Democracy in East and Southeast Asia

In the histories of nation, it has been observed that nothing is permanent. Political changes take place everywhere around the globe every now and then. If we view the current political scenario of East and Southeast Asian countries, it would transpire that they are well awake now. The transition to democracy is not inevitable in the context of many countries. The recent mass demonstration against military dictatorship on the roads of Yangon in Myanmar is the proof of this change. There is now an international dimension to political change.

Well-educated business executives, technicians, and scientists, are needed to open a country to foreign trade and investment, which even the remaining Communist countries in Asia now openly court. And when a country participates actively in global trade, there is no way the government can quarantine its citizens from liberal Western ideas. Economic development, education, and democracy go together. (Barber James D. 1995, 56-60) Defenders of autocratic Southeast Asian regimes deny this; instead, they claim that democracy is actually dysfunctional for development.

Democratic governments are too slow to act, they say. Authoritarian regimes can more easily suppress dissent and guarantee social stability. They assert that Third World countries must choose between chaotic democracy and rapid economic growth. Economic development requires the modification or abandonment of traditional political institutions. According to those scholars who see no necessary relationship between development and democracy, all developing nations eventually enter a "zone of transition" where the political system can move in a variety of directions, not necessarily democratic.

(Beeson, Mark, 2002, 549-64) No relationship between democracy and development, aware that each nation must be analyzed empirically and independently. And indeed the ten nations of Southeast Asia offer evidence that could verify or refute scholars who argue that economic development correlates with democracy. When some people grow wealthy, others demand their fair share. In Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, better-educated citizens now demand broader political and civil rights.

(Leonard, 2004, 3-5) Such demands have been more often granted in the comparatively open societies of Southeast Asia than in the dosed systems found in Africa and the Middle East. This is not so true in the Philippines, where certain elite families have dominated entire provinces for centuries. Democracy in East and Southeast Asia The modern period of Southeast Asian history began in 1945. Before then every country in the region, except Thailand, had been exploited and humiliated by European imperialists.

Their subjugation had lasted three hundred years in island Southeast Asia (Indonesia and the Philippines) but less than ninety years on the mainland (Vietnam and Myanmar). Thailand only escaped being colonized by an accident of geography: London and Paris agreed that it would make a nice buffer between French Indochina and British India. The Japanese conquest of Southeast Asia put an end to the naive belief of pan-Asianists that imperial rule by other Asians would be preferable to that of the hated "long-noses.

" By 1945, no Southeast Asian country except the Philippines had ever known a single day of democracy. Under U. S. guidance, Filipino jurists built a structure of constitutional democracy. But inequitable landholding patterns from colonial days remained, and Filipino politics was dominated by elite families that controlled whole provinces. (Mark Beeson, 2003, 256) The countries of Southeast Asia divided into two groups. The first group consisted of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand.

Citizen political participation opened up gradually, even if it suffered grievous reversals more than once. Nations in this first group had market economies and traded with the rest of the world. (Likhit Dhiravegin, 2002, 78-80) They had an educated urban middle class that was aware of developments in the outside world. The other group of nations consisted of Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. These countries remained isolated and authoritarian. They produced little for export and did not trade much with the rest of the world. (Clark, A. 2005: 772-91) They were also wracked by war.

For a variety of reasons, their governments were repressive. In Southeast Asia, the Philippines comes closest to meeting our criteria for full democracy. However, in the categories of citizen participation and civil liberties, the Philippines may be considered a semi-democracy. Under the dictatorship of former President Marcos, Filipino citizens could not choose their leaders. Widespread economic inequality and dependence on landlords had also eroded civil liberties and governmental accountability. (William Case: 2004: 146-50) Human rights abuses are a continuing problem.

The Philippines, which we characterized as semi-democratic based on constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties, held an election in 1992 that marked the first peaceful transfer of power in twenty-seven years. A legislature was elected at the same time. The election was free of gross fraud and candidates campaigned freely. But when the votes were counted, the legislature consisted overwhelmingly of scions of the same dynasties that have controlled provinces for generations. (Vatikiotis, 1996, 189-96) Many Filipinos simply cannot participate in the political life of the nation because they are wholly preoccupied with subsistence.