- Southeast Asia in the New International Era by Robert Dayley and Clark D. Neher
Robert Dayley and Clark D. Neher have provided a comprehensive and detailed survey describing and delineating the historical, political, and cultural developments in Southeast Asia. The authors explore the impact of globalization, transnational terrorism, economic volatility, policy dilemmas, and drive toward democratization in Southeast Asia, which has a population of more than 600 million people. Between change and continuity, between a widening gap between rich and poor, amidst contestation between modernization and traditional roots, and between the agrarian economy and rapid strides toward industrialization, the scene in Southeast Asia is a complex one beset with contradictions and diversities. The book encompasses eleven country-specific chapters, evaluating each country in terms of its unique political history, major social groups and institutions, democracy, society and development, and foreign policies. Southeast Asia in the New International Era analyzes contemporary politics of the region at both systemic and sub-systemic levels from the perspectives of both the Southeast Asian region and the larger international community.
Before the onset of recent international forays into the region, the [End Page 269] political economy of Southeast Asia underwent influences and experiences from various quarters that included “religious penetration by Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity, colonialism and introduction of political ideas from the west; rise of nationalism associated with the struggle for independence; Japanese occupation, Cold War trauma, and regional economic transition” (p.30). Social patterns in Southeast Asian countries also reflected a village-centric approach as the primary unit of traditional identity along with agricultural economies, urban-based manufacturing and service sectors and patron-client systems, which had influenced socio-political interaction to a considerable extent. It is also equally true that winds of change were quite heterogeneous in various countries of the region, thus fostering varying degrees of development under its fold.
An important element that shaped Southeast Asia has been the arrival and expansion of a number of major religions. Hindusim and Theravada Buddhism, arriving from the Indian sub-continent, brought to the region a Brahmanical notion of deva-raja [god-king]. Mahayana Buddhism, brought from India and China, admixed with emphasis on Confucian ideas of hierarchical relations, Buddhist cosmology and Taoist Naturalism, influenced Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Islam arrived in a big way around the fifteenth century primarily via merchants and traders. Christianity followed suit, particularly in the Catholic-dominated Philippines and East Timor as well as in a few pockets of Vietnam and Indonesia. Although there was a broad-based harmony across religions, there were also schisms between “religio-royal traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism and universalist, law-based religions of Islam and Christianity”(p. 4).
One of the highlights of the book is in categorization of Southeast Asian political regimes. By employing Larry Diamond’s six fold typology and the Freedom House ratings (free, partially free, and not free), the authors distinguish two types of democratic regimes (liberal and electoral); three types of authoritarian regimes (competitive, hegemonic electoral, and politically closed), and ambiguous regimes. Indonesia, one of the electoral democracies, may be categorized as “free” and yet one can argue that its democracy is fragile in nature and that the parameters of democracy are untested in spite of the end of Suharto’s authoritarian rule and the ushering in of liberal democracy. The Philippines, classified as “partially free,” is also closer to an electoral democracy than a liberal democracy. This nascent democracy is flawed in nature as it is marked by [End Page 270] recurring violence, lawlessness, corruption, and intimidation as a continuing legacy of the Ferdinand Marcos years. Thailand had a relatively successful, pluralistic system that could be categorized as liberal democracy at least from 1998 to 2005. Thailand in recent years has been beset by serious, electoral-driven political crises, a military coup, challenges to constitutional legitimacy, judicial interventions, and clashes between the political class and government security forces. Singapore, in contrast, is a case where one particular political entity, namely the People’s Action Party, has appropriated the role of one-party...