News / Asia

    Southeast Asia's Transition From Authoritarian Rule Offers Lessons For Middle East

    Indonesian students fall as riot policemen charge-in during an anti-government demonstration that turned violent at the gate of the Sahid University in Jakarta 29 April, 1998.  Clashes erupted as some 300 students who were demanding President Suharto to s
    Indonesian students fall as riot policemen charge-in during an anti-government demonstration that turned violent at the gate of the Sahid University in Jakarta 29 April, 1998. Clashes erupted as some 300 students who were demanding President Suharto to s

    As people in the Middle East protest for freedom and democracy, many in Asia are reminded of their own struggle against authoritarian governments in the 1980s and 1990s.

    Philippines

    When Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down after weeks of protests in Cairo, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III quickly declared the country’s solidarity with the Egyptian people.

    His mother, the late President Corazon Aquino, was the central figure in the so-called "people power" revolution 25 years ago that ended the 20-year rule of Ferdinand Marcos.

    In February 1986, tens of thousands of Filipinos took to the streets of the capital, Manila, and with defectors from the military, forced Mr. Marcos and his family to flee to the United States. It helped inspire similar movements and democratic change in South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia.

    But as Filipinos can attest, removing a dictator is one thing, democratic change is another.

    The years following the overthrow of  Mr. Marcos were tumultuous. Members of the military, which had played a dominant and favored position in politics, became disaffected.

    "There were a number of coup attempts because the civilian and military leadership needed to come to a new arrangement having been part of the inner circle of power under the dictator. Even though the military was instrumental in his removal, that didn’t necessarily mean that they were comfortable with the new dispensation," said Steven Rood, the Philippine representative of the Asia Foundation, which supports economic reform and governance initiatives.

    The Egyptian military, which helped pressure Mr. Mubarak to step down, is currently in charge of the country until elections take place within six months.

    Indonesia

    The military’s role was also a concern in Indonesia after the fall of President Suharto in 1998. Some political analysts predicted that without Suharto in power, Southeast Asia’s largest nation would descend into sectarian violence and secessionist movements, and the military would take over.

    In Indonesia, the military was both a security force and a political force, with guaranteed seats in parliament.

    That has not happened. The Indonesian military was able to adapt to the changing political order.

    "The advantage was, I suppose, at that time it was riven by factions so it could never make use of its formidable powers to capture power," said Leonard Sebastian, coordinator of the Indonesia program at the Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
    "Also there was a lot of pressure both in the streets and internationally from say, countries like the United States, for the army not to seize power. The third I would say was the emergence of a reformist group of officers who were keen to take the armed forces out of politics and effectively move the army to a more professional course."

    He says one of those military officers is the current president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

    Rood says it is important to lay out a new role for the military after such revolutions to allow the civilian leadership to take over.

    "That’s a very delicate balancing operation, and it took the Philippines a decade to get there, although I think that’s where they are now," he said.

    Muslim organizations

    In Indonesia, Sebastian says the country’s largest Muslim organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, which have millions of members, also played critical roles in promoting democracy.

    "They were dedicated toward moderation, tolerance and inclusiveness. They sought to contribute to the debate. The leading lights within these two institutions were very prominent in the civil society that took root particularly in the 1990s to push for more democratization," he said.

    What role Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood will play in the transition remains unclear; it has been a major opposition force there for decades.

    Democracy

    Democracy in Indonesia and the Philippines has not done away with all the ills that plagued the old authoritarian governments, such as corruption and poverty.

    Many political analysts see Indonesia as a more stable democracy than the Philippines. Indonesia has held three high-turnout national elections since 1998, and despite numerous terrorist attacks and sectarian flare ups, the country’s economy has thrived.

    The Philippines, however, has a spotty record. In 2001, another president was driven from office by mass protests over corruption allegations, the military staged a rebellion in 2003, and widespread fraud clouded the 2004 presidential elections. And the economy has languished.

    Rood says Filipinos expected more than they got after 1986.

    "Because they focused their discontent on one person, getting rid of that one person led them to think that everything would change for the better immediately. And of course when it did not, a lot of discontent rose up," he said.

    And change does not necessarily mean old faces will go away. Numerous corruption and human rights violations cases were filed against the Marcos family, with little success in recovering billions of dollars of allegedly stolen wealth. Mr. Marcos died in exile in 1989. Today, his wife Imelda, a daughter and a son hold elected positions in the Philippines.

    Mr. Suharto died in 2008. His family continues to own vast business enterprises. Lawsuits were filed against his children, but none were convicted of graft. Mr. Suharto’s old party, Golkar, remains a major player in Indonesian politics.

    You May Like

    Candidates' Comments Fly Like New Hampshire Snowflakes

    Four days ahead of the country's first-in-the-nation Republican and Democratic party primary elections, surveys show the parties' contests tightening

    South Korea Says North Korea Moving Closer to Rocket Launch

    In phone call, US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping agree that Pyongyang's move would be 'provocative'

    Australian Commander: IS Changing Tactics

    Head of Australian forces in Middle East talks with VOA about training Iraqi troops, countering evolving Islamic State efforts and defeating extremism

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.