THE SOUTHEAST ASIAN DEVELOPMENT MODEL: Non-Liberal Democracy with Market Accountability

By Jones, David Martin | Southeast Asian Affairs, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

THE SOUTHEAST ASIAN DEVELOPMENT MODEL: Non-Liberal Democracy with Market Accountability


Jones, David Martin, Southeast Asian Affairs


In an influential 1995 article in Pacific Review, Don Emmerson contended that Southeast Asia constituted a regional exception.1 By this Emmerson understood that the then six states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) - Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, and the Philippines - deviated from the preferred developmental route. This assumes initial stability and growth under bureaucratic guidance by military leaders or authoritarian single parties, followed by gradual liberalization as ageing autocrats responded to pressure from an emerging urban middle class, to the final epiphany of democratization and the polymorphous joys of pluralism and civil society.

Emmerson's perplexity reflected a widespread Western political science orthodoxy that, in that curious period between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the World Trade Center in 2001, seemed, as Samuel Huntington (1993) and Francis Fukuyama (1992) contended, to intimate either an inexorable third wave of democratization or, even more hubristically, a liberal democratic end of history.2 In order to confirm this liberal democratic teleology, new scholarly journals devoted to democracy, democratization, or both, exerted much intellectual effort explaining why the kind of anomalies that Emmerson identified in Southeast Asia survived in economic and political circumstances that theoretically required their erasure.

Western scholars generally contended that economic success over several decades might afford legitimacy to the otherwise deviant Southeast Asian developmental experience. It, therefore, followed that if the export-oriented growth model faultered, it would engender a legitimacy crisis that would require a liberalizing and democratizing opening in response.3

The 1997 Asian financial crisis constituted the economic test that analysts predicted would undermine the legitimacy of the developmental state model in Southeast Asia. Indeed, the crisis profoundly affected the subsequent character of political development, although not quite, as we shall demonstrate, in the manner political science assumed.

Indeed, given that after 9/11 and the global war on terror that witnessed, inter alia, the failed attempt of a Wilsonianism with boots on to export democracy, it is evident that the Ideological inevitability driving democratic theory trades at something of a discount. It is, therefore, timely to reassess the character of Southeast Asian political change and development almost a decade after the financial crisis to evaluate how a globally integrated political economy has impacted upon a distinctive and sui generis Southeast Asian state system. Let us then examine the character of Southeast Asia's political regimes and assess their performance in the course of 2006, before attempting to identify the lineaments of a Southeast Asian model for the twenty-first century.

Autocracy and the New Global Political Economy: Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam in 2006

In examining the ASEAN developmental state model, it is necessary to distinguish between the six relatively economically and politically developed states that initially formed the grouping in the Cold War and those members who joined in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union and came somewhat reluctantly to embrace the joys of the global market. By all measures, therefore, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam constitute a group of Southeast Asian states whose standard of living, gross domestic product (GDP), human rights record, and standards of rule-based governance are substantially lower than their ASEAN partners.

From the perspective of political change and development the most troubled Southeast Asian state is Myanmar. Membership of ASEAN since 1997 has failed to affect the manner in which the military junta's State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) has wielded absolute power since cancelling the 1990 election that resulted in a landslide victory for the opposition National League for Democracy. …

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