Session Submission Summary

Direct link:

No Straight Road to Democracy: Political Transitions, Elections and Repression in Southeast Asia

Sat, June 25, 1:00 to 2:50pm, Shikokan (SK), Floor: 1F, 122

Session Submission Type: Organized Panel Proposal Application


Though political transition can be bloody, democracies are generally more peaceful, respectful of political freedoms and protective of civil liberties than authoritarian regimes. Democracy’s “pacific effect” has been a robust finding in comparative studies, across countries and over time (Davenport 2007, 10-11). The purpose of this panel is to examine the place of repression in four electoral democracies of Southeast Asia: the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore and Myanmar. Why has democratization resulted in violence (such as extrajudicial killing and torture) in some cases, but not in others?

Swift and marked ends to authoritarian rule occurred in the Philippines in 1986 and Indonesia in 1998. In contrast, Singapore’s authoritarianism continues, ostensibly legitimated by democratic elections, while in Myanmar, reform via a “roadmap” to democracy remains marred by repression of civil society.

State violence under democracy has declined, but it is decentralized to local bosses in the Philippines while delegated to communal groups in Indonesia. Fractious ethnic conflict is frozen and uneasy in Myanmar, as inter-communal violence in some areas has likewise grown unimpeded. In Singapore however, the state maintains its monopoly on repression, restricting and proscribing political activity.

These differences expose the folly in the literature on democracy that cling to the notion of linear transitions along a scale of more authoritarian to more democratic systems. This line of inquiry belongs with other examinations of political change and upheavals in Asia.

Davenport, Christian. 2007. “State Repression and Political Order.” Annual Review of Political Science. 10:1-23.

Area of Study

Session Organizer

Individual Presentations