With the majority of recent posts focusing on Indonesia I thought it would be opportune to look at what else is happening in the region.
At the time of writing the biggest event is probably the imminent Presidential election in what is widely regarded as Southeast Asia’s second strongest democracy, the Philippines. Sadly there isn’t much international interest in what happens in the Philippines, and the country’s politics are no exception. Nevertheless some of the potential candidates fit comfortably into a broader and disturbing regional trend.
The divisive Presidential front-runner, Rodrigo Duterte, boasts of his violent intentions and his adultery, has joked favourably about a horrific rape and murder case, and is reputedly linked to death squads that killed hundreds of people.
Among the Vice-Presidential candidates, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, the son of the late dictator, is doing his best to encourage voters to forget the appalling human rights abuses and the billions of embezzled dollars that characterised his father’s period in office. He may be successful in that aim given many Filipinos are now young enough not to have lived through that time.
With such men in charge the Philippines would feel quite at home around the ASEAN table, with previous titleholders for “Most promising democracy in Southeast Asia” including Malaysia, whose slide into authoritarianism is well advanced, and Thailand, which is rapidly giving up on even maintaining a democratic pretence.
Arguably this trend could even be seen as part of a global inclination, with even the US now flirting with Donald Trump’s despotic tendencies as frustration with democratic shortcomings prompts the spectre of its wanton vandalism.
So where else can Filipinos look for democratic inspiration?
Well, once again the Philippines’ giant neighbour to the southwest, Indonesia, has pushed itself to the centre of the story. Indonesia may be frustrating, imperfect and still feeling its way as a growing power free of strongman influences, but this century in Southeast Asia will almost certainly be the Indonesian century.
In any scenario I can think of having the region’s strongest democracy, Indonesia, as the rising power offers the most promising future for human rights in Southeast Asia, but as over 50 million Filipinos across over 5,000 islands prepare to vote there is clearly still a long, long, long way to go for Southeast Asian democracy.