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Showing posts for "Joshua Kurlantzick"

The Pivot and Democratic Regression in Southeast Asia

by Joshua Kurlantzick
cambodia opposition youth supoprt A young supporter of Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) holds a Cambodian national flag during the last day of a three-day protest at Freedom Park in Phnom Penh on September 17, 2013 (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy: Reuters).

This past week’s serious challenges to democracy in Indonesia, on the heels of what had been a successful presidential election in July, should serve as a reminder that, while the region has made strides since the 1980s and early 1990s, democracy is far from entrenched in Southeast Asia. Retrograde forces, like the coalition of politicians allied with Prabowo Subianto in Indonesia, continue to stand in the way of democratic reforms. In some Southeast Asian nations, such as Thailand and Malaysia, anti-democratic forces have been highly successful in reversing progress toward democratization. Read more »

Indonesia’s Democracy Takes a Hit

by Joshua Kurlantzick
joko widodo-swearing in Indonesia's president-elect and current Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo looks up as he leaves a swearing-in ceremony of new local legislators at the city council in Jakarta on September 26, 2014. Indonesia's parliament on Friday approved a measure ending direct elections for governors and mayors, a move Widodo criticized as a "big step back" for democracy in the country. Indonesia introduced direct elections for regional leaders in 2005, allowing the emergence of a new breed of politician free of links to the political elite, with Widodo being the best-known example (Darren Whiteside/Courtesy: Reuters).

Last week, I warned that the passage of a proposed law by Indonesia’s parliament that would end direct elections of local officials would be a major blow to Indonesian democracy. The legislation had been championed by the most retrograde elements in Indonesia, and in particular by the party of the losing presidential candidate in this past July’s election, Prabowo Subianto. Direct election of local and provincial officials had been a critical post-Suharto reform, a major part of Indonesia’s decentralization process, and a vital element of political empowerment. Direct elections had helped create a new group of younger Indonesian political leaders who actually had to serve their local publics or—horrors!—risk being booted out of office, and it also (somewhat) shifted the political balance of power away from Jakarta and out across the archipelago. Such a process of decentralization only made sense in a vast and diverse country.  Allowing for more local and provincial elections did increase the possibility of graft in holding more polls, as I noted in my book Democracy in Retreat: The Revolt of the Middle Class and the Worldwide Decline in Representative Government. But, for most Indonesians, this was a reasonable price to pay to (generally) get more responsive local government. And in any event, earlier methods of selecting local leaders—basically, they were hand-chosen by Suharto and his allies—still had led to enormous amounts of rent-seeking. Read more »

The Lucky Country Is About to Run out of Luck

by Joshua Kurlantzick
australia mining A stacker/reclaimer places coal in stockpiles at the coal port in Newcastle, Australia, in this file photo taken on June 6, 2012 (Daniel Munoz/Courtesy: Reuters).

I don’t often write about Australia, partly because Australian politics are so stable and the country such a solid partner for the United States, but also because Australia has for twenty years basically avoided the ups and downs of the world economy. Alone among rich nations, Australia was basically unaffected by the global economic and financial crises of 2008-9 and the country also has not faced the kind of long-term economic slowdown challenges that confront Europe, the United States, and Japan. Unemployment today in Australia is around 6 percent, and earlier this year it was under 6 percent. Most forecasters project that Australia will grow by at least 3 percent in 2014, which is well above projections for most other developed economies. Read more »

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 »