An Update on Democracy in Asia: Models or Cautionary Tales?

By Amy Lynn Freedman.

Published by The Global Studies Journal

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

2011 and 2012 have been exciting years for democracy scholars and political activists. The world has been captivated, watching political protests and uprisings throughout the Middle East and North Africa, and one cannot but hope that these movements will usher in transitions to more accountable, more open, and less corrupt regimes. Asia went through its own “democratic moment” more than ten years ago, and it is undisputable that more citizens in Asia today are living in countries where they have increasing amounts of political power, freedom of voice, and a greater array of civil and political rights than was imaginable 15 years ago. Democratization in Asia poses challenges to scholarly and popular assumptions about the role of economic development, culture, religion, and values in either promoting/protecting democracy, or acting as an obstacle to it. Likewise, experiences in Asia serve as examples of the difficulties and challenges in consolidating democracy. As the world watched protestors this winter, there was a new sense of optimism about the power of democratic ideals, the sense that globalization of ideas had finally produced a wave of demands for freedom. Therefore, Asia should be examined for possible clues and cautions about transitions from authoritarian rule and the process of consolidating democracy. The 1997 financial crisis triggered political crises throughout the region and ultimately a process of political liberalization took hold in Indonesia and Thailand. In the aftermath of the crisis, Malaysia too flirted with the possibility of political reform, but no significant opening of the system occurred. This article looks at the status of democracy in these three countries. It asks how well democracy has been consolidated in Indonesia, and it asks why democracy failed to stick in Thailand or to take root in Malaysia.

Keywords: Democracy, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand

Global Studies Journal, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp.123-134. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 988.104KB).

Dr. Amy Lynn Freedman

Professor, Political Science Department, CW Post, Long Island University, Brookville, NY, USA

Amy Freedman is an adjunct associate research scholar at Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Columbia University and she is a professor of political science at Long Island University, C.W. Post campus. Dr. Freedman’s work looks at Southeast Asia, mostly Indonesia and Malaysia. She is the author of several books; recent ones include Threatening the State: the Internationalization of Internal Conflicts, forthcoming with Routledge; and Political Change and Consolidation: Democracy’s Rocky Road in Thailand, Indonesia, South Korea and Malaysia, 2006 with Palgrave. She is also the author of numerous journal articles relating to political economy questions, minority politics, and questions about political Islam. Her work appears in the Journal of Civil Society, Religion and Politics, World Affairs, and elsewhere.

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