Workshop Brings Scholars Together to Discuss the State of Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law in Southeast Asia

Scholars from Asia joined faculty and researchers from Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute (FSI) to present research and reflections on various topics and cases from the Southeast Asia region, including the monarchy in politics, peace-making in the Philippines, Chinese infrastructure investments in Myanmar, illiberalism in the Philippines, and Islamic law in Indonesia.
From Left to Right: Yuko Kasuya, Lisandro Claudio, Donald Emmerson, Aya Watanabe, Marisa Kellam, Ruosui Zhang, Reza Idria, Francis Fukuyama, Michael Bennon, and Kana Inata. From left to right: Yuko Kasuya, Lisandro Claudio, Donald Emmerson, Aya Watanabe, Marisa Kellam, Ruosui Zhang, Reza Idria, Francis Fukuyama, Michael Bennon, and Kana Inata.

In a workshop hosted jointly by the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law and the Southeast Asia Program of the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center on March 9, 2023, scholars discussed the setbacks and prospects for democracy in Southeast Asia. The workshop included Stanford affiliates, visiting scholars at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI), and political scientists from several universities and research institutions in Japan, whose visit to Stanford was funded by the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science.

Democracies in Southeast Asia face challenges found among other democracies around the globe, including pervasive corruption, political polarization, and the spread of disinformation on social media.

These issues were prominent in the workshop presentations and discussions. At one point, APARC visiting scholar Gita Wirwajan used the opportunity to urge Stanford, being in Silicon Valley, to speak louder against the information-degrading effects of social media.

Scholars also discussed the other distinctive and challenging conditions in which democracy, development, and the rule of law must take root in Southeast Asia, including monarchial traditions, religious diversity, and proximity to China. Such topics ranged widely, from Islamic Law in the Indonesian province of Aceh through China-funded infrastructure in Myanmar to the Mindanao conflict in the Philippines.

Waseda University Associate Professor and CDDRL Visiting Scholar Marisa Kellam co-chaired the workshop’s panels and roundtables with APARC’s Southeast Asia Program Director and CDDRL Affiliated Faculty Donald Emmerson. On the panels, Kana Inata (Tokyo Metropolitan University) and Ruosui Zhang (Waseda University) presented papers for discussion by Michael Bennon and Francis Fukuyama (both Stanford). The roundtables featured papers or remarks by Lisandro Claudio (UC Berkeley), Reza Idria (Ar-Raniry State Islamic University), Yuko Kasuya (Keio University), Aya Watanabe (Institute of Developing Economies), and Gita Wirwajan (Ancora Group). Several Stanford students in the Masters of International Policy program attended the workshop and took part in the discussion, and we were pleased to welcome representatives from the Consulate General of both Indonesia and the Philippines as well.

Perspectives from Indonesia and the Philippines

The morning roundtable offered the two Indonesian scholars’ perspectives on democracy, development, and the rule of law in Indonesia. Idria, while acknowledging that Aceh in democratic Indonesia is almost a state inside a state, situated the province within larger socioeconomic and religious contexts. Wirjawan argued that Indonesia’s democracy needs to become meritocratic, which he linked to the need for improved education.

The afternoon roundtable on the Philippines focused on Bongbong Marcos’s victory in the 2022 Philippine presidential election. According to Claudio, Bongbong’s opponent had run on a good governance platform that failed to persuade voters accustomed to the dynastic personalism of Philippine politics. Kasuya augmented Claudio’s account with reference to the disinformation circulating through social media and the disintegration of political parties and other accountability institutions during Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency. Watanabe’s scope included previous Philippine presidents, specifically their efforts to obtain legislative approval of the settlements negotiated to end the Mindanao insurgency.

Understanding Global Trends

In addition to the roundtable discussions on Indonesia and the Philippines, panel presentations at the workshop used Southeast Asian cases to understand global trends. Zhang’s research on the changing fate of the China-invested Myitsone dam project in Myanmar demonstrated that a developing country undergoing semi-democratic political change would not necessarily kowtow to Beijing. Inata compared the power of monarchs and described how monarchies have contributed to autocratization in Southeast Asia.

For Prof. Emmerson, the workshop’s value reflected the crucial and generous role played by Prof. Kellam in organizing the event; the scope and quality of its findings and interpretations; its coverage of an important region that lacks the attention Northeast Asia receives; and the all too rare collaboration that the workshop achieved between differently specialized components of Stanford University.