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

Sydney Hostage-taker Failed to Manipulate Social Media

Gunman forced captives to use personal Facebook, YouTube accounts to issue his demands; online community helped flag messages, urged others not to share them More

UN Seeks $8.4 Billion to Help War-Hit Syrians

Effort aimed at helping Syrians displaced within their own country and those who've fled to neighboring ones More

Who Are the Pakistani Taliban?

It's an umbrella group of militant organizations whose objective is enforcement of Sharia in Pakistan 'whether through peace or war' More

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.
Putin: Russian Economy to Rebound in 2 Yearsi
X
December 18, 2014 5:13 PM
Russian President Vladimir Putin held his annual end-of-the-year news conference Thursday, tackling questions on the Russian economy, the crisis in Ukraine and Russian relations with the west. VOA's Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Putin: Russian Economy to Rebound in 2 Years

Russian President Vladimir Putin held his annual end-of-the-year news conference Thursday, tackling questions on the Russian economy, the crisis in Ukraine and Russian relations with the west. VOA's Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?

The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Turkey's Authoritarianism Dismays Western Allies

The Turkish government has been defiant in the face of criticism at home and abroad for its raids targeting opposition media. The European Union on Monday expressed dismay after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Brussels for criticizing his government's action. Turkey's bid to be considered for EU membership has been on hold while critics accuse the NATO ally of increasingly authoritarian rule. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid