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In Search of Oppositions: South East Asia in Focus

  • Eva‐Lotta E. Hedman


ANY INVESTIGATION OF POLITICAL OPPOSITIONS IN THE ASIA-PACIFIC must necessarily begin, if not end, with the obvious. First of all, there is the evident weakness of political oppositions in much of this part of the world today — whether we focus on the commonly capitalized ‘Opposition’ denoting ‘a political party opposing, and serving as a check on, the party in power’ (Webster's, italics added), or on the more variegated lower case ‘alternative oppositions’ often associated with so-called ‘non-governmental organizations’ of some sort or another. To a considerable extent, therefore, this question involves the compounded difficulty of not merely explaining the careers and conditions of manifest political groupings and their respective trajectories but also, significantly, of retrieving the historical traces, lived experiences and collective memories of oppositions displaced — whether by means of incorporation or of exclusion. Secondly, despite its remarkable recent rise in political, financial and academic discourse, ‘the Asia-Pacific’ remains a highly elusive — and eminently elastic — conception in terms of historical, economic and cultural content. Significantly, for the present discussion, no ‘wave’ of regime transitions comparable to those witnessed in other regions — Southern Europe, Latin America, Eastern Europe and Tropical Africa — can be discerned across the countries encompassed within ‘the Asia-Pacific’.



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1 A recent literature inventory revealed not merely marked discrepancies in the countries included within the Asia‐Pacific by different scholars, but also turned up more than 50 competing regional designations – the Far East, the Pacific Rim, the Pacific Asia etc. See ‘The Concept of Eastern Asia’, in Colin Mackerras (ed.), East and Southeast Asia. A Multidisciplinary Survey, Boulder, Colo., Lynne Rienner, 1993.

2 For two such recent additions, see Robison, and David, S. G. Goodman, Richard, (eds), The New Rich in Asia: Mobile Phones, McDonalds and Middle‐Class Revolution, London, Routledge, 1996; and Garry Rodan (ed.), Political Oppositions in Industrialising Asia, London, Routledge, 1996.

3 For a related discussion about the conditions under which opposition is likely to emerge, grow and decline, see further jean Blondel, ‘Political Opposition in the Contemporary World’, this collection, pp. 462–86.

4 On the question of imperialism and Thailand, see Anderson, , ‘Studies of the Thai State: The State of Thai Studies’, in Eliezer, B. Ayal, Benedict (ed.), The Study of Thailand, Athens, Ohio University, Center for International Studies, 1978.

5 However, in the case of Malaysia, minority parties regularly provide a loyal – and losing – opposition to the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) dominated government within a heavily restricted electoral regime. In Indonesia, moreover, the only two parties allowed to compete against the government Golkar machine are likewise restricted in their activities and, to a significant extent, controlled by Suharto and his military.

6 See, for example, Skocpol, Theda. and Goodwin, Jeff, ‘Explaining Revolutions in the Contemporary Third World’, Politics and Society, Vol. 17, No. 4, 12 1989, pp. 489509. For a discussion Celaborated in Linz, Juan J. and Stepan, Alfred, Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation: Southern Europe, South American, and Post‐Communist Europe, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996, about the significance of particular regime types, see Stepan’s essay, ‘Democratic Opposition and Democratization Theory’, in this volume pp. 657–73.

7 On these points, see Fred Riggs., Thailand: The Modernization of a Bureaucratic Polity, Honolulu, East‐West Center Press, 1966; and Thak Chaloemtiarana., Thailand: The Politics of Despotic Paternalism, Bangkok, Social Science Association of Thailand and Thai Khadi Institute, Thammasat University, 1979, respectively.

8 See, especially, Chai‐Anan Samudavanija, The Thai Young Turks, Singapore, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1982.

9 See, especially, Thompson, Mark R., The Anti‐Marrs Struggle: Personalistic Rule and Democratic Transition in the Philippines, New Haven, Conn., Yale University Press, 1995.

10 Rosenberg, David A. (ed.), Marcos and Martial Law in the Philippines, Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 1979.

11 See, for example, Hedman, Eva‐Lotta E., ‘In the Name of Civil Society: Participatory Crises, Critical Elections and Transformist Mobilizations in the Post‐Colonial Philippines’, PhD Dissertation, Cornell University, 1997.

12 See, for example, Barraclough, Simon, ‘The Dynamics of Coercion in the Malaysian Political Process’, Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 19, 10 1985.

13 Harold Crouch., ‘Malaysia: Neither Authoritarian nor Democratic.’, in Hewison, Kevin, Robison, Richard and Rodan, Garry (eds), Southeast Asia in the 1990s: Authoritarianism, Democracy and Capitalism, Sydney, Allen & Unwin, 1993.

14 In addition to its dominant member, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the ruling coalition also includes prominently the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), as well as a number of other parties.

15 For a recent discussion of Suharto’s New Order, see Schwarz, Adam, A Nation in Waiting: Indonesia, Sydney, Allen & Unwin, 1994.

16 See, for example, Pemberton, John, ‘Notes on the 1982 General Election in Solo’, Indonesia, Vol. 41, 1986, pp. 122.

17 See, for example, Espinall, E., ‘Students and the Military: Regime Friction and Civilian Dissent in the Late Suharto Period’, Indonesia, No. 59, 04 1995, pp. 2144.

18 See, for example, Stepan, , ‘State Power and the Strength of Civil Society in the Southern Cone of Latin America’, in Evans, Peter B., Rueschemeyer, Dietrich Alfred and Skocpol, Theda (eds), Bringing the State Back In, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1985, pp. 317–47; Zeitlin, and Earl Ratcliff, Richard Maurice, Landlords and Capitalists: The Dominant Class of Chile, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1988; and Koo, Hagen, ‘Middle Classes, Democratization, and Class Formation’, Theory and Society, Vol. 20, No. 4, 08 1991, pp. 485509.

19 Sidel, John T., ‘Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Chinese Immigrant and Colonial State in the Making of Modern South East Asia’, paper presented at the Association for South East Asia Studies, SOAS, London, 05 1996.

20 Skinner, William G., Chinese Society in Thailand: An Analytical History, Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 1957; and Anderson, Ben, ‘Withdrawal Symptoms: Social and Cultural Aspects of the October 6 CoupBulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, Vol. 9, No. 3, 1977, pp. 1330.

21 See, for example, Hewison, Kevin, Bankers and Bureaucrats: Capital and the Role of the State in Thailand, New Haven, Conn., Yale University Southeast Asia Studies, 1989; and Laothamas, Anek, Business Associations and the New Political Economy of Thailand: From Bureaucratic Polity to Liberal Corporatism, Boulder, Colo., Westview Press, 1992.

22 See, especially, Wickberg, Edgar, ‘The Chinese Mestizo in Philippine History’, Journal of Southeast Asian History, Vol. 5, No. 1, 03 1964, pp. 62100.

23 See, especially, Clemea Ileto, Reynaldo, Pasyon and Revolution: Popular Movements in the Philippines, 1840–1910, Quezon City, Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1979; Sturtevant, David R., Popular Uprisings in the Philippine; 1840–1940, Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 1979; and Kerkvliet, Melinda Tria, Manila Workers’ Unions, 1900–1950, Quezon City, New Day Publishers, 1992.

24 Sundaran, Jomo Kwame, A Question of Class: Capita; the State, and Uneven Development in Malaya, New York, Monthly Review Press, 1988.

25 Koon, Heng Pek, Chinese Politics in Malaysia: A History of the Malaysian Chinese Association, Singapore, Oxford University Press, 1988.

26 See, for example, the essays in The Role of the Indonesian Chinese in Shaping Modern Indonesian Life, Ithaca, NY, Cornell Southeast Asia Program, 1991.

27 Geertz, Clifford, Agricultural Involution: The Processes of Ecological Change in Indonesia, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1963; and Stoler, Ann Laura, Capitalism and Confrontation in Sumatra’s Plantation Belt, 1870–1979, New Haven, Conn., Yale University Press, 1985.

28 See, for example, ‘Wave of Riots against Chinese and Christians sets Indonesia on Edge’, New York Times, 8 April 1997.

29 See, for example, Zimmerman, Robert F., ‘Insurgency in Thailand’, Problems of Communism, 0506 1976.

30 See, however, Reynolds, Craig J., Thai Radical Discourse: The Real Face of Thai Feudalism Today, Cornell University, Southeast Asia Program, 1994.

31 Anderson, Benedict, ‘Radicalism after Communism in Thailand and Indonesia’, New Left Review, No. 202, 1112 1993, pp. 314.

32 See, especially, Kerkvliet, Benedict J., The Huk Rebellion: A Study of Peasant Revolt in the Philippines, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1977.

33 Kerkvliet, Benedict, ‘Patterns of Philippine Resistance and Rebellion, 1970–1986’, Pilipinas, No. 6, Spring 1986, pp. 3549.

34 See, especially, Kheng, Cheah Boon, Red Star Over Malaya: Resistance and Social Conflict during and after the japanese Occupation, Singapore, Singapore University Press, 1983; and Richard Stubbs., Hearts and Minds in Guerrilla Warfare: The Malayan Emergency 1948–1960, Singapore, Oxford University Press, 1989.

35 Koon, Heng Pek, Chinese Politirs in Malaysia, op. cit.

36 See, for example, Mortimer, Rex, Indonesian Communism under Sukarno, Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 1972; and Robinson, Geoffrey, The Dark Side of Paradise. Political Violence in Bali, Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 1995.

37 Anderson, Ben, ‘Last Days of Indonesia’s Suharto?’, Southeast Asia Chronicle, No. 63, 0708 1978, pp. 217.

38 Raillon, François, Les Etudiants Indonesiens et l’Ordre Nouveau, Paris, Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, 1984.

39 See, for example, Cribb, Robert (ed.), The Indonesian Killings of 1965–1966. Studies from Java and Bali, Monash, Center of Southeast Asian Studies, 1990; and Paul Webb, R.A.F., ‘The Sickle and the Cross: Christians and Communists in Bali, Flores, Sumba, and Timor, 1965–67’, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Vol. 17, No. 1, 03 1986, pp. 94112.

40 See, especially, Pemberton, John, On the Subject of Java, Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 1994.

41 The provocative concept of ‘civil religion’ was coined by Bellah, Robert N. in his ‘Civil Religion in America’, first published in Daedalus, Vol. 96, No. 1, Winter 1967, pp. 121, and further explicated in his ‘Religion and the Legitimation of the American Republic’, first published in Society, Vol. 15, No. 4, 1978, pp. 16–23.

42 See, for example, Levine, Daniel H. and Mainwaring, Scott, ‘Religion and Popular Protest in Latin America: Contrasting Experiences’, in Susan Eckstein (ed.), Pmoer and Papular Protest. Latin American Social Movements, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1989, pp. 208–40;and Chehabi, H. E., Iranian Politics and Religious Modernism: The Liberation Movement of Iran under the Shah and Khomeini, Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 1990.

43 Jackson, Peter A., Buddhism, Legitimation, and Conflict. The Political Functions of Urban Thai Buddhism, Singapore, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1989.

44 Anderson, ‘Withdrawal Symptoms’ (n. 20 above).

45 See, for example, Hanson, Eric O., The Catholic Church in World Politics, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1987.

46 See, especially, Youngblood, Robert L., Marcos against the Church: Economic Development and Political Repression in the Philippines, Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 1990; and Barry, Coeli M., ‘Transformations of Politics and Religious Culture inside the Philippine Catholic Church (1965–90)’, PhD Dissertation, Cornell University, 1996.

47 Yegar, Moshe, Islam and Islamic Institutions in British Malaya: Policies and Implementation, Jerusalem, Maguey Press, 1979; and Roff, William R., The Origins of Malay Nationalism, New Haven, Conn., Yale University Press, 1967.

48 See, especially, Peletz, Michael G., ‘Sacred Texts and Dangerous Words: The Politics of Law and Cultural Rationalization in Malaysia’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 1993, pp. 66109. For an analysis of an explicitly Islamic opposition party’s capture of the state of Kelantan, however, see Kessler, C. S., ‘Islam, Society and Political Behaviour: Some Comparative Implications of the Malay Case’, British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 23, No. 1, 03 1972, pp. 3350.

49 See, for example, Jomo, K. S. and Ahmad, , ‘Malaysia’s Islamic Movements’, in Joel, S. Kahn, S. C. and Kok Wah, Francis Loh (eds), Fragmented Vision: Culture and Politics in Contemporary Malaysia, Sydney, Asian Studies Association of Australia/Allen & Unwin, 1992.

50 Jesudason, James V., ‘Statist Democracy and the Limits of Civil Society in Malaysia’, National University of Singapore, Department of Sociology, Working Paper No. 119, 1993, p. 17.

51 Benda, Harry, The Crescent and the Rising Sun: Indonesian Islam under the Japanese Occupation 1942–1945, The Van Hoeve, Hague, W., 1958.

* The author gratefully acknowledges the helpful questions and suggestions from participants at both the Government and Opposition Conference, the University of Reading, 22–24 April 1997 and the ESRC Workshop on Political Accommodation, Development and Security in Pacific Asia, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, 30 June‐1 July 1997.

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In Search of Oppositions: South East Asia in Focus

  • Eva‐Lotta E. Hedman


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