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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

Crisis Governance, Emergency Management, and the Digital Revolution  

Patrick S. Roberts, Shalini Misra, and Joanne Tang

Digital technologies have fundamentally altered emergency and crisis management work through increased potential for role ambiguity, role conflict, distraction, and overload. Multilevel approaches to improve congruence between crisis managers and their environments have the potential to reduce cognitive and organizational barriers and improve decision making. The future of crisis management lies in reducing the misalignment between personal, proximal, and distal environmental conditions.

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

Thailand: Camouflaged Khakistocracy in Civil–Military Relations  

Paul W. Chambers

The history of civil–military relations in Thailand has paralleled the gradual post-1980 primacy of monarchical power over the country. Until 1932, the monarchy ruled absolute across Siam (Thailand). From 1932 until 1980, the military held more clout than the monarchy (though the palace slowly increased its influence after 1957). Since 1980, monarchy and military have dominated the country with the military as junior partner. The two form a khakistocracy: the military’s uniform color of khaki combined with the aristocracy (monarchy). Though there have been brief instances of elected civilian governments, all were overthrown by the military. In fact, Thailand likely holds the record for the highest number of military putsches in the world. Since the death of King Bhumipol Adulyadej in 2016, the clout of the armed forces has become more centralized under his successor and son King Maha Vajiralongkorn. At the same time, post-2019 Prime Minister (and post-2014 junta leader) General Prayuth Chanocha has sought to entrench military power across Thailand. As a result, in 2021, the monarchy and military continue to enhance authoritarian rule as a khakistocracy camouflaged behind the guise of a charade form of democracy. Civil–military relations represent exclusively a partnership between the monarch and the armed forces.

Article

Regulatory Governance: History, Theories, Strategies, and Challenges  

David Levi-Faur, Yael Kariv-Teitelbaum, and Rotem Medzini

Regulation, that is, rulemaking, rule monitoring, and rule enforcement, is both a key policy and legal instrument and a pillar of the institutions that demarcate political, social, and economic lives. It is commonly defined as a sustained and focused control mechanism over valuable activities using direct and indirect rules. Most frequently, regulation is associated with the activity of public independent regulatory agencies, designed to promote economic, social, risk-management, integrity, or moral goals. Since the 1990s, more and more states worldwide are establishing such agencies and placing more emphasis on the use of authority, rules, and standard-setting, thus partially displacing earlier emphasis on public ownerships and directly provided services. Alongside this rise of the “regulatory state,” the expansion of regulation is also reflected in the rapidly growing variety of regulatory regimes that involves nonstate actors, such as private regulation, self-regulation, and civil regulation. Regulatory regimes can be explained and assessed from three theoretical perspectives: public-interest theories, private-interest theories, and institutional theories. Each perspective shines a different light on the motivations of the five regulatory actors: rule-makers, rule intermediaries, rule-takers, rule beneficiaries, and citizens. Over the years, diverse regulatory strategies evolved, including: prescriptive strategies that attempt to mandate adherence in precise terms what is required from the rule-takers; performance-based strategies that set in advance only the required outcomes; and process-based strategies that attempt to influence the internal incentives and norms of rule-takers. Although it appears that regulation is here to stay as a keystone of society, it still faces fundamental challenges of effectiveness, democratic control, and fairness.

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

Burkina Faso: Military Responses to Popular Pressures  

Daniel Eizenga

Burkina Faso’s military holds an important place in politics. It has intervened in Burkina Faso’s politics, temporarily taking power seven times, first in 1966 and most recently in 2015. Military officers have long held many of the most prominent political offices, and military coups d’état have been the most common method of transferring political power in Burkina Faso. Military interventions have typically addressed moments of political failure and widespread civil unrest. Political agitation from different groups in civil society has pressured every government that has come to power, and the government’s ability to manage these popular pressures has been a key feature in the military’s relationship with any given regime. This was particularly the case in the 1980s, when ideological divisions within the military resulted in four coups d’état, but it was also of consequential importance during Burkina Faso’s 2014–2015 political transition. The 27-year rule of Blaise Compaoré set in motion a process of institutional reform that expanded civilian authority over the administration of the military. However, it also saw the rise of preferential treatment for certain units of the military, in particular the presidential guard, which provided protection to the regime during moments of civil unrest until 2014. The gradual liberalization of the political system culminated in unprecedented civil unrest in 2014, and Compaoré was ousted from power in what is commonly referred to as a popular insurrection. The political transition following the events of 2014 led to the first peaceful transfer of power between civilian governments in Burkina Faso’s history and marked a potential shift in the military’s relationship with politics. The military’s political role in Burkina Faso often has been dictated by popular pressures on the political system, but gradual democratic reforms during the 1990s and 2000s helped to inculcate norms of civilian control over the military. While much remains to be seen about the future of Burkina Faso’s military in politics, the opportunity for the country’s political institutions to manage popular pressures on its government may indicate a new era of civilian governance and at least the possibility of reducing the military’s interference in politics.

Article

Rwanda: Civil–Military Relations  

Marco Jowell

The army has been a central part of Rwanda’s political system from the precolonial period until the early 21st century and is intrinsically part of the construction and politics of the state. Civil–military relations in Rwanda demonstrate not only the central features of transitioning a rebel group to a national defense sector but also how some states construct their armed forces after a period of mass violence. Since the civil war and genocide in the early 1990s, the Rwandan military has been the primary actor in politics, the economy, and state building as well as in regional wars in central Africa and the Great Lakes region. Practical experiences of guerrilla insurgency and conflict in Uganda and Rwanda, postconflict military integration, and the intertwining of political and economic agendas with the ruling party have shaped civil–military relations in Rwanda and have been central to how the Rwandan defense sector functions. Contemporary Rwandan civil–military relations center around the two elements of service delivery and control, which has resulted in the development of an effective and technocratic military in terms of remit and responsibilities on the one hand, and the creation of a politicized force of coercion on the other hand. The military in Rwanda therefore reflects the pressures and dynamics of the wider state and cannot be separated from it. The Rwandan army is thus a “political army” and is part and parcel of the political structures that oversee and govern the Rwandan state.

Article

Costa Rica: Demilitarization and Democratization  

John A. Booth

An isolated Spanish frontier settlement with little or no significant mineral wealth, exportable crops, or exploitable indigenous population, colonial Costa Rica had only a rudimentary military. After independence in 1825, the population expanded and diversified as coffee cultivation generated growing wealth. Competing factions of the emergent coffee bourgeoisie fought to control the emerging state using elite-linked military officers to seize ruling power. Modernization and an external threat from Nicaragua and U.S. freebooters at mid-19th century led nation-building leaders to invest heavily in the army. Victorious in the 1856–1857 National War in Nicaragua, the military attained maximum size and power from 1870 to 1920 while oligarchic factions disputed ruling authority via fraudulent elections and coups d’état. Integration into the world economy deepened with banana production after 1890. Subsequent recessions and wars generated domestic economic inequality and a growing labor movement demanding reform. Civilian rule in the early 20th century was interrupted by the military regime of Federico Tinoco (1917–1919), whose atrocities led his civilian successors to almost dismantle the army. When a civil war erupted in 1948 against the divided, Communist-allied reformist government of the 1940s, the rebels defeated the army. The victorious National Liberation junta and new constitution abolished the army in 1949. Costa Rica committed to a police-based security model, nonaggression toward neighbors, and reliance on international alliances. Meanwhile, elites, spared the menace of military disruption, developed a successful electoral democratic regime. This has contributed to seven decades of political stability and allowed Costa Rica to invest successfully in economic development and its citizens’ welfare.

Article

Honduras: All-Purpose Militarization  

Kristina Mani

The Honduran military has a long history of established roles oriented toward both external defense and internal security and civic action. Since the end of military rule in 1982, the military has remained a key political, economic, and social actor. Politically, the military retains a constitutional mandate as guarantor of the political system and enforcer of electoral rules. Economically, its officers direct state enterprises and manage a massive pension fund obscured from public audit. Socially, the military takes on numerous civic action tasks—building infrastructure, conserving forests, providing healthcare, and policing crime—that make the state appear to be useful to its people and bring the military into direct contact with the public almost daily. As a result, the military has ranked high in public trust in comparison with other institutions of the state. Most significantly, the military has retained the role of arbiter in the Honduran political system. This became brutally clear in the coup of 2009 that removed the elected president, Manuel Zelaya. Although new rules enhancing civilian control of the military had been instituted during the 1990s, the military’s authority in politics was restored through the coup that ousted Zelaya. As no civilian politician can succeed without support for and from the military, the missions of the armed forces have expanded substantially so that the military is an “all-purpose” institution within a remarkably weak and increasingly corrupt state.