Civil Society and Political Change in Asia: Expanding and Contracting Democratic Space

Civil Society and Political Change in Asia: Expanding and Contracting Democratic Space

Civil Society and Political Change in Asia: Expanding and Contracting Democratic Space

Civil Society and Political Change in Asia: Expanding and Contracting Democratic Space

Synopsis

A systematic investigation of the connection between civil society and political change in Asia - change toward open, participatory, and accountable politics. Its findings suggest that the link between a vibrant civil society and democracy is indeterminate: certain civil society organisations support democracy, others could undermine it.

Excerpt

Beginning in the 1980s, civil society gained worldwide prominence as a political force in the context of fundamental global geopolitical and economic changes, and in the wake of numerous transitions to democracy all over the world. Political leaders and scholars, especially in the West, credit civil society with having played a crucial role in the collapse of communism and authoritarianism and in the accompanying democratic transitions. Perceived as a normative ideal, civil society is deemed as having the potential to liberate citizens from the oppressive state and to confer full economic and political freedom on them. Some present civil society as a program and an alternative to the domineering state. Viewing it as a positive force for the development of democracy, Western international aid agencies and foundations, along with advocates of democracy in the academic community, target the development of robust civil societies in new democracies and seek to sow the subversive seed of civil society in nondemocratic states. Along with the rule of law, enhancement of legislative capacity, growth of political parties, and development of the capitalist economy, promotion of civil society in developing countries has become a key goal of Western governments and, to a lesser degree, of the Japanese government.

The growing political prominence of civil society stimulated a great deal of thought about the concept in the scholarly community as well. Civil society has been used as a lens to understand politics and deployed as a key variable to explain democratic political change, especially in developing countries. Democratic change in South Korea, Taiwan, Chile, Poland, Czechoslovakia, South Africa, Nigeria, and Benin, among other countries, it is argued, cannot be comprehended without reference to civil society. Others have asserted that studying civil society provides a clearer understanding of the interface between society and government, and that it holds the key to the political legitimation of governments. Furthermore, it is posited that the absence of a vigorous civil society hinders sustained political reform, improved governance, and viable state-society-economy relations in developing . . .

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