Skip to main content

Croissant, Aurel. “Democracy and Dictatorship in Southeast Asia—Retrospective and Prospective.” In Comparative Politics of Southeast Asia, pp. 491-507. Springer, Cham, 2022.


This final chapter discusses trends in democratization and autocratization in Southeast Asia in the late 20th and early 21st century, the structural vulnerabilities of democracy as well causes of autocratization as well as features of autocratic consolidation in the region. While there were several democratic transitions in the region between 1986 (Philippines) and 2002 (Timor-Leste), none of them resulted in institutionally coherent, liberal democracies. All Southeast Asian democracies remain “defective” and are subject to legitimacy crises, deficiencies in the rule of law, or problems with their sociopolitical structures of representation and integration. Autocrats in the region remain in power if they manage to grant their “winning coalition” and members of the moderate opposition access to private goods but maintain their ability to counter opponents or dissidents by coercive force. Especially the well-institutionalized regime parties in Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam have maintained social stability by balancing elite interests. Successful management of interethnic conflict in Singapore and Malaysia or winning independence in Vietnam, Laos, or Myanmar provide an important additional source of regime legitimacy. In view of the inherent weaknesses of democracy and the resilience of autocracy, it would be naïve to expect too much progress in democratization and democratic governance in this part of the world in the near future. On the contrary, it is likely that democracy in Southeast Asia will be even more on the defensive in the coming years than it has been in the past decade.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.