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Vietnam's regime has been stable and strong since 1975. After the country was split and mostly at war for three decades, it was reunified as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam at the end of the Vietnam War. While the regime has been officially communist, it gradually reformed its economy in favour of open markets, private property and capitalist investment. Its economy shows few remnants of its communist past. Its political institutions, however, retain the main features of communist regimes. Political reform has occurred but has been much slower. Overall, the regime has transformed itself since 1975 but has remained stable and firmly entrenched.
Prior to 1975, Vietnam constitutes a somewhat exceptional case. Not only was it divided into two, but also North and South Vietnam were almost continually at war with each other. The international context of the Cold War played a crucial role in determining the types of political regimes and their sustainability. In the South, successive governments were highly dependent on French and then American support. They failed to gain strong local support among the population. They were consequently vulnerable to the ideological appeal and promises of the communist North. In the meantime, the communist regime in the North used anti-colonial nationalist ideology as well as promises of a more egalitarian society to gain widespread support among the rural masses. Similarly this appeal grew in the South as war ravaged the countryside and its regime showed few attempts to address the population's needs.
Malaysia and Singapore have shared relatively similar paths. Both former British colonies, at independence they formed parliamentary systems along the British model. In each case, a dominant political party gained ascendency at independence and managed to reproduce its power base until today. In Malaysia's case, the dominance of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) was maintained within coalitions, first the Alliance and next the National Front (Barisan Nasional, BN). Singapore's People's Action Party (PAP) has been more strongly dominant as opposition parties have only recently managed to gain a few seats in parliament and remain very weak. At the same time, both states developed strong, professional bureaucracies and the judicial system has exercised some degree of autonomy and authority. Against the backdrop of this political stability, the middle class has grown remarkably since independence, as both countries have developed rapidly and the proceeds of economic growth have been widely shared. Theories of democratic transition would therefore predict that such high levels of economic development and the large middle class should have made both countries prime candidates for democratization, yet they have maintained soft authoritarian systems. How can we explain such persistence?
Malaysia's post-independence politics have been remarkably stable. Except for ethnic riots that shook the country in 1969, political life has been even, regularized and to some extent devoid of open conflict. No significant regime change occurred and the structure of the political system remained the same, with only few occasional reforms. The state has kept control over simmering ethnic tensions, resentment at persistent inequalities and other forms of discontent through a sophisticated institutional structure that has outlived moments of crisis. The United Malays National Organization (UMNO) remains dominant in a coalition that has ruled Malaysia since independence, although the results of the 2008 elections came close to challenging its position.
Since 1962, a military regime has dominated Burma. It has used repression extensively, while attempting to reinvent itself a few times to gain some legitimacy. The stability of authoritarian rule requires explanation. More often than not, it is very difficult for authoritarian regimes to justify their rule and maintain control by force. Instead, they seek to justify their existence by appealing to exceptional circumstances, to promises of a better society, or to the need to defend the state against internal or external threats. Burma's military regime, under the Burmese Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) sought to create its own vision of a Burmese road to socialism. After failing to reach its goals, and after a crisis in 1988 that nearly led to its collapse, it reinvented itself as the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), which began a period of much more unapologetic military rule designed to forestall and prevent a reoccurrence of political instability. With only a minor change in its designation in 1997 as the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the regime essentially maintained its iron-first approach to political opposition until 2010. Under a new constitution, the junta has ceded control to a civilian government but the pace and extent of change remains uncertain.
Prior to 1962, Burma enjoyed almost ten years of democratic politics. At the outset, it was a promising country, given its vibrant political system and relatively rich economic base. Yet, instability and political crisis eroded its potential. The democratic regime never managed to consolidate itself. Despite promising economic development, low levels of urbanization and not much of a middle class provided little structural support for the fragile democracy. At the same time, divisions were deep along ethnic lines, as minority areas had been kept completely separate under British colonial rule. Their sudden inclusion in a state strongly dominated by the majority Burman group proved difficult. Furthermore, regional instability contributed to the new democracy's demise. The new government had difficulties protecting its territorial integrity as pro-Republic Chinese soldiers fled China after the 1949 victory of the Communist Party, and flowed into Burma. This instability set the stage for the 1962 coup.
State-socialist countries often maintain stable authoritarian systems. In Southeast Asia, Vietnam and Laos are officially communist. Cambodia and Burma departed from a socialist path while maintaining strongly authoritarian regimes. All four countries experimented with state centralization and management of the economy. Subsequently, they introduced market-friendly policies, reforms to attract foreign investments and allowed more private property. In the political realm, moving away from socialist economic policies generally did not produce more political openness.
These countries all began with similar socio-economic profiles. They were agrarian economies with a large majority of their populations living off subsistence agriculture, particularly rice production. The earliest comparable figures available are the 1970s, where the average GDP per capita was $90 for Vietnam, $85 for Cambodia, $63 for Laos and slightly higher for Burma ($124) (see Table 1). They were the four poorest countries in the region during the 1970s.
War was one of the factors that undermined growth, particularly in Vietnam and Cambodia. Vietnam in particular was divided by war against the returning French colonial rulers. A communist movement developed and expanded militarily in North Vietnam, while the French regained control over the South. While a communist regime was in place as soon as the 1950s in North Vietnam, it took until 1975 to expand to the South. During most of the 1960s and early 1970s, as the French had abandoned their colonial ambitions in the region in 1954, Vietnam then fought the United States, which was concerned about the spread of communism. Cambodia was similarly caught in the struggle against the French and later the Americans, although most of the war occurred in Vietnam. Cambodia became destabilized primarily in the early 1970s, with the rise of the communist Khmer Rouge that succeeded in undermining the long-standing authoritarian regime of King Norodom Sihanouk.
Political trends in Vietnam have shaped political trajectories in Cambodia and Laos. During French colonial rule, Vietnam was the colony's epicentre. The French recruited from and trained their administrators among the Vietnamese, and sent them out across Indochina. After Cambodia obtained its independence in 1953, the Khmer Rouge, a communist movement with ties to the Vietnamese communists, had already challenged the fragile regime. It was an alternative nationalist movement with its own brand of communist project, and largely rose in opposition to Vietnamese influence. It gained power for a few years but subsequently the Vietnamese army dislodged and replaced it with a government under its control. Although the government eventually gained more autonomy, Vietnamese influence has remained present, although to a much lesser degree. In Laos, political division was deep after independence, and no political force was able to exercise sufficient power to establish a stable government. Laos was drawn into the Vietnam War, as was Cambodia, and suffered casualties and destruction as well. The end of the war provided the opportunity for the communist Pathet Lao to establish its dominance, with Vietnamese support. The Vietnamese government maintained strong influence over the communist regime in Laos for the following decades.
Communist regimes in both countries, however, were never able to establish the stability and continuity that characterized the Vietnamese regime. While they shared some of the institutional strength of communist regimes, other factors intervened to create much more unstable and even chaotic political histories.
In Indonesia, several regime changes have occurred since independence. From 1950–7, Indonesians were governed under a parliamentary democracy. After several crises in the late 1950s, President Sukarno abandoned this regime and proclaimed “Guided Democracy” instead, which was essentially the beginning of authoritarian rule. This regime lasted from 1957–65, and was then replaced with the New Order government of President Suharto, after a failed coup attempt allowed the military to establish a stronger hold on the country. Finally, after thirty-three years, the New Order regime ended when President Suharto resigned in May 1998. His successor, B. J. Habibie, began a process of democratization. Indonesia now constitutes one of the most vibrant electoral democracies of the region, although it continues to be dogged by many problems.
Much of the scholarship on Indonesian politics has attempted to draw continuities across different time periods and regime types, to identify similarities that apparently created some fundamental characteristics in the Indonesian state or practice of politics more broadly. From this scholarship, two kinds of approaches are worth noting: one using the concept of patrimonialism; the other emphasizing cultural practices that are reproduced from one period to the next. These kinds of approaches both emphasize continuities.
Southeast Asia in the twenty-first century is a region of contrasts and rapid transformation. Propelled by high growth rates during several decades, many countries of the region have risen from poor to relatively wealthy ones. Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia have modernized rapidly. Their urban areas have expanded and the middle class has grown. Other countries, by contrast, have lagged well behind. The Philippines grew less impressively overall but more steadily in recent years. Wealth inequality remains higher than that of its more prosperous neighbours. Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar (Burma) and Laos were left behind. Decades of experimentation with central planning and socialist policies failed to significantly raise living standards. Although the poorest gained minimum safety nets, overall wealth only slowly increased and therefore most of the population remained much poorer than in other parts of the region. The Vietnam War brought further destruction and instability in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia while civil war in the latter continued to perpetuate destruction and poverty. Vietnam in the 1990s and 2000s began to grow much more rapidly as it implemented market reforms and allowed more critical examination of failed policies of the past. Laos followed suit with its own reforms. Myanmar's radical and ideologically motivated armed forces long prevented its population from prospering. In fact, it was one of the only countries to have several periods of economic setbacks, largely induced by the regime's policies. Recent changes are beginning to produce some results but the country remains far behind others.
The case of Thailand is the most complex in some respects. In contrast to Malaysia and Singapore, political instability has been its hallmark. Under authoritarian rule, from 1932 to 1973, internecine disputes within the armed forces triggered changes in government but maintained the same regime. In 1973, Thailand began a brief period of democracy before the armed forces launched a coup and regained power in 1976. They intervened again with military coups in 1991 and 2006 but both times remained in power only briefly. Civilian governments ruled Thailand starting in the early 1980s. For most of that decade, however, the armed forces kept control over the appointment of the prime minister and their influence on the government was still very strong. They remained influential but, after 1992, democratically elected governments played a central role. Democratic rule was no less unstable as fragile coalitions frequently collapsed until a constitutional change in 1997 that paved the way for a majority government under the Thai Rak Thai party. Looming in the background, a popular monarch provided decades of continuity as the Thai people not only revered him but also appreciated his occasional interference in political disputes. In more recent years, a deep-seated crisis divided supporters of the former Thai Rak Thai party and the coalition of military, business, bureaucrats and politicians that had dominated Thailand's politics for several decades. In sum, Thai politics have been marked by frequent changes of government, looming military intervention and fragile democracy.
Yet, Thailand seems to represent an almost textbook case of modernization theory. Fuelled by decades of economic growth, it was poised for a transition to democratic politics. If we abstract from the short democratic hiatus of 1973–6, Thailand was authoritarian from 1932 until the early 1980s. Most of the decade of the 1980s was a softer, more open authoritarian regime where parties and parliament were active. After 1988, with the exception of the 1991 and 2006 coups that brought the armed forces to power for one year or less each time, democratic politics prevailed. Electoral democracy became the norm until today.
Southeast Asia is a vast region, comprised of eleven countries and incredible diversity. From one country to the next, dominant languages vary, religious groups are different and histories are all dissimilar from one another. In comparison to Latin America or Africa – other large regions of the world – the study of politics in Southeast Asia can be particularly challenging.
Latin America and Africa are also very diverse regions but their respective countries share some similarities that make comparisons somewhat more common. The Spanish language, for instance, binds countries of Latin America where it is dominant in all countries except Brazil. Countries of the region were all colonized, and Spain was the dominant power for several centuries. Latin American countries inherited societies in which descendants of Spanish colonizers and mestizo (mixed) classes are now dominant. These common characteristics often tainted their style of politics, with some very interesting parallels among several countries. To a lesser extent, the African experience also generated similarities that have been compared analytically. In Africa, the division of the continent between mostly French and British colonial rule created some homogenizing experiences as well. French and English became common languages of communication throughout West and East/Southern Africa respectively. Colonization by these powers, which imposed bureaucratic structures over societies mostly organized in small political units, created some similar dysfunctionalities that have persisted in the modern independent states (Mamdani, 1996; Young, 1994). Comparisons have often been made between clusters of African countries, where the continued legacies of colonial rule have been blamed for the inability of states to overcome poverty and other major challenges in the continent.
This book provides a survey of political change in Southeast Asian countries, from independence to the twenty-first century. Any such book makes choices regarding the approach, historical material and nature of the analysis. I present an analytical framework that invites the reader to think about the role of several factors that can be compared across cases, and that frequently have been raised as broad explanations for political change. I also emphasize some of the concepts that specialists of Southeast Asia have introduced to explain more unique aspects of political change, its absence, or the character and quality of the region's political regimes. At the same time, the book remains sensitive to history. The chapters present narratives of political change in each country, in order to both assess the explanatory value of comparative factors, as well as specific historical circumstances that have influenced political trajectories in significant ways. The book's challenge is to provide a relatively cohesive, yet sufficiently complex, explanation that allows for comparison across different countries, while offering a broad historical survey. Southeast Asia is a vast, diverse and complex region that is composed of eleven countries. The book covers all of these except the small country of Brunei. By covering such a broad range of countries, in the exposition of political change I necessarily stress a more specific set of questions and issues that I carry from one country to the next.
The book is therefore by no means exhaustive. I chose to focus on changes in regime type, basic political institutions, as well as governments where they introduced significantly new directions. The presence or absence of democracy determines a terrain that allows or restricts other groups from advancing their interests or pursuing their goals. I view the right of political association and participation, restrictions on political organizations, the ability to express dissent, types of representation, and other such characteristics as basic parameters that define a space in which citizens and groups can operate.
Countries in this part have followed a markedly different path from state-socialist countries, which are analyzed in Part II. Prior to independence, they were partially integrated into world markets through the self-serving networks of the colonial economy. After independence, the new governments attempted to retain the profitable ventures established by their colonial predecessors, mostly based on agricultural exports and exploitation of natural resources. They preserved private property, a commitment to capitalist production and their integration to world markets. Over time, they sought to diversify their economies, increase their industrial base and exploit new economic advantages that could foster growth and profit.
The contrast between capitalist and state-socialist countries provides a useful comparison of the different regimes and paths of political change in the region. Since a strong postulate in the political science literature links levels of economic development with democracy, these two parts provide a first-level comparison of levels of economic growth and economic development, with their expected impact on the region’s regimes.
The Philippines is the longest lasting democracy in Southeast Asia, but its quality has been persistently poor. American colonial officials organized elections under the Commonwealth system in the 1930s, after setting up political institutions on the US model. Post-independent governments continued to hold regular elections after the Philippines gained its independence in 1946. The system proved unstable, however, as it produced tensions that opened the door to authoritarian rule. First elected as president in 1965, Marcos declared martial law in 1972 and officially disbanded the Philippines’ long-standing electoral democracy. The authoritarian regime lasted fourteen years before a “People Power” revolution brought it down in 1986. This marked the Philippines’ transition to its current democratic regime. Rather than build a new democratic system, however, the crafters of the Philippines’ new constitution returned to the previous model of a US-based presidential system. Established elites recaptured it, and recreated many of the problems that marked the pre-Marcos democracy. As a result, the new democracy has held regular elections but its quality remains low.
We can explain this pattern of transformation and continuity by focusing on some comparative similarities with other cases while also recognizing some factors specific to the Philippines. As in the case of Indonesia, some scholars such as Carl Landé have emphasized the continuity of practices across time (Landé, 1965). Patrimonialism, they argue, has been a persistent feature of Filipino politics. Close ties between patrons and their clients allowed wealthy families to strengthen and maintain their political and economic power. From this perspective, there was little difference between democratic regimes before and after Marcos, as well as his authoritarian period, since wealth concentration, and the use of state instruments to enhance private wealth have been persistent features of the system, whether authoritarian or democratic.
Southeast Asia is a vast and complex region, comprising countries with remarkably diverse histories and cultures. Jacques Bertrand provides a fresh and highly original survey of politics and political change in this area of the world. Against the backdrop of rapid economic development and social transformation in several countries, he explores why some countries have adopted democratic institutions, while others have maintained stable authoritarian systems or accepted communist regimes. Bertrand presents a historically grounded account of capitalist countries and state-socialist countries, delving into the historical experience of individual countries, whilst simultaneously providing a comparative framework with which to draw parallels and foster a better understanding of the political and economic dynamics both within and between the countries. With powerful yet accessible analysis and detailed coverage, this book offers students and scholars a thorough and thought-provoking introduction to the political landscape of Southeast Asia.
Many tropical tree species have buttresses at the standard breast height (1.3 m above ground) of diameter measurement, with a presumable role in improving nutrient acquisition or tree anchorage in the ground (Newbery et al. 2009, Richter 1984). Measuring the diameter using standard dendrometrical tools such as callipers or graduated tapes, which require that the cross-section of the trunk has a convex shape, is then impossible (Nogueira et al. 2006). The recommended method in this case is to measure the diameter above the buttress (DAB), thus possibly leading to biased estimates of the basal area (West 2009), of tree above-ground biomass (Dean & Roxburgh 2006, Dean et al. 2003) and of tree growth (Metcalf et al. 2009). As an alternative, one can measure the basal area at breast height of buttressed trees, using a method that can deal with the irregular non-convex shape of the cross-section of the stem such as the Picus calliper, photogrammetry or 3D laser scanning (Badia et al. 2003, Dean 2003, Newbery et al. 2009).