Executive Accountability in Southeast Asia: The Role of Legislatures in New Democracies and under Electoral Authoritarianism

By Case, William | Policy Studies, January 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

Executive Accountability in Southeast Asia: The Role of Legislatures in New Democracies and under Electoral Authoritarianism


Case, William, Policy Studies


List of Acronyms

ACA Anti-Corruption Agency

ARMM Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao

BPK Supreme Audit Agency

BROOM Blue Ribbon Oversight Office Management

CMD Christian and Muslim Democrats

COMELEC Commission on Elections

CPP Cambodian People's Party

DAP Democratic Action Party

DPR People's Representative Assembly

EAIC Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission

Funcinpec National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful, and Cooperative Cambodia

GLC Government Linked Corporation

Golkar Functional Groups

GRC Group Representative Constituencies

HRP Human Rights Party

JAC Judicial Accounts Commission

KAMPI Partner of the Free Filipino

KBL New Society Movement

KPK Corruption Eradication Commission

MACC Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission

MCA Malaysian Chinese Association

MIC Malaysian Indian Congress

NBN National Broadband Network

NEDA National Economic Planning Authority

NEP New Economic Policy

NMP Nominated Members of Parliament

NPC Nationalist People's Coalition

PAC Public Accounts Committee

PAN National Mandate Party

PAP People's Action Party

PAS Islamic Party of Malaysia

PBB Star and Crescent Party

PCIJ Philippines Center for Independent Journalism

PDAF Priority Development Assistance Fund

PIN-P Indonesia Democracy Party of Struggle

PKB National Awakening Party

PKR People's Justice Party

PKS Prosperous Justice Party

PPI Parliamentary Powers Index

PPP United Party of Development

SRP Sam Rainsy Party

UMNO United Malays National Organization

UNTAC United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia

ZTE Zhong Xing Telecommunication Equipment Company

Executive Summary

In an influential study, Steven Fish and Matthew Kroenig argue that "overarching institutional designs" (i.e., presidential, parliamentary, and dual systems) tell us less about the prospects of a new democracy than does the particular strength of the legislature. Specifically, executive abuses are best checked where legislatures are powerful, generating horizontal accountability. Indeed, Fish and Kroenig suggest that with judiciaries and watchdog agencies weak in most new democracies, the legislature is the only institution by which accountability can be imposed. What is more, ordinary citizens are better informed by the robust party systems that strong legislatures support, fostering vertical accountability. In comparing Freedom House scores with their Parliamentary Powers Index (PPI), Fish and Kroenig show clear correlations, leading them to conclude that democracies are made strong by legislatures that are empowered.

In this monograph, their thesis about accountability and legislative power is tested in five country cases in Southeast Asia: Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Singapore. Though many different kinds of regimes can be found in this part of the developing world, the politics of these countries can be broadly classified into two types. Indonesia and the Philippines are new democracies in which legislatures are formed through competitive elections. Malaysia amounts to a paradigmatic case of electoral authoritarianism in which civil liberties are truncated, while legislative elections, though competitive, are manipulated in a variety of ways. Cambodia and Singapore can also be understood as operating electoral authoritarian regimes, though their competitiveness is still more seriously diminished. The study's main aim, then, is to investigate which type of regime, a new democracy or electoral authoritarianism, better allows legislatures to check the executive.

Analysis begins by recounting the literature about the motivations of those who seek election to legislatures in developing countries. We find that in these conditions state power offers the surest means to the accumulation of personal wealth. …

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