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What Has Gone Wrong in Southeast Asia?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
June 2, 2014

thai-coup-protest A protester, who was briefly detained and then released, walks back toward others protesting against military rule near the Victory Monument in Bangkok on May 24, 2014 (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy: Reuters).


What has gone wrong in Southeast Asia? Between the late 1980s and the late 2000s, many countries in the region were viewed by global democracy analysts and Southeast Asians themselves as leading examples of democratization in the developing world.

By the late 2000s, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Singapore all were ranked as “free” or “partly free” by the monitoring organization Freedom House, while Cambodia and, perhaps most surprisingly, Myanmar had both taken sizable steps toward democracy as well.

Yet since then, Southeast Asia’s politics have been stuck in neutral or reverse. Asia Sentinel today has an excellent adaptation of my recent CFR working paper on the regression of democratic politics in Southeast Asia. The Asia Sentinel adaptation is available here.

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by Dramin

    Its not a regression bit a consolidation. SEA is in a process of adapting new freedom but is also very anxious not to repeat its mistakes.

  • Posted by Mahe

    Democracy cannot take root unless population explosion is confronted with contraception, birth planning, education.

    All functioning East-Asian democracies, Japan, S.Korea, Taiwan have sustainable fertility below 1.5 births/female.

    Within ASEAN not a single country except Singapore has sustainable fertility. Thailand is close, but not there yet.

    And Singapore will have full democracy after Lee Kuan Yew’s generation passes away.

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