The Odd Couple: Modernization and Democratization in Southeast Asia

By Nicholas Anderson
Cornell International Affairs Review
2011, Vol. 4 No. 2 | pg. 2/2 |

The "zone of transition"…

The final four regional states, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines, fall into what we are referring to as the "zone of transition." In terms of economic development, these four states form a sort of middle ground48 between Singapore's affluence and East Timor's poverty. In terms of democratic development these states are also in the middle with EIU index scores all in the 6s,49 Polity IV scores between 4 and 8,50 and Freedom House combined scores from 4.5 to 2.5.51 Some states in this category, such as the Philippines, have had relatively free, fair, and competitive democratic elections, while others, such as Malaysia, have not.

Additionally, some states in this category, such as Indonesia, have seen recent improvements in their quality of democracy,52 while others, such as Thailand, have seen it decay.53 While Indonesia has progressed considerably further in this process than Malaysia, neither can be said to be fully democratic nor fully authoritarian. What essentially brings these four states together is that they are in a state of flux between somewhat-authoritarian and somewhat-democratic forms of governance. As a group they are somewhat democratic, relatively corrupt,54 and have governments that generally function at only mediocre levels.55 Effectively, they are in transition.

Conclusion

So, it seems the modernization theory applies to Southeast Asia after all. Between the states that are an obvious fit (Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Burma/Myanmar), the states that are understandable exceptions (Singapore, Brunei, East Timor), and the states in the "zone of transition" (Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines), the modernization theory provides a helpful tool for understanding democratization in the region. With this in mind, what can be said about the future of democracy in Southeast Asia?

First, the states to keep an eye on are Malaysia and Vietnam. Malaysia is the most highly-developed among the "zone of transition" states and the least democratic. As it leaves the "zone" and begins to have GDP/capita levels above $7,000, it will be increasingly likely to take steps in the direction of democracy. In Vietnam's case, it is just entering the "zone of transition" (GDP/capita $1,060). As it grows rapidly, it will be interesting to see whether increasingly empowered voices for democracy will be heard at the highest levels of government. Second, the fast-paced economic growth in the region is a hopeful prospect.

In authoritarian states, economic growth over the past decade (2000-2010) has been impressive, with Laos averaging 6.73%, Vietnam, 7.46%, Cambodia, 9.25%, and Myanmar a whopping 12.98%.56 A number of Southeast Asian states have also weathered the global economic crisis impressively. While the global average was -0.8% in 2009, Vietnam sustained a 5.3% GDP growth rate, Laos, 6.4%, and East Timor, 7.2%, the sixth-highest rate in the world.57 As these states grow, according to our analysis, they should become increasingly democratic, and so their rapid growth rates are something that should definitely be encouraged. Third, just because it is possible for all of Southeast Asia, or the world for that matter, to become democratic, it doesn't mean it is probable.

We exist in a world of finite economic resources, and it is likely that Southeast Asian and global democracy, in most cases, will continue to reflect this reality. And finally, the most effective way to promote democracy in Southeast Asia is to encourage further economic growth. Overthrowing authoritarian regimes by force or backing elites who claim to be democrats seem to be far too risky ventures to undertake. While economic growth may not automatically lead to democracy at any time in history and in any place in the world, it is by far the most reliable enabling agent for democracy's future.


Author

Nick Anderson is a graduate student, pursuing an M.A. in Security Studies from Georgetown University's Security Studies Program. He received his B.A. from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, which is where this paper was written. Nick's research interests include Northeast and Southeast Asian politics and security. In addition to his graduate studies, Nick is currently a research intern at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.


References

Boix, Carles, and Susan C. Stokes. “Endogenous Democratization.” World Politics 55, no. 4 (July 2003), pp. 517 – 549.

Burkhart, Ross E., and Michael S. Lewis-Beck. “Comparative Democracy: The Economic Development Thesis.” American Political Science Review 88, no. 4 (December 1994), pp. 903 – 910.

Case, William. Politics in Southeast Asia: Democracy or Less. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2002.

“The CIA World Factbook.” CIA.gov, 2010. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/ (accessed 15 June 2010).

“Corruption Perceptions Index 2009.” Transparency.org, 2009. http://www.transparency.org/policy_research/surveys_indices/cpi/2009 (accessed 16 June 2010).

Dayley, Robert, and Clark D. Neher. Southeast Asia in the New International Era. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2010.

Diamond, Larry. “Economic Development and Democracy Reconsidered.” American Behavioral Scientist 35, no. 4/5 (March/June 1992), pp. 450 – 499.

“Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index 2008.” EIU.com, 2008. http://graphics.eiu.com/PDF/Democracy%20Index%202008.pdf (accessed 16 June 2010).

“The Failed States Index, 2010.” Foreignpolicy.com, 2010. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/06/21/the_failed_states_index_2010 (accessed 21 June 2010).

“Freedom House Freedom in the World Survey.”Freedomhouse.org, 2010. http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=15 (accessed 16 June 2010).

Fukuyama, Francis. “Do we really know how to promote democracy?” NED.org, 2005. http://www.fpa.org/usr_doc/Francis_Fukuyama.pdf (accessed 16 June 2010).

Fukuyama, Francis. The End of History and the Last Man. New York: Free Press, 2006.

Haggard, Stephan, and Robert R. Kaufman. “The Political Economy of Democratic Transitions.” Comparative Politics 29, no. 3 (1997), pp. 263 – 283.

Huntington, Samuel P. “Will More Countries Become Democratic?” Political Science Quarterly 99, no. 2 (Summer, 1984), pp. 193 – 218.

Ichimura, Shinichi, and James W. Morely. “Introduction: The Varieties of Asia-Pacific Experience,” in Morely, James W., eds. Driven By Growth: Political Change in the Asia-Pacific Region. Revised ed. New York: M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 1999.

Inglehart, Ronald, and Christian Welzel. “How Development Leads to Democracy: What We Know About Modernization.” Foreign Affairs 88, no. 2 (March/April 2009), pp. 33 – 48.

“The International Monetary Fund.” IMF.org, 2010. http://www.imf.org/external/data.htm (accessed 16 June 2010).

Kingsbury, Damien. South-East Asia: A Political Profile. 2nd ed. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Lipset, Seymour Martin. “Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy.” The American Political Science Review 53, no. 1 (March 1959), pp. 69 – 105.

Lipset, Seymour Martin. “The Social Requisites of Democracy Revisited: 1993 Presidential Address.” American Sociological Review 59, no. 1 (February 1994), pp. 1 – 22.

“The Military Balance 2010.” The International Institute of Strategic Studies 110, no. 1 (2010), pp. 1 – 492.

“Polity IV Project: Political Regime Characteristics and Transitions, 1800-2008.” Systemicpeace.org, 2010. http://www.systemicpeace.org/polity/polity4.htm (accessed 16 June 2010).

Prezworski, Adam, and Fernando Limongi. “Modernization: Theories and Facts.” World Politics 49, no. 2 (January 1997), pp. 155 – 183.

“Republic of Singapore – Public Administration Country Profile.” UN.org, 2005. http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/un/unpan023321.pdf (accessed 21 June 2010).

“The United Nations Human Development Reports.” UNDP.org, 2010. http://hdr.undp.org/en/statistics/ (accessed 16 June 2010).

Welzel, Christian. “Theories of Democratization.” Worldvaluessurvey.org, 2009. http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/wvs/articles/folder_published/publication_579/files/OUP_Ch06.pdf (accessed 16 June 2010).

“The World Bank Data Catalog.” Worldbank.org, 2010. http://data.worldbank.org/data-catalog (accessed 28 June 2010).

“The World Bank Worldwide Governance Indicators, 1996 – 2008.” Worldbank.org, 2010. http://info.worldbank.org/governance/wgi/index.asp (accessed 19 June 2010).


Endnotes

  1. Seymour Martin Lipset, “Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy,” The American Political Science Review 53, no. 1 (March 1959), pp. 75.
  2. See William Case, Politics in Southeast Asia: Democracy or Less (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2002), 19 – 20.
  3. “Socioeconomic” is used, rather than simply “economic” to imply the inclusion all of the social changes that generally accompany increased individual wealth in society (discussed below).
  4. This analysis includes all ASEAN member-states (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar/Burma, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam), and East Timor.
  5. Lipset, “Some Social Requisites of Democracy,” 83.
  6. Lipset, “Some Social Requisites of Democracy,” 83.
  7. For more discussion of the modernization theory see, Seymour Martin Lipset, “The Social Requisites of Democracy Revisited: 1993 Presidential Address,” American Sociological Review 59, no. 1 (February 1994), pp. 1 – 22.; Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel, “How Development Leads to Democracy: What We Know About Modernization,” Foreign Affairs 88,no. 2 March/April 2009), pp. 33 – 48.; Christian Welzel, “Theories of Democratization,” Worldvaluessurvey.org, 2009. http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/wvs/articles/folder_published/publication_579/files/OUP_Ch06.pdf (accessed 16 June 2010), 80-81, 86-88.; Larry Diamond, “Economic Development and Democracy Reconsidered.” American Behavioral Scientist 35, no. 4/5 (March/June 1992), pp. 450 – 499.; Francis Fukuyama, “Do we really know how to promote democracy?” NED.org, 2005. http://www.fpa.org/usr_doc/Francis_Fukuyama.pdf (accessed 16 June 2010).
  8. Haggard and Kaufman make this argument, bridging the “agency” and “structural” theories. See Stephan Haggard and Robert R. Kaufmann, “The Political Economy of Democratic Transitions,” Comparative Politics 29, no. 3 (1997), pp. 263 – 283. See also, Diamond, 480.
  9. For an argument on the “initiation” side, see Carles Boix and Susan C. Stokes, “Endogenous Democratization,” World Politics 55, no. 4 (July 2003), pp. 517 – 549. For an argument on the “maintenance” side, see Adam Prezworski and Fernando Limongi, “Modernization: Theories and Facts,” World Politics 49, no. 2 (January 1997), pp. 155 – 183.
  10. Diamond cites a figure of $6,000 GPD/capita in Diamond, 467.; Fukuyama also cites a figure of $6,000 GPD/capita in Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Free Press, 2006), 344.; Prezworski and Limongi cite a figure of $6,055.15 in Prezworski and Limongi, 160.; Boix and Stokes put forth a figure of $7,000 in Boix and Stokes, 522.
  11. See Boix and Stokes, 522.; Prezworski and Limongi, 159 – 160.
  12. Huntington claims that in this zone, “traditional forms of rule become increasingly difficult to maintain and new types of political institutions are required to aggregate the demands of an increasingly complex society and to implement public policies in such a society.” See Samuel P. Huntington, “Will More Countries Become Democratic?” Political Science Quarterly 99, no. 2 (Summer, 1984), 201.
  13. Lipset, “The Social Requisites of Democracy Revisited,” 2.; Diamond, 466.; Inglehart and Welzel, 34.; Boix and Stokes, 518-519.; Ross E. Burkhart and Michael S. Lewis-Beck, “Comparative Democracy: The Economic Development Thesis,” American Political Science Review 88, no. 4 (December 1994), 903.; Huntington, 199.; Shinichi Ichimura and James W. Morely, “Introduction: The Varieties of Asia-Pacific Experience,” in James W. Morely, eds. Driven By Growth: Political Change in the Asia-Pacific Region. Revised ed. (New York, M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 1999), 31.
  14. Huntington, 199.; Burkhart and Lewis-Beck, 907.; Boix and Stokes, 525.; Inglehart and Welzel, 42.; Diamond, 466.
  15. All EIU data can be found at “Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index 2008,” EIU.com, 2008. http://graphics.eiu.com/PDF/Democracy%20Index%202008.pdf (accessed 16 June 2010).
  16. The EIU democracy index combines measurements of: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture.
  17. OPEC (Algeria, Angola, Iran, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, UAE) and OAPEC (Bahrain, Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Saudi Arabia) states and Oman were excluded.
  18. The 8 states are: Equatorial Guinea, Libya, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, the UAE, and Qatar.
  19. As a microstate, Brunei is not included in EIU’s dataset, which likely skews these results.
  20. The Polity IV data measures regimes on a scale from -10 (perfectly authoritarian) to 10 (perfectly democratic). For more, see “Polity IV Project: Political Regime Characteristics and Transitions, 1800-2008,” Systemicpeace.org, 2010, http://www.systemicpeace.org/polity/polity4.htm (accessed 16 June 2010).
  21. Freedom House’s Freedom in the World Survey assigns regime’s scores for both Political Rights and Civil Liberties. These ratings run from 1 (full freedom) to 7 (no freedom), and the combined score results from simply adding the two together and dividing them by two. For more, see “Freedom House Freedom in the World Survey,”Freedomhouse.org, 2010, http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=15 (accessed 16 June 2010).
  22. IMF.org, 2010.
  23. EIU.com, 2008.
  24. Freedomhouse.org, 2010.
  25. IMF.org, 2010.
  26. EIU.com, 2008.
  27. IMF.org, 2010.
  28. EIU.com, 2008.
  29. IMF.org, 2010.
  30. After Burma are Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Chad, and North Korea (in that order).
  31. See Case, 81.
  32. IMF.org, 2010.
  33. The United Nations Human Development Index rates member-states, combining measures of GDP/capita, literacy, and life expectancy, on a scale from 0 to 10. “The United Nations Human Development Reports,” UNDP.org, 2010, http://hdr.undp.org/en/statistics/ (accessed 16 June 2010).
  34. The Corruption Perceptions Index measures states for government transparency on a scale from 0 to 10. “Corruption Perceptions Index 2009,” Transparency.org, 2009, http://www.transparency.org/policy_research/surveys_indices/cpi/2009 (accessed 16 June 2010).
  35. EIU.com, 2008.
  36. These and all of the following defense and population statistics from: “The Military Balance 2010,” The International Institute of Strategic Studies 110, no. 1 (2010).
  37. This number is a UN estimate for the year 2000. “Republic of Singapore – Public Administration Country Profile,” UN.org, 2005, http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/un/unpan023321.pdf (accessed 21 June 2010).
  38. Robert Dayley and Clark D. Neher, Southeast Asia in the New International Era (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2010), 172.
  39. UNDP.org, 2010.
  40. UNDP.org, 2010.
  41. Damien Kingsbury, South-East Asia: A Political Profile, 2nd ed. (England: Oxford University Press, 2004), 281.
  42. “The CIA World Factbook,” CIA.gov, 2010, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/ (accessed 15 June 2010).
  43. IMF.org, 2010.
  44. EIU.com, 2008.
  45. “Polity IV Project,” 2010.
  46. Transparency.org, 2010.
  47. The World Bank World Governance Indicator measures the functionality of government institutions on a scale from 0 to 100. East Timor’s rating is 19.28 while Cambodia’s is 22.13. See “The World Bank Worldwide Governance Indicators, 1996 – 2008,” Worldbank.org, 2010, http://info.worldbank.org/governance/wgi/index.asp (accessed 19 June 2010).
  48. Philippines GDP/capita: $1,745, Indonesia GDP/capita: $2,238, Thailand GDP/capita: $4,108, Malaysia GDP/capita: $6,897. IMF.org, 2010.
  49. EIU Democracy Index scores – Philippines (6.12), Indonesia (6.34), Malaysia (6.36), Thailand (6.81). EIU.com, 2008.
  50. Polity IV scores – Thailand (4), Malaysia (6), Indonesia (8), Philippines (8). “Polity IV Project,” 2010.
  51. Freedom House combined scores – Thailand (4.5), Philippines (3.5), Malaysia (4), Indonesia (2.5). Freedomhouse.org, 2010.
  52. Indonesia’s 2005 Freedom House combined score (3.5 and “Partly Free”). Indonesia’s 2009 Freedom House combined score (2.5 and “Free”). Freedomhouse.org, 2010.
  53. Thailand’s 2005 Freedom House combined score (2.5 and “Free”). Thailand’s 2009 Freedom House combined score (4.5 and “Partly Free”).
  54. Corruption Perceptions Index scores – Philippines (2.4), Indonesia (2.8), Thailand (3.4), Malaysia (4.5). Transparency.org, 2010.
  55. World Bank Governance Indicator scores – Indonesia (35.48), Philippines (37.38), Thailand (43.48), Malaysia (58.93).
  56. “The World Bank Data Catalog,” Worldbank.org, 2010, http://data.worldbank.org/data-catalog (accessed 28 June 2010).
  57. The five highest growth rates preceding E. Timor were Macau, Qatar, Azerbaijan, China, and Ethiopia. See CIA.gov, 2010.

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