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Democratization in Southeast Asia: Past trends and prospective customers

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This essay deals with the democratization in the Southeast Asian context. Dramatic exchanges occurred throughout the area in the second part of the 20th century. Rapid economic growth and industrialization were at the center of the so-called Asian miracle of the 1960s and 1970s. They were often associated with the strong leadership and benevolent authoritarianism of the developmental state.

The Cold War provided an excellent background for the maintenance of broad armed forces. When there was criticism against undemocratic modes, local leaders were quick to argue that their governments were only expressing the uniqueness of Asian culture. Yet, the Southeast Asian countries were not left untouched by the ?wave? of worldwide democratization. South-Korea, Taiwan, the Filipino, Indonesia were some examples of the numerous processes of democratic reforms in the area from the 1980s. In this document, an analysis of the factors involved and the diversity of economic, social and political backgrounds is made. The dynamics of democratization in the 1980s and in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98, before turning to the challenges of democratic movements of Southeast Asia have also been scrutinized.

Three main factors contributed to the first steps toward democracy in the region, at the beginning of the 1980s. Firstly, sustained economic development on a capitalist basis had profoundly modified the patterns of class relationship. Industrialization and urbanization had created a large class of workers, in some places highly organized, which demanded improvements both in their economic situation and in their political rights. Secondly, the tension of the Cold War was easing, and foreign countries now found a new interest in promoting democratic progress in the region. Lastly, and in some ways as a result of the first two factors, state actors themselves began to change their agenda. This could happen in two different, yet often coupled, forms.

Tags: South East Asia; democratization of the Southeast Asian countries; dynamics of democratization; analysis of the factors

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