Seifert, Franz (1998) A Cultural Challenge to Liberal Democracy in Southeast Asia? IHS Political Science Series No. 53, February 1998. [Working Paper]
This paper pleas for adopting a differentiated perspective on the current controversy over “Asian Values” and democracy. It presents a comparative analysis of the political systems of Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia, and depicts these polities as structurally similar cooptative systems which are undemocratic since they keep the given power structure in place by preventing opposition parties from ever being elected. In the light of their particular context, however, a more ambivalent picture emerges. Considering the contingent set of historic, ethnic and socioeconomic circumstances at work in the evolution of these systems, their performance in safeguarding public order and in providing economic prosperity has to be recognized. While an institutional analysis of the “Asian values” discourse can demonstrate the political character of cultural definition and distinction and can likewise avoid an essentialist interpretation, a tentative discussion of the prospects for democratization with emphasis on the emerging middle-classes draws a pessimistic picture for future democratization.
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