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  • The Rise of the Right:Populism and Authoritarianism in Southeast Asian Politics
  • Kanishka Jayasuriya (bio)

After the global economic crisis of 2008, there has been a trend towards a configuration of institutions and ideologies of state-society relations with a more intensified authoritarian form. At the heart of these political changes is the rise of right-wing political and ideological forces that seek to use religious, ethnic and/or national communities to build coalitions which are hostile to pluralist politics. This trend is combined with the deepening of the neoliberal market-reform agenda within a more authoritarian framework, especially in a further consolidation of politically linked domestic conglomerates. As such, it marks a shift from the technocratic governance—combined with the social forces that supported it—that had underpinned neoliberal reform over three decades. These mark the political changes that occurred over the long 1990s in Southeast Asia, which is a period that covers the implementation—albeit haltingly—of the Washington consensus and neoliberal policies, the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist project, as well as a push towards democratic polities.

In this chapter, I focus on Indonesia and the Philippines—two countries seen as the democratic benchmarks over the last two decades—as these nations now move in an increasingly authoritarian direction. The first term of President Jokowi's presidency saw a range of illiberal trends, such as the use of legislative means to criminalize political opposition, the passing of social conservative legislation, the increasing role of the security agencies in the political process, the growth of [End Page 43] paramilitaries linked to right-wing parties, and the gutting of oversight institutions.1 The recent elevation of his presidential election opponent Prabowo Subianto to the cabinet suggests that these trends will—if anything—intensify in Jokowi's second term. In the Philippines, the election of President Duterte has led to a spate of extrajudicial killings, the intimidation of political opponents and journalists, and the stacking of courts such as the Supreme Court of the Philippines.2 As such, both Indonesia and the Philippines provide a window into the drivers of the new authoritarian climate in Southeast Asia. In Thailand, despite the attempt by the junta to provide some form of legitimacy to its rule—via its recent election—there has been only an intensification of the junta's authoritarian rule.3

Neoliberalism, Democratic Transitions and the Politics of Governance

The standard model of the transition to democracy has always been problematic in Southeast Asia. The influential transitions paradigm—now nearly three decades old—assumed that democracy once set in train would continue to be consolidated. There was a moment of optimism during the long 90s that the end of the Cold War period that had sustained the rule of strong authoritarian leaders such as Suharto would herald a more open and democratic reformism. It needs to be said that repressive measures and agencies were always crucial in the operation of political institutions, even in the relative open climate of political reform.

Certainly, the course of democratization in Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand has not been anything like the smooth consolidation of democracy envisaged by that early transitions theory.4 As the constitutional coup against President Estrada demonstrates, the Philippines has been far from an exemplar of democratic consolidation, and the country displays what Hutchcroft and Rocamora5 term a persistent democratic deficit. Though this is not so much due to institutional failure as it is rooted in the form that the democratic transition took during the long 90s. In Indonesia, Hadiz and Robison6 suggest that New Order political and economic elites remade themselves through the institution of reforms and managed to consolidate themselves by controlling access to key political and civil society institutions. In Thailand, the election of Thaksin, who bypassed the web of constitutional checks and oversight institutions, and the resulting ferocious authoritarian response of the royalist aligned—the "Yellow shirts"—shattered whatever legitimacy democratic institutions had in Thailand. The authoritarian right has been a part of political institutions—particularly through security apparatuses—of Southeast Asia even after democratic transitions. [End Page 44]

Such democratic forms were...


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