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The Politics of Prosecuting Genocide and War Crimes in Asia  

John Ciorciari

Delivering justice for genocide, war crimes, and other mass atrocities inevitably presents steep political challenges. That has certainly been true in Asia, where relatively few such international crimes have been prosecuted. Many Japanese were tried for war crimes following the Second World War, but for decades thereafter, the region saw only a few ill-fated efforts to advance justice for mass crimes. Some political space for accountability opened after the Cold War, enabling the creation of tribunals in Timor-Leste, Cambodia, and Bangladesh to address some of the many instances of impunity in Asia. Some observers have welcomed these trials as important efforts to advance accountability in a region rife with impunity. Still, the design and performance of these tribunals have reflected the difficulty of subjecting politically empowered or protected actors to justice. In each instance, trials have focused on suspects defeated at the ballot box or on the battlefield, prompting charges of victor’s justice. In other cases, including Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar, even mounting an accountability process has proven a formidable challenge. In a region where Westphalian sovereignty and the norm of noninterference are strong, the will of incumbent domestic authorities remains the political linchpin for accountability efforts. In Asia as elsewhere, prosecuting international crimes requires exploiting windows of political possibility, although typically at the cost of accepting highly selective justice.

Article

Regime Resilience in Malaysia and Singapore Revisited: Ideologically-Bounded Democracies?  

Kai Ostwald

Malaysia and Singapore were long seen as quintessential hybrid regimes that combined elements of electoral democracy and autocracy to achieve remarkable political stability: the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) dominated Malaysia’s politics for over six decades before its unexpected defeat in 2018, while the People’s Action Party (PAP) has led Singapore since the country’s independence and remains in power today. Both parties attained dominance through similar channels. UMNO and the PAP accrued significant legitimacy by overseeing decades of rapid socioeconomic development that transformed the citizenry’s lives. Embedding ideological frameworks—based on empowerment of the Indigenous Malay majority in Malaysia and overcoming systemic vulnerability in Singapore—throughout the state and the electorate provided electoral advantages and further bolstered legitimacy. This was supplemented by regularly reshaping institutions to strengthen incumbency advantages, as well as occasional usage of coercion to limit inroads by opposition challengers. Both regimes have evolved in key ways since the turn of the 21st century. UMNO saw its dominance gradually erode in the decade before its 2018 defeat. It mounted a brief comeback in 2020, but its decisive loss in the 2022 election marked a clear end to its hegemonic rule. While the PAP remains in power, it faces stiffer opposition and a “politically awakened” electorate, also marking a departure from earlier phases of uncontested dominance. While there is disagreement on how extensively these developments change the nature of the underlying regimes, several points are clear. Even if party dominance has declined, the ideological frameworks that both parties established remain intact and fundamentally shape political competition, which is free and relatively fair within the ideological bounds imposed by those frameworks. Moreover, the strength of the ideological bounds is such that no political actor has the agency to unilaterally remove them, which may preclude democratization as it is typically understood. On the opposition side, strong inroads, made in part by conforming to the ideological frameworks, have allowed opposition parties to accrue legitimacy of their own. This has made coercion more costly and has diminished its role in maintaining power. In short, elements of the regimes in Malaysia and Singapore remain resilient. But they are fundamentally different than during the peak of UMNO and PAP dominance: the opposition has accrued legitimacy, the role of coercion has diminished, and political competition now occurs relatively freely within the bounds imposed by the respective ideological frameworks. This puts the current regimes in tension with the assumptions underpinning their earlier “hybrid” classifications, and raises a question: rather than assessing how every political twist and turn moves the needle on a two-dimensional autocracy–democracy spectrum, could it be more practical to think of Malaysia and Singapore as having evolved into relatively stable vernacular democracies that, albeit not fully democratic by conventional standards, are as democratic as the ideological constraints left behind by their founding and long-dominant parties credibly allow?

Article

Civilian Coup Advocacy  

Drew Holland Kinney

Available scholarship on civil–military relations, and coup politics in particular, tends to treat military coups d’état as originating purely within the minds of military officers; that is, the overwhelming bulk of scholarship assumes that the idea to seize power stems from officer cliques. To the extent that societal factors (e.g., polarization, economic decline, party factionalism) explain coups, they merely account for why officers decide to seize power. Most research that discusses civilian support for coups does so within single case studies—almost entirely drawn from the Middle East and North Africa. Building on a vibrant wave of studies that disaggregates civil–military institutions, a small body of recent research has begun to systematically and comprehensively consider the theoretical and empirical importance of civilian involvement in military coups. This perspective deemphasizes the military’s possession of weapons and instead focuses on ideational sources of power. Civilians have more power and resources to offer military plotters than existing scholarship has given them credit for. Civilian elites and publics can legitimate coups, organize them, manipulate information on behalf of the plotters, and finance coups for their own economic interests. In short, to fully understand coups, one must seek as much knowledge as possible about their formation, including where the idea for each plot originated. Such detailed analysis of coup plots will give researchers a clearer picture about the motivating factors behind coups.

Article

Ghana: The Military in Transition from Praetorianism to Democratic Control  

Eboe Hutchful, Humphrey Asamoah Agyekum, and Ben Kunbour

With the end of the Cold War and onset of democratization, the academic field of “civil–military relations” (CMR) has arguably gone into relative decline, replaced by the new global template of “Security Sector Reform and Governance” (SSR/G). This is a notable shift in several senses: firstly, from a narrow focus on the military (and coups in particular) to the “security sector” as a whole; and secondly because the two “fields” have been driven by different imperatives, priorities, and methodologies, in part shaped by changing historical contexts. In contrast to the CMR scholarship, SSR/G has been much more of a “policy and operational science” than an academic discipline, primarily oriented toward norm development and formal institution building in response to imperatives of democratization. This “policy praxis”—driven by sovereign actors and often delivered by consultants and private contractors with a primarily technical focus—has not always prioritized evidence-based research or interrogated real power dynamics. And while the nation-state remains the core actor, external powers (bilateral partners and international and multilateral institutions) have emerged as a critical supporting cast in SSR/G, evolving their own normative and policy frameworks and providing the financial resources to drive reforms (paradoxically, these are usually the same powers that conduct humanitarian interventions and extend security assistance to contain the proliferation of terrorist attacks in the region). Nevertheless, there are strong linear links between the two “disciplines,” as CMR legacies have shaped the SSR discourse and agenda. An offshoot of the SSR focus has been the implementation of practical programs to address some of the weaknesses of the defence sector exposed in the CMR literature, evident in a set of technical and “how to” tools, such as defence reviews, security sector public expenditure reviews, the “Defence Anti-Corruption Index” (pioneered by Transparency International), and a variety of “toolkits” designed to enhance military professionalism and strengthen civilian oversight bodies and institutions. Academic research has also reflected this shift by broadening out from the analysis of the military and coups to encompass other agencies in the formal security sector (police and intelligence in particular), as well as looking much more closely at nonstate security and justice providers and their interaction with state security institutions and actors, through the prism of concepts such as “hybridity” and “hybrid security governance.” Even so, militaries per se have never strayed far from the center of the discussion. Militaries have not only remained the focal point of SSR efforts—in the process even acquiring new roles and missions and (undoubtedly) sources of influence—they have even been propelled back to center stage, as the security landscape has shifted and African states and armies (particularly in the Sahel) have struggled against a growing proliferation of armed groups and terrorist attacks, and as coups have threatened to make a comeback. However, both the theory and practice of these African transitions defy neat delineations and linear interpretations. Their many commonalities notwithstanding, these transitions have been multifaceted, ambiguous, and contested, as well as fragile and subject to reversal, nowhere more so than in the CMR arena. Nevertheless, three elements stand out: 1. A growing trend over time toward “illiberal democracies,” as a variety of African leaders have made willful efforts to hollow out democracy, cultivating or (over time) perfecting the tools to evade or erode the strictures of democracy, an activity in which security forces are increasingly implicated. 2. A consensus in both the academic and policy literature about the fragile foundations of CMR in these transitions, which have been replete with “democratic deficits” and operational weaknesses, addressed only selectively by SSR, and likely to be further aggravated by the trends toward “soft authoritarianism” in the region. 3. Importantly, democratization in the region has coincided with (if not spawned) a proliferation of terroristic activity and new forms of armed conflict which African states have been unable to contain, triggering “humanitarian interventions” and security assistance from a variety of external actors. This has been dubbed the new “global militarism,” accompanied by a reorientation (rollback) of SSR in favor of “hard security” and operational capacity building (“Train and Equip”).

Article

Egypt and Tunisia: Political Control of the Military Under Mubarak and Ben Ali  

Risa A. Brooks

Civil–military relations varied dramatically in Egypt and Tunisia under their former dictators, Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abedine Ben Ali. The leaders relied on alternative strategies of political control to accommodate the military to their rule and maintain themselves in office. Mubarak forged a grand bargain with his senior officers, while Ben Ali sought to contain the military. These strategies had important implications for how they met the imperatives of autocratic civil–military relations—keeping the military from engaging in coups and ensuring it would defend them against societal opponents, while retaining the latitude to govern. The cases illustrate the importance of studying variation in patterns of civil–military relations independently of regime type and of examining the overarching logics through which political leaders control the military.

Article

The Legitimation of Repression in Autocracies  

Maria Josua

In research on authoritarianism, both legitimation and repression have received growing attention since the late 2000s. However, these two strategies of political rule do not form separate pillars of power; they are interlinked and affect each other. Autocrats not only rule with an iron fist, but they also seek to legitimize their use of repression vis-à-vis at least some of their citizens and the outside world. These legitimizing discourses are part of political communication in autocracies and can be studied using the approach of framing. So far, few researchers of the protest–repression nexus have studied how protesters are being framed by officials in autocracies. The communication of repression varies widely across autocracies. Authoritarian incumbents differ in their degree of openness vs. opacity, impacting also on how they publicize, admit to, or conceal certain forms of repression. When choosing to justify acts of repression, multiple factors influence which types of justification are used. One decisive factor is against which targets repression is employed. In framing the targets of repression in a certain way, autocratic elites pursue a twin strategy in that they seek to attain the approval of certain audiences and to deter potential or actual dissidents. Furthermore, justifications diverge regarding which actors use them and towards which audiences. Past experiences and regime characteristics also impact on how repression is justified. This research program offers great potential for studying state–society relations in autocracies. It cuts across research on political violence, authoritarian legitimation, and political communication. For understanding the persistence of autocracies in times of contention, it is an important piece in the puzzle of authoritarian survival strategies illuminating the “dark side” of legitimation.

Article

Hungary: A Historically Apolitical Military  

Tamás Csiki Varga and András Rácz

In Hungary, the military has traditionally not played a significant political role since the country became independent following World War I. Though various changes of regime and political transitions have taken place, these did not involve the military in any notable role. Even when the historical context offered an opportunity for the military to gain a determining political role (i.e., during the 1956 revolution or possibly the 1989 regime change), apolitical traditions, institutional checks, and civilian control, as well as a lack of will from the armed forces, prevented such outcomes. The main reason why Hungarian armed forces have never interfered in politics is not the historical traditions of civilian control over the armed forces, but actually the lack of them. Before 1989, the armed forces have always been directly subordinated to the actual highest political leadership, which was above everyday party politics. Consequently, the armed forces too have historically stayed out of everyday politics, with the partial exception of the Communist era, when the army was heavily politicized according to the Soviet model. Nevertheless, the periods when the armed forces became politicized or played an active political role have later always been considered as anomalies by the subsequent political systems. After 1989, along with the democratic transition a full-fledged, functional system of civilian control over the armed forces was established. Early-21st-century norms and practices of civilian control over the Hungarian Defense Forces (HDF) are institutionally fully aligned with the practices of any democratic North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) or European Union (EU) member state in this regard, prohibiting the possibility of any political participation of the HDF or even its members. Legal and institutional checks, as well as the apolitical socialization of service members support this tradition.

Article

Myanmar: Civil–Military Relations in a Tutelary Regime  

Marco Bünte

Myanmar has had one of the longest ruling military regimes in the world. Ruling directly or indirectly for more than five decades, Myanmar’s armed forces have been able to permeate the country’s main political institutions, its economy, and its society. Myanmar is a highly revealing case study for examining the trajectory of civil–military relations over the past seven decades. Myanmar ended direct military rule only in 2011 after the military had become the most powerful institution in society, weakened the political party opposition severely, coopted several ethnic armed groups, and built up a business empire that allowed it to remain financially independent. The new tutelary regime—established in 2011 after proclaiming a roadmap to “discipline flourishing democracy” in 2003, promulgating a new constitution in 2008, and holding (heavily scripted) elections in 2010—allowed a degree of power-sharing between elected civilian politicians and the military for a decade. Although policymaking in economic, financial, and social arenas was transferred to the elected government, the military remained in firm control of external and internal security and continued to be completely autonomous in the management of its own affairs. As a veto power, the military was also able to protect its prerogatives from a position of strength. Despite this dominant position in the government, civil–military relations were hostile and led to a coup in February 2021. The military felt increasingly threatened and humiliated as civilians destroyed the guardrails it had put in place to protect its core interests within the tutelary regime. The military also felt increasingly alienated as the party the military had established repeatedly failed to perform in the elections.

Article

The Republic of the Congo: The Colonial Origins of Military Rule  

Joshua Shaw and Brett Carter

The Republic of Congo secured its independence from France in 1960. The French colonial apparatus bequeathed an ethnically divided society. Native southerners dominated the sprawling civil service and, owing to their demographic advantage, elected Congo’s first two presidents, themselves both southerners. Native northerners, otherwise marginalized economically and politically, dominated the military’s rank and file. This cleavage has animated Congolese politics since. In 1969, a clique of northern military officers toppled the southern-dominated Brazzaville government. Among its members was former paratrooper Denis Sassou Nguesso, who has ruled Congo for all but 5 years since 1979. His tenure has been marked by massive corruption, gross economic mismanagement, and persistent human rights abuses. Accordingly, despite its status as one of Africa’s leading oil producers, Congolese citizens remain among the world’s poorest. To secure his political survival, Sassou Nguesso has used Congo’s longstanding ethnic cleavage as a tool: by directing state resources to northerners and using the northern-dominated military to repress southerners, who, after enduring nearly 50 years of northern rule, are profoundly frustrated.

Article

Guinea: The History of the Military as a Political Actor  

Paul Clarke

The Guinean military was deeply intertwined with political power for the first 50 years after dependence in 1958. Under its founding president, Ahmed Sékou Touré, who led Guinea as a one-party state from 1958 to 1984, it was built with support from the Warsaw Pact and became a small, competent force which supported national development and regional peacekeeping. While Touré politicized the army, it was not an important political actor, and in the end it fell victim to Touré’s brutality. Colonel Lansana Conté seized power after Touré, leading a military dictatorship that fully controlled the government and succumbed to factionalism, corruption, and indiscipline. Conté died in 2008, and within a year, the successor regime had slipped into so much brutality that the military leaders accepted transition to civilian rule, making Guinea a fledging multiparty democracy since 2010, while the military returned to the barracks.