CFR Presents

Asia Unbound

CFR experts give their take on the cutting-edge issues emerging in Asia today.

Posts by Author

Showing posts for "Joshua Kurlantzick"

Indonesia’s Democratic Showdown

by Joshua Kurlantzick
joko widodo-2 Indonesia's President-Elect Joko Widodo gestures while his Vice President-Elect Jusuf Kalla looks on as they prepare to speak with the media at their transition headquarters in Jakarta on September 15, 2014 (Darren Whiteside/Courtesy: Reuters).

In the wake of the election of Joko Widodo as Indonesia’s president, many Indonesians were hopeful that the country’s nascent democracy finally had proved its strength and that Widodo, known to all as Jokowi, would be able to build on his election and leave a legacy of dramatic political reform. After all, Jokowi was the first president who came from politics in the post-Suharto era, and he was also the first president to have risen up in politics organically rather than through elite political maneuvering—he had emerged as a national politician partly as a result of the decentralization Indonesia undertook a decade ago that allowed for direct elections. Jokowi had risen from mayor of Solo, where he delivered effective governance, to mayor of Jakarta, and finally to presidential candidate. He had the strongest credentials as a democrat of any leader in modern Indonesian history. Read more »

Protests Threaten Democracy in Asia, in a Bizarre Reversal of Democratic Norms

by Joshua Kurlantzick
islamabad protest A supporter of the chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) political party, Imran Khan, gestures while chanting with others during what has been dubbed a "freedom march" in Islamabad on September 13, 2014. Pakistan's opposition leaders ordered thousands of their supporters on Saturday to resist any government attempt to quash their protests against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, deepening a political crisis in the coup-prone nation (Faisal Mahmood/Courtesy: Reuters).

Although I am not CFR’s South Asia expert, the past month of protests in Pakistani by Pakistani politician Imran Khan, who has been camped out close to parliament along with his supporters, brings to mind many other similar protests that have happened in Asia in the past ten years—in Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, and other countries. What is notable about these new types of street protests, which Khan’s demonstrations fall into, is that unlike decades of protests that called for various reforms to political systems, these protests actually in many ways are designed to subvert and possibly overthrow democracy. Indeed, the region, and some other developing nations like Egypt, has witnessed the rise of anti-democratic protests. Read more »

Jokowi’s Priorities

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Joko Widodo Indonesian president-elect Joko Widodo speaks to the media at a press briefing in the garden of his home in Jakarta on August 21, 2014 (Darren Whiteside/Courtesy: Reuters).

As the new president of Indonesia (don’t tell Prabowo Subianto), Joko Widodo has a full plate. The economy is slowing down, the education system is one of the worst in the region, the country’s physical infrastructure is crumbling, the region is looking to Indonesia as a natural leader, and the man defeated in the presidential election is vowing to use his power in parliament to block every move the president makes. And Jokowi himself, despite his credentials as a democrat and his success as a mayor, has little national or international experience. He also will be spending most of these first months trying to bolster his support in parliament and pick off members of Prabowo’s coalition rather than getting down to governing and policy. Read more »

The Failures of the ASEAN Economic Community

by Joshua Kurlantzick
jakarta-international-container-terminal A worker walks at the Jakarta international container terminal in Tanjung Priok port in this file photo from July 26, 2012. Southeast Asia has sought to overcome competing national interests and form a European Union-style economic community by 2015 (Supri/Courtesy: Reuters).

Next year, the long-awaited ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) will come into effect, welcomed surely by fanfare both from the organization and from all of the ten member states. Long promised by ASEAN countries but repeatedly delayed in its launch, the AEC is supposed to be a single market for all ten member states, similar in some respects to the early days of the European Union’s single market. In theory, the AEC would provide a major boost to intra-regional trade, which lags behind its potential, and also would help woo foreign investment region-wide. Read more »

U.S. Policy Options Toward Thailand

by Joshua Kurlantzick
thai-government-house A Thai soldier uses his walkie-talkie as he stands guard at the Government House before the first cabinet meeting in Bangkok on September 9, 2014 (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy: Reuters).

In my previous post on the rule of Prayuth Chan-ocha, I noted that, in this “hard coup,” army rule could last a considerably long time–two years, and possibly even more. Some Thai observers are suggesting that Prayuth and the army will retain power for as much as five years. As I mentioned previously, in this “hard coup,” the military is likely to take more draconian action against any opponents in the next year as well, since the army has overseen somewhat of an economic rebound, has muffled most of the Thai press, and has gotten relatively little criticism from Asian countries like Japan, Indonesia, and India. I expect to see activists detained for longer periods of time, and treated much more roughly under army detention than they have been so far. I also expect Thaksin sympathizers to be purged from the civil service and the armed forces, and many leading pro-Thaksin politicians to be charged with offenses and actually sent to jail, a rarity in the past for Thai elites of any political persuasion. Read more »

State Capitalism Stays in Control

by Joshua Kurlantzick
bank-of-china A man is silhouetted in front of a Bank of China's logo at its branch office in Beijing in this file photo from July 14, 2014 (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Courtesy: Reuters).

Over the past year, leadership changes in many of the world’s biggest emerging markets have created vast hopes—both among citizens of these countries and among foreign investors—of dramatic economic liberalization in India, China, Indonesia, Mexico, Thailand, and other countries with new presidents and prime ministers. In some cases, as in India and China, many local analysts and investors believe that the new men in charge—Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, and Chinese president Xi Jinping—are potentially once-in-a-generation economic reformers who could streamline even the biggest, most lumbering economies, slashing state enterprises and drastically reducing waste. Read more »

What Will Prayuth Do as Prime Minister?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
prayuth chan-ocha Thai prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha waits for his cabinet members for a group photo session after an audience with King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the Government House in Bangkok on September 4, 2014. Thailand's new military-stacked cabinet met King Bhumibol in Bangkok on Thursday, marking the formal start of an administration that will spend at least a year overhauling the Thai political system before calling a fresh election (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy: Reuters).

To the surprise of few Thai observers, in August Thailand’s legislative assembly, packed with military men and military allies, chose coup leader Prayuth Chan-ocha to be the prime minister, until elections supposedly to be called late next year or early in 2016. Prayuth thus became the first Thai coup leader in decades to take the job as prime minister in Thailand, rather than finding a fig leaf civilian as interim prime minister, solidifying the notion that this was indeed a “hard” coup more similar to the draconian authoritarian rule in Thailand in the 1950s and 1960s than the “soft” coup that took place in 2006. The military, Bangkok elites, and the royal family supposedly learned from the 2006 “soft” coup that only a “hard” coup could really wipe out Thaksin Shinawatra’s organization in Thailand and entrench elite rule for at least another generation. The 2006 coup was followed by a new constitution and then elections that resulted in a pro-Thaksin Shinawatra party winning power again,  thus defeating–in the minds of Bangkok elites–the very purpose of the coup. Read more »

Human Rights Watch Reports Thailand Indefinitely Detaining Thousands of Migrant Children

by Joshua Kurlantzick
rohingya-in-thailand Rohingya people from Myanmar, who were rescued from human traffickers, are kept in a communal cell at the Songkhla Immigration Detention Centre in Thailand near the border with Malaysia in this photo from February 13, 2014 (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy: Reuters).

As if Thailand’s international image hadn’t suffered enough, with a coup government trying to turn the clock back forty years, the country’s seafood industry being exposed as one of the worst examples of human trafficking and outright slavery in the world, and even neighboring Myanmar’s politics looking good by comparison, Human Rights Watch today released a lengthy report on the detention of migrant children in Thailand. The report is available here. Read more »

What Jokowi Should Do Now

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Indonesia's presidential candidate Joko "Jokowi" Widodo gestures to supporters a day after he was named winner in the presidential election in Taman Proklamasi, Jakarta July 23, 2014. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside (INDONESIA - Tags: ELECTIONS POLITICS) Indonesia's new president Joko "Jokowi" Widodo gestures to supporters a day after he was named winner in the presidential election in Taman Proklamasi, Jakarta, on July 23, 2014 (Darren Whiteside/Courtesy Reuters)

Certified as the winner of Indonesia’s presidential election by the country’s election commission, Joko Widodo, or Jokowi, has a tough road ahead of him. To defeat challenges to and establish his authority as president, Jokowi will have to work quickly and operate, at least at first, in a style that is not his norm. The former Jakarta governor is a low-key politician, uncomfortable making weighty stump speeches, and unused to the gravitas that comes with the presidency; he has a mayoral style and prefers walking the streets, talking to people, and coming up with pragmatic solutions to problems. But now, Jokowi will have to move outside his comfort zone if he is to establish his legitimacy. Read more »

So Many Southeast Asia Top Events, So Many Questions

by Joshua Kurlantzick
A member of the pro-government "red shirt" group holds a picture of ousted Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra during a rally in Nakhon Pathom province on the outskirts of Bangkok on May 10, 2014 (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy: Reuters). A member of the pro-government "red shirt" group holds a picture of ousted Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra during a rally in Nakhon Pathom province on the outskirts of Bangkok on May 10, 2014 (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy: Reuters).

The past week has been so busy with events, both tragic and hopeful, related to Southeast Asia, that I barely have time to keep up with the news.  A few short thoughts:

1. Is Prabowo Going to Concede?

No way. Prabowo Subianto is now tacitly hinting in interviews that, on July 22, he might be declared the loser of Indonesia’s presidential election, and he is now using interviews to argue that, whatever the result announced on July 22, it is likely a fraud. This is a shift from his earlier position stating simply that he was going to win. On July 22 he will expand on his fraud argument and file a case to the Constitutional Court. Jokowi – and Indonesia – better be prepared for a long and drawn-out legal contest. Read more »