A Sea Change in SEA Countries

Southeast Asia (SEA) countries have been seeing tremendous upheavals especially for these past two years. The political events taking place in these various countries have marked a sea change in the region with the same message: shaking the Establishments. Thailand, Myanmar, and Malaysia have been facing recent challenges from their people – the Philippines soon too.

Thailand witnessed a military coup two years ago with the generals’ expectations that the country would not be ruled by Thaksin any longer. Thaksin was perceived as a rising threat to the Establishment. In addition to this, he represented no more than corrupt conglomerates who has traditionally plundered national wealth. The military and the King are the two strong political institutions in Thailand which have been considered as the bureaucratic polity that has a very influential role and power.

But last year’s December election showed that their power and influences seem to be diminishing. Diminishing very sharply. Thaksin’s newly-founded party, People’s Power Party, won the majority of the seats in parliament, unexpected by the generals. Most of the supports came from the peasants in the Northern Thailand who have indentified themselves being benefited during Thaksin’s rule due to direct financial help from the central government to villages.

Now, the PPP’s chairman, Samak Sundaravej, who is Thaksin’s closed ally, is running the country. Parallel with Thaksin, Samak represented the same type of conglomerate. In short, bureaucratic polity in Thailand has been fading away.

General Shwe’s regime in Myanmar has also been questioned and even challenged hard by its people, especially and surprisingly by the monks since end of last year. Saffron revolution, as The Economist magazine called of the monks’ anti-junta movement, managed to mobilise Myanmar people nationwide and opened the eyes of the world that the junta’s ruling has been inhumanely oppressive.

The Establishment in Malaysia led by PM Abdullah Badawi has also recently been resisted by growing oppositions led by former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim and also fanned by the Indian ethnics’ protests for the past few months. The decades-ruling of hegemonic UMNO in Malaysia was perceived as unjust to the multiethnic nation and has only privileged national elites in the coalition organization.

Each of these countries surely has its own political characteristics. This would bring different consequences to the respective countries. Thailand might now see a new political setting with the ascendancy of businessman into politics. But if Thaksin’s style of meddling business in politics continues to happen under Samak’s ruling without giving real policies to the peasants or to go unchecked by the parliament, there is always a possibility that another volatility would arise again.

What about Myanmar and Malaysia? The former country just announced that it would hold election by 2010 but most of the Myanmar people were just skeptical about it. International community called it just a joke because it would in the end be a democracy under fear. Whereas the latter country now is about to hold its election in the near future. Let’s see what is going to unfold in this Islamic state. Seems that the opposition might just lose again but would get a new stronger political grips in the society.

Wallahualam bi shawab.

P. S: Can’t wait to see what is going to happen in Indonesia’s election next year.

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