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Southeast Asian Affairs 2005 Political Transitions in Southeast Asia MeIy Caballero-Anthony Introduction One could easily be pessimistic about SoutheastAsia's prospects given the series of crises that hit the region in 2004. These include the onset of avian flu (coming on the heels of SARS) and the looming pandemic threat, the persistence ofterrorist-related incidents, and the devastating earthquake and tsunami that caused massive loss of lives, property and livelihood. Yet, if there is something to be optimistic about it is in the number of general elections that took place in many ASEAN countries within a span of one year. It began in March 2004 with the holding of Malaysia's general elections, followed by elections in Indonesia in April that were spread over six months, and then the elections held in the Philippines in May. This was soon followed by the elections in Thailand in February 2005. This series of elections is significant for many reasons. First, we see the emergence of new political actors who have taken over the mantle of leadership from long-serving leaders in the region. In Malaysia, Abdullah Badawi replaced long-time Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamed; and while there was no election in Singapore in 2004, there was nevertheless a changing of the guard in August 2004 with the installation of a new prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, who succeeded Goh Chok Tong. Second, despite having come after three short-lived presidents who had succeeded long-time Indonesian leader Suharto, the country's new president Susilo BambangYudhoyono was the first directly elected president of post-New Order Indonesia. The direct presidential elections have capped the sixyear process of political transition in the country toward a democratic political system. And third, the two incumbent leaders, Philippines' Gloria MacapagalArroyo and Thailand's Thaksin Shinawatra, who could still be considered as relatively new players in the region, are serving their second terms in office after their Mely Caballero-Anthony is Assistant Professor, Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies (IDSS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Political Transitions in Southeast Asia25 respective re-elections. Their renewed mandates have however raised some questions on the trajectory of democratic transitions in the region. Of more significance is the fact that these elections and changes in political leaderships have come in an era characterized by new types of challenges, crises, and forces for change. In the period following the Asian financial crisis in 1997, the impetus for change and push toward democratization have gained more momentum in the region. It is also noteworthy that this impetus for change has taken place within the "old" members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) — Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and even Singapore. Thus, the emergence of new political leaders and the unfolding nature ofthese new political regimes in these transitions will have important implications on the direction these changes will take in the push for more democratization in the region. The main objective of this chapter is to examine the nature of the political transitions taking place in the major capitals in Southeast Asia and review the prospects for democratic consolidation in the region. While the mood for change has been upbeat since the recent series of elections, and while hopes for greater democratization may have heightened, this essay argues that expectations for change may have to be tempered against the realities faced by these different states. These realities are reflected in the complex range of socioeconomic, political, and security issues faced by individual states that could hamper efforts at creating a more stable political system at the very least, and a politically liberal regional environment, at the most. This cautious outlook is presented against the caveat that the analyses following this introduction are still exploratory and tentative, and that the observations tend to be more broad than definitive. The various issues that are examined in this chapter would therefore need to be revisited at a more appropriate time when much of the flux that comes with political transitions has begun to settle down. Understanding Political Transitions in Southeast Asia While this chapter looks at the nature of political transitions in the region, the processes ofthe transitions being examined go beyond the analysis...


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