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The Philippines stands out as the first and longest democracy in Southeast Asia. However, except for elections, democracy in the Philippines is a low quality or ‘defective democracy’. In this chapter, we first empirically document the low quality of Philippine democracy. We then advance an argument that explains the pathological condition of Philippine democracy in terms of the fecklessness of its core institutional structures. This institutional weakness can be explained by two significant historical-structural factors: the sequencing of the advent of electoral democracy vis-a-vis the building of the state and the absence of social cleavages in the Philippines. The advent of electoral democracy in the Philippines prior to any effort to build a functioning, autonomous and rationalized bureaucratic state has effectively created favorable conditions for traditional oligarchs to dominate state structures since the American colonial days. The fact that social cleavages never became articulated into the party system has further led to the creation of political parties as clientelistic shells, devoid of any substantive, programmatic agenda that would serve the public good.
Where the instrumentalities of popular control are, if not absent, at least weak or embryonic, as they are in Thailand, national politics becomes more simply a struggle for power as an end in itself among competing cliques and factions.
It will be useful to begin looking at the Thai party system by referring to a classic work on Thai politics – that of Fred Riggs. If we think of the “instrumentalities of popular control” as political parties, one is struck by the validity of Riggs’s observation that politics is largely “a struggle for power as an end in itself among competing cliques and factions.” Since the birth of its parties in 1932, Thailand’s party system has been devoid of real programmatic differences. Instead, the system has largely been consumed by elites running empty political shells in the pursuit of spoils for their factions. Only in recent years has the party system begun to exhibit programmatic differences among its main contenders. Overall, however, the historical tendency of Thailand’s party system has been one of institutional fecklessness and ideological vacuousness.
Thailand’s party system is notorious for its low level of institutionalization. Underscoring this assessment, James Ockey writes: “There is widespread agreement that parties are too weak while their factions are too strong . . . The importance of this consensus in the literature cannot be overstated.” Using three of the components of Mainwaring and Scully’s definition of party system institutionalization – stability in the rules and nature of interparty competition, stable roots in society, and organizational autonomy and strength – it is clear that on all these attributes the Thai party system scores low.
Political parties are often the weakest link in democracies, both young and old. This is the conclusion of a large number of scholars, policy consultants, and political practitioners. From Peru to the Philippines, these lynchpins of modern democracy are struggling to carry out the fundamental tasks of representing citizen interests and enabling voters to hold government officials accountable. In some parts of the world, the traditional connections between parties and their constituents are eroding (see the extensive literature on dealignment); in other parts of the world, meaningful links between parties and voters have yet to develop. Some systems present voters with a dizzying number of political parties, distinguishable more by the personalities at their helm than the policies in their platforms. In others, a single party so dominates elections that one can justifiably call into question the credibility of competition.
For scholars trying to make sense of the role parties play in supporting (or undermining) effective and robust democracies, party system institutionalization has emerged as an important concept. The literature on party system institutionalization suggests that a democracy with a more institutionalized party system is more likely to survive than one without. Institutionalized parties, defined as coherent, adaptable, and complex institutions, provide a stable means for channeling the interests of social groups and a mechanism for citizens to hold government accountable. Without parties acting as a bridge between state and society, demands from society will overwhelm government institutions and may lead to the weakening of democracy. Institutionalized parties thus serve as a crucial bulwark for sustaining democracy and maintaining its representative quality.
This book provides a comprehensive empirical and theoretical analysis of the development of parties and party systems in Asia. The studies included advance a unique perspective in the literature by focusing on the concept of institutionalization and by analyzing parties in democratic settings as well as in authoritarian settings. The countries covered in the book range from East Asia to Southeast Asia to South Asia.
Emmanuel Teitelbaum raises some very valuable points regarding my book. First, on the issue of regime type, I argued that the central variables that affect equitable development are the character of institutions, especially institutionalized political parties and cohesive state structures, and pragmatic ideology—not regime type. While one conclusion that emerges from the study is that illiberal regimes (Malaysia and Vietnam) have done better than liberal regimes (Thailand and the Philippines), I do not argue that illiberalism is a necessary variable for equitable development. The record across the developing world shows that many authoritarian regimes have very dismal economic outcomes. My argument hinges on the power, responsiveness, and capacity of institutions.
A major debate in the literature on the political economy of development centers on the relationship between regime type and economic development. This debate has been heavily influenced by the East Asian development model, where authoritarianism has often gone hand in hand with high growth rates. In South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia, development has been propelled by authoritarian or semidemocratic regimes. One key element of this argument is that the repression of labor under these authoritarian regimes has been especially helpful in states' pursuit of high growth rates because it has ensured political stability and checked societal demands.