertion that democratic collapses are ultimately the product of elite choices, while correct, obscure the grassroots factors that may shape elites’ decisions to overthrow democratic regime in the first place. This article seeks to “bring the masses back” into the debate about how and why democracies end. Using the case of Thailand whose democracies collapsed in 2006 and 2014, I argue that ordinary people mobilize against democratic politics due to their conflicting visions of democracies. On the one hand, some want the majoritarian version of democracy where the wishes of the majority matter most. One the other hand, some want the power-sharing version of democracy where its people are included in the political decision-making and its executives restrained. This clash of two incompatible visions of democracy in turn gave rise to two mass anti-democratic movements, the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), whose frequent, incessant, and often violent street protests facilitated military coups d’état in Thailand. Using a mixed-method approach that combines original datasets of social media data and elite interviews, this study shows mass support for ending democratic politics rooted in the notion of this zero-sum game between majoritarian versus power-sharing principles of democracy. The in-depth case study of Thailand makes a theoretical contribution to the study of democratic breakdowns by challenging the predominant elite-centric explanations for democratic collapses by offering rich accounts of how ordinary people play a key role in the demise of democracy. Moreover, the study challenges to notion that social media has a power to strengthen democracy.
Digital Diversion: Online Pro-Military Mobilization During Myanmar’s 2020 Elections
Megan Ryan University of Michigan
New communication technologies, such as cell phones and social media, have disrupted the elite-dominated nature of mass communication and have been touted as liberation technologies for anti-regime resistance movements (Diamond 2010). Yet social media has not invariably created a challenger’s advantage. Recent research suggests leaders use social media to crowd out critical commentary of the regime (King et al., 2017), to mobilize political support through credit-claiming and position-taking (Barbera and Zeitzoff, 2018), and to discredit political opposition and protesters (Gunitsky, 2015, Pearce, 2015, Sanovich et al.,
Political Party Development in Thailand: The Murky Road to Democracy
Punchada Sirivunnabood Mahidol University
In 1932, a military-civilian clique called the People’s Party (Khana Ratsadon) overturned Thailand’s absolute monarchy and established a constitutional regime. This political party was the first to emerge in Thailand, but it never gained legal status. Parties evolved over subsequent decades. Early parties were cadre parties, composed of members of parliament—some in factions controlling their own electoral organizations. Party organizations were weak, with few financial resources, non-existent on the ground, relying on patronage, and with little party discipline. Military coups entrenched parties’ cadre-based organization, as they led to the dissolution of formal party organizations but not of the informal electoral factions. Coups also led to frequent changes in electoral law. Nevertheless, Thailand has seen many attempts to promote party and party-system institutionalization, particularly since the promulgation of the reformist 1997 Constitution. Despite these attempts, a weakly institutionalized party and party system has persisted. Political parties turned to be a political tool for some political group to compete in politics. This paper will examine how the military that staged a coup in 2014 used the political party, Phalang Pracharat, to maintain its power in Thai politics.
Democratic retreat in Malaysia: leadership, identity, and normal politics
Kai Ostwald University of British Columbia
Whither Malaysia’s democratic triumph? Against all odds, a coalition of opposition parties secured an unexpected victory against the long-dominant UMNO regime in 2018, providing a rare bright spot in a region otherwise marked by democratic decline. The new Pakatan Harapan government, which promised a slew of reforms underpinned by an ostensibly progressive orientation, lasted a mere 22 months before being overthrown in a political coup; the political crisis that ensued has yet to be resolved. Pakatan Harapan’s vulnerability resulted partly from contradictions in its mandate, but several other factors were similarly decisive. Some of these have received attention, for instance the new government’s inability to counter ethnoreligious attacks that mobilized popular resistance to it. Two further factors have become clearer in retrospect. First is the failure within the Malay elite to foster leadership renewal, which left the new government without alternatives to a contentious prime minister designate. Second was its perhaps understandable decision to continue with “normal politics”: the unprecedented change in government was not matched by a similarly significant change in the underlying parameters of politics, particularly in the structure of power and the relationship between parties. Regarding the former, Pakatan Harapan retained the extreme concentration of power in the Prime Minister’s Department, despite that being at the root of previous governance failures. On the latter, UMNO faced credible concerns about being unceremoniously dismantled, prompting ever bolder attempts to destabilize the new government in an effort to preserve its legacy, resources, and extensive grassroots machinery. The consequences of opting for “normal politics” following the 2018 election have only become clear in hindsight, but they underscore the difficulty of transitioning away from hegemonic rule without a fundamental political reset that includes both the dispersion of power and concessions to the defeated hegemon.
Political Violence and Democratic Deconsolidation in the Philippines Under Duterte
Sol Iglesias University of the Philippines-Diliman
Scholarly and practical interest in pathways to authoritarian rule have been rekindled since the electoral rise of several “strong men” to highest office in the Philippines, India, Brazil, Turkey and the United States of America. The populist appeal of autocratic rulers in democracies is of increasing concern, as is their impact on democracy itself. In cases like the Philippines, where an estimated 30,000 people were killed in the “war on drugs” under President Rodrigo Duterte, the importance of violence is self-evident but poorly understood. His public approval has remained high—as high as 91% in his fourth year as president. Midterm elections in 2019 cemented the ruling administration’s overwhelming majority in Congress and among local officials. However, when taken together with signs of democratic erosion—virtual obliteration of the opposition, capture of the judiciary, attacks on the media—the ostensible popularity of the president requires critical examination. I argue that state-sponsored, “anti-crime” violence exerts a coercive effect, contributing to a process of democratic deconsolidation in the Philippines. Through patterns of escalation and de-escalation, violence is used to exert social control through the centralization of power and heightened local surveillance, demobilizing dissent. In addition to the on-going national “war on drugs” campaign, I present evidence of why violence for social control effectively demobilizes society using three cases of similar programs of violence: the Red Vigilante Group that plagued Gapan City from 2001 to 2003; the Underground Death Squad of Tagum City from 2004 to 2013; and, the Davao City Death Squad from 1998 to 2016 linked to Duterte himself. This paper theorizes on the mechanisms in which new and unfamiliar forms of political violence undermine democracy.
The Power of Groups: Hardliners and Political Opinion in Indonesia
Jessica Soedirgo University of Amsterdam
Nathanael Gratias Sumaktoyo
There is a growing consensus that Indonesia is in a period of democratic backsliding (Mietzner 2018; Fealy 2020; Fossati, Muhtadi, and Warburton Forthcoming). Although there are multiple drivers of democratic regression, it is difficult to deny that Islamic hardliner groups have played an important role in the country’s illiberal shift. In this paper, we explore the effects of group membership in Islamic hardliner groups on political attitudes. We explore this relationship using a mixed methods approach. We start by employing a statistical model on original two-wave survey data, finding that an association with hardliner groups has an independent effect on intolerant attitudes and patterns of social interaction. Association with hardliner groups lead to more intolerant attitudes and increased segregation. We suggest that these effects are an outcome of informational silos and social disciplining, identifying how associational groups become agents of democratic regression.
Whither Malaysian Democracy: Illiberalism and Uncertain Transition of Dominant-Party Regime
Kikue Hamayotsu Northern Illinois University
What accounts for Malaysia’s uncertain and incomplete transition to democratic rule? The fall of the dominant-party regime in the 2018 legislative elections came as a complete surprise. Equally intriguing was the abrupt collapse of the newly elected democratic government soon after in February 2020. This paper intends to offer two major theoretical arguments to contribute to the literature on democratic backsliding. Firstly, it argues that Malaysia’s uncertain democratic transition is attributed to a vertical coalition of illiberal elements in civil society and state—religious fundamentalism and nationalism. It draws upon an original data set based on religious sermons (khutbah) the author collected in 2006-2016 to analyze the illiberal attributes of state-sanctioned Muslim religious authorities, and publicly available survey data to evaluate popular attitudes. Secondly, it will shed light on the timing—and manner—in which traditional Muslim elites mobilize religious and nationalistic sentiments among Malay-Muslim constituents to demonstrate that it is not merely conservative and illiberal popular attitudes, nor incompetence and incoherence of the newly elected reformist leadership that are primarily responsible for the short-lived and unstable democratic rule as conventionally argued.
There is a mounting concern about the global state of democracy (Diamond 2020, Levitsky and Ziblatt 2019; Waldner and Lust 2018). In Southeast Asia, regimes there too seem to have been pulled into this global wave of democratic backsliding. Across the region, there has been widespread gross violations of political and civil rights (Kuhonta and Truong 2020), the sidelining of minorities by illiberal forces (Hamayotsu forthcoming, Soedirgo 2018), and the intimidation of journalists and the political opposition (Aguilar Jr, Mendoza et al. 2014, Toha and Harish 2019). Although regimes in Southeast Asia may be affected by the worldwide illiberal turn, democracy in the region is not newly on the retreat. Southeast Asian nations have had their own prior struggles with democratization. Further,recentregressions or failures to consolidate democracy are also deeply rooted in distinct domestic struggles and histories. This proposed panel will explore the actors and forces that have worked to compromise and/or diminish democracy in Southeast Asia. Through a comparative examination of various drivers— and various patterns—of democratic backsliding in Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Thailand, the papers in this panel will make unique contributions to the study of regimes in Southeast Asia