OPINION | Southeast Asia: Political Stability is Crucial for Regional Peace & Security
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OPINION | Southeast Asia: Political Stability is Crucial for Regional Peace & Security

By Niranjan Chandrashekhar Oak

“Today, Southeast Asia is treading a delicate path.Political stability and regional peace are very important to tackle emerging threats of terrorism, refugee crisis and volatile economic situation among others.”

OPINION | Southeast Asia : Political Stability is Crucial for Regional Peace & Security

The threat of terrorism has loomed large over the world’s most populous Muslim country for quite some time, but Indonesia was successful in avoiding major terrorist attacks since 2009 until Jakarta was hit by an Islamic State (IS) linked terror attack, which wounded 20 and left eight dead, including three civilians. The Indonesian security forces did a commendable job of countering the attack and thus limiting civilian casualties. Furthermore, the international community praised the Indonesian government for its handling of the Jakarta attack. But Indonesia being attacked is a reason enough for the country to contemplate regarding future strategies to counter terrorism. There exist some inadequacies in the anti-terrorism laws; therefore, Indonesian President Joko Widodo “Jokowi” is under increasing pressure from various quarters of Indonesia’s security apparatus to strengthen these laws.

Terrorism has emerged as a major challenge before Indonesia at a time when the country is experiencing political transformation. The transformation here is within the spectrum of democracy which Indonesia embraced after the fall of Suharto regime in 1998.Democracy is not new to Indonesia. The country has traversed through various phases of democracy under the names ‘Guided Democracy’ under President Sukarno and the ‘New Order’ government of President Suharto. However, it was only after 1999 that the country started walking on the path of being a genuine democracy after the yet political elites and military continued to occupy top notches of the government. This scenario after the 2014 election results.

President Jokowi is considered as a political outsider because of his humble background.People have great expectations from him owing to his unquestioned probity as the governor of Jakarta. Though recent months have seen voices being raised questioning Jokowi’s political authority vis-à-vis Ms. Sukarnoputri, chief of the Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle (PDI-P), the party he belongs to as well, it will be premature to draw inferences. Jokowi deserves more time to prove his credentials. He is stuck in a position where on one hand he wants to break molds of corruption, nepotism, cronyism and fiscal weakness and on the other hand, he has to toe the party line, which at times has not been complementary with his goals.In the future, he certainly needs to walk a tightrope between the two.

Another country in the region, Myanmar, is undergoing a political transition. The National League for Democracy (NLD) once again secured an unprecedented majority in the 2015 general elections, the first ever truly free and transparent election held since 1990. Back then the military had declared elections as void and usurped power from the democratically elected government. However, things are different this time around. It will be relatively difficult for the military to return to its promise of a smooth democratic transition. Elections have proved that the locus of power has clearly shifted towards NLD. Nevertheless, this comes with the following riders: First, 25 percent seats in the parliament are reserved for the military. Second, the army chief will have the authority to appoint a defense, home, and border affairs minister. Third, a legal channel is provided for the army to impose a state of emergency.However, these very riders may prove to be strong reasons why the army may allow NLD to exercise power.

Ms. Suu Kyi has also emerged as a far more mature and astute politician. Her discretion of speaking about sensitive ethnic issues and taking along some of her old associates has paid off well. She has made it clear that her party has no intention of seeking retribution for past injustices perpetrated by the junta. Her meetings with the departing President Thein Sein, army commander-in-chief Gen. Min Aung Hlaing and the country’s former dictator and influential Senior Gen. Than Shwe are all moves in the right direction. Reconciliation with the military will be the most important factor for a successful democratic transition. Though the road ahead is riddled with a number of challenges, it will be interesting to watch where Ms. Suu Kyi, who considers herself “above the President”, takes the country from here.

The Philippines is all set for an upcoming presidential election in May this year. This will be the sixth presidential election since the country returned to the path of democracy in 1986. The election will be closely monitored by political analysts because of the leading candidates’ contrasting views towards the most significant issue in the region which has potential to become a major flashpoint in 2016—South China Sea. It has become a major election issue. Incumbent President Benigno Aquino III has taken a strong stand against China vis-à-vis disputes in the South China Sea. His desire would be a continuation of this policy. However, Mr. Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, President Benigno’ top choice as his successor, is not performing well in opinion polls. Another contender and presidential favorite Ms. Grace Poe was disqualified by the electoral commission in December 2015. She has appealed against the decision in the Supreme Court. She backs Aquino's stance on China.

On the contrary, the remaining two contenders, Vice President Jejomar Binay and Mr. Rodrigo Duterte, a tough-talking mayor of Davao City in the insurgency-plagued south, have already mellowed down their anti-China tone thus indicating a different China policy. Mr. Binay has gone to the extent of showing an inclination towards joint development in the South China Sea with China while Mr. Duterte has indicated his openness to holding bilateral talks with China to settle their hotly disputed claims in the South China Sea. Therefore, the 2016 election is going to be a watershed moment for this region.

Thailand is another conundrum altogether. The country, currently ruled by the military Junta, has been oscillating between democracy and military rule like a pendulum all these years. The King remains a pillar of Thai politics and a major unifying force for the country. But in recent days the King is not keeping well. His declining health is a major cause of worry for Thai citizens and major political actors. In 1972, the king designated Vajiralongkorn, his only son, as heir to the throne, and according to the current succession law,theParliament should simply ratify the king’s preference after his death. However, Vajiralongkorn is unpopular and has been embroiled in several scandals. Many Thais would prefer his younger sister, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, to inherit the throne. She is seen as humble and down to earth, much like her father. But the current succession law and established practice do not readily allow her to accede to the throne. The succession debate chiefly depends on what role the army plays in this entire situation.

So far, the Monarchy has given legitimacy to the junta rule. But the future of the monarchy looks uncertain. Considering the fact that the respect and reverence that many Thais have for King Bhumibol Adulyadej is specific to him as an individual and not the institution, Thailand is likely to face complex questions like whether or not to continue the tradition of monarchy, the form of monarchy, selection of heir to the king and the role of the military in Thai polity among others. So in all likelihood, there is going to be an intense churning within the country in the near future.

Along with these major countries of the region, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is also in a phase of transition. On December 22, 2015, the Kuala Lumpur Declaration led to the Establishment of a three-pillared ASEAN Community comprising ASEAN Political and Security Community, ASEAN Economic Community and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community. These pillars are complementary to each other. Envisioned initially to commence in 2020, the Leaders of ASEAN countries decided to accelerate the regional integration to 2015 in order to make sure that ASEAN remains the driving force in shaping the constantly evolving regional architecture. This exhibits important ASEAN qualities —to look ahead of the time and to continuously reinvent itself in order to remain relevant in the ever-changing global landscape. There are a lot of opinions whether this community will be ‘successful enough’ or not, but one cannot question the will and the intent of individual states to move in that direction.

Today, Southeast Asia is treading a delicate path. If Jokowi politically consolidates his position amid falling popularity ratings, he stands a better chance to handle Indonesia’s present challenges, such as terrorism, slowing economy and corruption. Myanmar’s second-in-command, deputy commander-in-chief Soe Win reiterated his willingness to keep the army’s powerful position in politics, which is disquieting. It is in the interest of the world community to have a transparent, open, inclusive and democratic Myanmar when the region is facing one of the worst refugee crisis. The new government inPhilippines will decide whether to confront China or take a soft stand towards it regarding the South China Sea. The Thai royal succession issue is still at a hypothetical stage but how Thai society reacts to it remains to be seen. 

Political stability and regional peace are very important to tackle emerging threats of terrorism, refugee crisis and volatile economic situation among others. The two are also important to promote economic integration of the region.Therefore, future political developments in the individual countries hold a key to the region’s peace and stability.

About The Author:

Niranjan Chandrashekhar Oak (B-6751-2016) is a Researcher at Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis, New Delhi, India where he looks after Southeast Asia. He has completed his M.A.(Hons) in Politics from University of Mumbai. South Asia and Southeast Asia are areas of his interest. 

He has published papers and commentaries in the reputed peer reviewed academic journals in the past. Previously he was Research Intern with Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi. Additionally he works as a Researcher, South Asia Desk for Wikistrat, crowd sourced consulting based in Washington DC, United States of America. Twitter ID: @nirokt

Cite This Article:

Chandrashekhar , Niranjan O. "OPINION | Southeast Asia : Political Stability is Crucial for Regional Peace and Security" IndraStra Global 02, no. 02 (2016): 0007. http://www.indrastra.com/2016/02/SITREP-Southeast-Asia-Future-Stability-002-02-2016-0007.html | ISSN 2381-3652 |

AIDN0020220160007/ INDRASTRA / ISSN 2381-3652

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view IndraStra Global