BANGKOK — Most of Southeast Asia has experienced military rule at some stage since the colonial era ended, and the political role of the region’s military institutions has shaped and influenced politics right up to the present day. The often-decisive interventions of the military in national politics have restricted the development of democracy, freedom of speech and human rights in many countries. In 2008, of the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), only Indonesia was deemed a fully free country by the US-based Freedom House, an NGO that monitors democracy and human rights. Implicitly, a behind-the-scenes power-brokering process played by powerful military elites in Southeast Asian countries is a key factor in inhibiting democratic development across the region. At a September conference at the Institute for Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, these issues were discussed by scholars examining civil-military relations in Burma, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines. In Southeast Asia, Burma stands out, however, due to the longevity of military rule and the entrenchment of the army in all sectors of society and the economy. ISIS Director Thitinan Pongsudhirak remarked that in 1960, Burma was a democracy, having the highest GDP per capita in the region and with a relatively-advanced economy and noted education sector. However, these days, the entrenchment of military rule is so thorough, it is more appropriate to use the term “military-civil relations,” according to Win Min, a Thailand-based Burmese scholar.
SINGAPORE – Chaos caused by red and yellow clad protestors in Thailand over the past few years must have evoked bittersweet memories for Philippine activists, who donned the same team colors when red pro- and yellow anti-regime protesters took to the streets and brought down Ferdinand Marcos’ authoritarian government in 1986. The Philippines and Thailand have often been cited for their close political parallels, with both home to thriving civil societies but with political power dominated by traditional political elites. Both are fragile democracies, with a history of political instability, that are trying to leave their martial law baggage behind.
DILI — Since the 14th Philippine Congress opened in July 2007, over 30 measures aimed at revising the post-revolutionary 1987 Constitution have been proposed, the dry legality often offset by catchy acronym nicknames such as ‘CON-ASS’, ‘CON-CON’ and ‘CHA-CHA’. These have provided rich pickings for tabloid headline writers and online rabble rousers, with one such item now doing the cyber-rounds listing the “CON-ASS-HOLES” who backed the latest move to change the constitution. The item refers to those in Congress who on June 2 voted in favor of Resolution 1109, which would allow the lower house of representatives to vote itself into a so-called constituent assembly (CON-ASS) — without the support of the upper house, or Senate. CON-ASS, it is believed, will pave the way for constitutional or charter change (CHA-CHA), a move that could enable President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to extend her term in office beyond the six years mandated by the current constitution.