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Southeast Asian activism and limits to independent political space

Rodan, G. (2013) Southeast Asian activism and limits to independent political space. In: Ford, MIchelle, (ed.) Social Activism in Southeast Asia. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, London, England, pp. 22-39.

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The scope and nature of political space through which different interests and ideologies, including those of social activists, can influence the exercise of state power has been a matter of continuing and unresolved contention in Southeast Asia over the last thirty years. In its most spectacular form, this has resulted in the overthrow of authoritarian regimes- as in the Philippines in 1986, Thailand in 1992 and Indonesia in 1998. Elsewhere, the absence or failure of People Power movements has not prevented the expansion of political space for social activism - including within various authoritarian regimes, where both pockets of courageous independent activity and creative attempts at absorbing social activists into the state can be found. Despite this diversity, a remarkable feature of contemporary political developments across the region has been the disarticulation of civil society organizations (CSOs) from formal political institutions. Activists have often eschewed political parties, which have been less oriented towards programmatic agendas and more geared to serve as patronage machines (see Case 2002). Especially striking is the uniform weakness of working class-based organizations, which were crucial to expanding liberal democracy's political space during its historic development in Western Europe. This has placed greater responsibility for advancing democratic change onto other organizations, and provided a context within which middle class-led organizations have been especially prominent in social activism of varying ideological orientations.

Publication Type: Book Chapter
Murdoch Affiliation: Asia Research Centre
Publisher: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group
Copyright: The Author
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