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  • Author: Stephen McCarthy
  • Publication Date: 02-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: While signs of democratization in a country may raise hopes of better natural resource governance, especially of forests, evidence from the Asia Pacific region in countries such as Indonesia and Cambodia demonstrates no significant relationship between a country's transition toward democracy and better forestry governance. Myanmar's transition to democracy is unlikely to counter this trend. Deeply vested interests operate within democratizing countries that outweigh the support inside governments or civil society for improving forestry conservation. Incumbents also stand to benefit directly from initiatives that promote free trade and further investment in the forestry sector at the expense of the environment and the most vulnerable in society. International organizations returning to Myanmar must fine-tune their policies to accommodate the local political economy of deforestation and should engage with elements on the periphery, dissenting voices inside the government, and a broad range of local civil society organizations. Failure to do so may exacerbate current trends and lead to future conflicts in the already volatile cease-fire areas.
  • Topic: Agriculture, Civil Society, Development, Economics
  • Political Geography: Southeast Asia
  • Author: Tin Maung Maung Than
  • Publication Date: 04-2012
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: By-elections in electoral democracies usually elicit very little excitement beyond the affected constituencies. However, Burma/Myanmar's recent by-elections held most of Asia and the West in rapt attention, with droves of international observers, media representatives, and curious foreigners flocking to Myanmar on an unprecedented scale. As anticipated, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won 43 of the 44 seats that it contested, subsequently hailed as the “victory of the people.” The lead-up, campaigning, and the actual voting, along with the post-election euphoria, resembled a regime-changing national election rather than a series of by-elections that secured the NLD a very minor 6.4 percent of the overall seats in the parliamentary Union Assembly's Lower and Upper Houses. The current government of President U Thein Sein most likely regarded these by-elections as a means of legitimizing its mandate to govern and enhance its own reform credentials.
  • Topic: Civil Society, Democratization, Human Rights, Politics, Regime Change, Political Activism
  • Political Geography: Asia, Myanmar
  • Author: David I. Steinberg
  • Publication Date: 04-2012
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: The drumbeat against the process and the potential results of the Burma/Myanmar by-elections of April 1, 2012 for 45 seats (37, or 11 percent in the Lower House of the bicameral legislature; 6, or 4 percent in the Upper House, and 2 in regional bodies) started before the polling began and the votes were counted. Human Rights Watch said they were a step forward, but not real reform. Campaign Burma UK wrote that it was impossible for them to be free and fair. And Aung San Suu Kyi, running for a seat, said they would be neither free nor fair. The plan to undercut their significance before they took place was evident.
  • Topic: Civil Society, Democratization, Human Rights, Political Activism
  • Political Geography: United Kingdom, Southeast Asia, Myanmar
  • Author: Aurel Croissant, David Kuehn, Philip Lorenz
  • Publication Date: 01-2012
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: In recent decades, several East Asian nations have undergone democratic transitions accompanied by changes in the balance of power between civilian elites and military leaders. These developments have not followed a single pattern: In Thailand, failure to institutionalize civilian control has contributed to the breakdown of democracy; civil-military relations and democracy in the Philippines are in prolonged crisis; and civilian control in Indonesia is yet to be institutionalized. At the same time, South Korea and Taiwan have established civilian supremacy and made great advances in consolidating democracy. These differences can be explained by the interplay of structural environment and civilian political entrepreneurship. In Taiwan, Korea, and Indonesia, strategic action, prioritization, and careful timing helped civilians make the best of their structural opportunities to overcome legacies of military involvement in politics. In Thailand, civilians overestimated their ability to control the military and provoked military intervention. In the Philippines, civilian governments forged a symbiotic relationship with military elites that allowed civilians to survive in office but also protected the military's institutional interests. These differences in the development of civil-military relations had serious repercussions on national security, political stability, and democratic consolidation, helping to explain why South Korea, Taiwan, and, to a lesser degree, Indonesia have experienced successful democratic transformation, while Thailand and the Philippines have failed to establish stable democratic systems.
  • Topic: Civil Society, Democratization, Governance
  • Political Geography: Israel, Taiwan, South Korea, Southeast Asia
  • Author: William Case
  • Publication Date: 01-2011
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: In an influential study, Steven Fish and Matthew Kroenig argue that “overarching institutional designs” (i.e., presidential, parliamentary, and dual systems) tell us less about the prospects of a new democracy than does the particular strength of the legislature. Specifically, executive abuses are best checked where legislatures are powerful, generating horizontal accountability. Indeed, Fish and Kroenig suggest that with judiciaries and watchdog agencies weak in most new democracies, the legislature is the only institution by which accountability can be imposed. What is more, ordinary citizens are better informed by the robust party systems that strong legislatures support, fostering vertical accountability. In comparing Freedom House scores with their Parliamentary Powers Index (PPI), Fish and Kroenig show clear correlations, leading them to conclude that democracies are made strong by legislatures that are empowered.
  • Topic: Civil Society, Democratization, Political Economy
  • Political Geography: Indonesia, Malaysia, Asia, Philippines, Cambodia, Singapore, Southeast Asia
  • Author: William Case
  • Publication Date: 01-2011
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: In an influential study, Fish and Kroenig argue that "overarching institutional designs" (i.e., presidential, parliamentary, and dual systems) tell us less about the prospects of a new democracy than does the particular strength of the legislature. Specifically, executives are best checked where legislatures are powerful, generating horizontal accountability. In addition, ordinary citizens are better informed by the robust party systems that strong legislatures support, fostering vertical accountability. In comparing Freedom House scores with their Parliamentary Powers Index (PPI), Fish and Kroenig show clear correlations, leading them to conclude that democracies are made strong by legislatures that are empowered. In this monograph, this thesis is tested in five country cases in Southeast Asia: the Philippines and Indonesia, both new democracies, and Malaysia, Cambodia, and Singapore, cases of electoral authoritarianism. Analysis uncovers that in the new democracies, though their legislatures may be rated as powerful, members are geared less to checking the executive than to sharing in state patronage. In addition, although the legislature is evaluated as weak under electoral authoritarianism, it features an opposition that, with little access to patronage, remains committed to exposing executive abuses. What is more, when the executive operates a regime type that lacks the full legitimacy gained through general elections, he or she grows more receptive to at least mild legislative scrutiny. Contrary to Fish and Kroenig, then, this study concludes that the executive is held more accountable by legislatures under electoral authoritarianism than in new democracies. But rather than leading to a transition to democratic politics, this accountability strengthens authoritarian rule.
  • Topic: Civil Society, Democratization, Development, Government, Politics
  • Political Geography: Malaysia, Asia, Cambodia, Singapore
  • Author: Wang Feng
  • Publication Date: 03-2005
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: Twenty-five years after it was launched, China's “One Child” population control policy is credited with cutting population growth to an all time low and contributing to two decades of spectacular economic development. But the costs associated with the policy are also apparent and are rising: a growing proportion of elderly with inadequate government or family support, a disproportionately high number of male births attributable to sex selective abortion, increased female infant and child mortality rates, and the collapse of a credible government birth reporting system. Today, as China contemplates the future of the policy, many argue that a change that allows couples to have two children will not lead to uncontrollable population growth. Instead, it could help meet the fertility desires of most Chinese couples; avoid a worsening of the demographic and social consequences already evident; and relieve the Chinese government of the immense financial and political costs of enforcing an unpopular policy. But changes will need to come soon if China is to avert even greater negative consequences of the policy.
  • Topic: Civil Society, Human Welfare
  • Political Geography: China, Asia