In This Review

Democracy and Development in Southeast Asia: The Winds of Change
Democracy and Development in Southeast Asia: The Winds of Change
By Clark D. Neher and Ross Marlay
Westview, 1996, 220 pp.

The ten countries of Southeast Asia are compared in terms of development of democratic processes. According to the authors--both well-informed specialists--Thailand has moved furthest toward democracy, and the Philippines has regained and Malaysia sustained semidemocratic status. The other states in the region vary between partial and full-blown authoritarianism.

Individual chapters on each country are solid. For the most part, they demonstrate the substantial constraints on democratization almost everywhere. The main problem with the book is the excessive resort to culture as the decisive variable to explain--or explain away--almost everything. Many of these authoritarian states are, for example, called "Asian democracies" because, according to the authors, "some Southeast Asian nations are fashioning their own distinctive democracies, adapting those aspects of Western government appropriate to their culture and rejecting others." It is by no means clear that suppression of dissent and opposition is appropriate to any culture. If the authors had simply argued, as Samuel Huntington has done, that certain cultural traditions remain an obstacle to democracy, they might have been closer to the mark.