Democracy and Development in Southeast Asia: The Winds of Change

Democracy and Development in Southeast Asia: The Winds of Change

Democracy and Development in Southeast Asia: The Winds of Change

Democracy and Development in Southeast Asia: The Winds of Change

Synopsis

Exploring the remarkable political and economic changes sweeping Southeast Asia, the authors take as their starting point the trend- albeit uneven- toward democratization. They focus specifically on "Asian democracy,'" a form that has been adapted by Southeast Asians to suit their own particular needs. This book begins by building a framework for understanding democracy in its broadest sense. The authors investigate the uniquely Asian style of democracy, which borrows democratic political institutions and meshes them with the cultural patterns specific to each country. In separate chapters, the authors trace the evolutionary historical processes within each country, as well as citizen participation, electoral practices, and civil liberties. The chapters end with an assessment of the prospects for democracy in that nation as well as an evaluation of whether democratic regimes are necessary for developing successful economies and societies in the new international era.

Excerpt

This book is a snapshot in time. It describes and analyzes the winds of political change buffeting the nations of Southeast Asia in the mid-1990s. If it is true that there is nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come, it is equally true that democracy is now just such an idea. Fifty years ago only a single Southeast Asian country, the Philippines, possessed even the rudiments of political democracy. Now even the most horrific forms of government must style themselves democracies, for the notion that the common people should control their own destiny is universal. (Or nearly so--one Southeast Asian country, Brunei, bluntly rejects democracy. It is a monarchy, with no compromises.) The dictators of Southeast Asia, whether on the political Left or Right, claim that they are "really" democratic because their policies are in the people's interest, or else that they are "building" democracy when they make concessions to public opinion.

The region we are studying is very diverse. It includes all the territory and people east of India, west of Melanesia, south of China, and north of Australia. There are about half a billion Southeast Asians living in ten countries: Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. These nations present a rich tapestry of seemingly exotic cultures, languages, and religions. Their historical experiences are highly diverse. Some are well endowed with natural resources, others are not. Some have met with economic success, others only with failure. Each has its own distinct political system, but we think there are underlying similarities. To bring coherence to this ambitious topic, we analyze each country separately but point to patterns that help us comprehend the region as a whole.

The themes of the book are democracy and change. Broadly speaking, democracy is a political system in which citizens participate in some way in choosing their leaders. Candidates compete for that leadership role, and the voters can discuss the merits of rival candidates and parties. Modern democracy began in the West. The idea--but not necessarily the practice--has now spread across the whole globe. Most Southeast Asian nations cannot be con-

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