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National Polities

The focus of this research cluster is processes of democratization at the national level. It raises the question of how Southeast Asia’s new democracies consolidate. What are the driving forces and factors of democratization and what are the main obstacles? What is the interplay between external democratic norms imported to Southeast Asia and extant local political norms? How are external norms localized by the democratizing polity? How strong are cultural and normative path dependencies in these cases? Studies in this cluster center on the interaction between the legislature and the military, explore as to what extent military reform can be perceived as a process of “de-securitization” and examine as to what extent the middle classes are catalysts or obstacles of democratization and take a closer look at the relationship between democracy and patronage networks.

Elites, Networks and Democratization: An Actor-Centered Analysis of Thailand 1932-2006

Ph.D. Candidate: Emma Masterson
Department: Department of Political Science, University of Freiburg
Funding: Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF)
Duration: 2009 - 2014


Symptomatic of other third wave democratizing countries (Huntington, 1991) Thailand has struggled to successfully consolidate a legitimate, democratic and stable political order with military rule continuing to alternate with periods of electoral politics. In over eighty years of Constitutional Monarchy, six civilian phases totalling some thirty years have ensued: 1944-1946, 1969-1971, 1974-1976, 1988-1991, 1992-2006 and 2007-2014. The country's political and economic development has for the greater part taken place under military government. Indeed, the recent 2010 political protests and crackdown have revealed again a divided society with supporters, loyal to competing factions, demonstrating a violence capacity to protect the power network most representative of their interests. This case study aims to understand this political volatility. To do so, it explores some eighty years of political history looking in detail at key actors and events. The methodology builds upon but also departs from traditional historical and cultural approaches by employing the 'analytic narrative,' in the framework closest to Scharpf’s (1997) 'actor-centered institutionalism,' to explicate how choices made by political elites and their networks influence Thailand’s political order. This original deployment of a methodological umbrella approach to explain political dynamics in Thailand is central to this research.   


  • Masterson, Emma in Huotari, Mikko; Rüland, Jürgen and Schlehe, Judith (eds.) (2014) Methodology and Research Practice in Southeast Asian Studies, London: Palgrave. 


Paradox of Success: Authoritarian Legacies and the Problems of Democratization in Thailand

Ph.D. Candidate: Chaiwatt Mansrisuk
Department: Department of Political Science, University of Freiburg
Funding: The Royal Thai Government in cooperation with German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)
Duration: 2009 - 2013


This research project aims at reconsidering of the crisis of democratization process in Thailand. Central to this study is to inquire why new democratic regimes in Thailand have faced authoritarian regression time and again, and why democracy in Thailand cannot be consolidated. In particular, it asks why public commitment to (political/electoral) liberal democracy among Thai urban middle classes had remarkably swung swiftly to a very low degree since the breakout of popular campaigns against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra from 2005 onwards. Focusing on urban middle classes is crucial because they are expectantly regarded by conventional wisdom as by-product of rapid economic development, and the drivers of democratization. Their roles in recent political crises, however, were evidence for their refusal to accept the principle of “democracy as the only game in town.”

By utilizing process tracing as a pivotal method, the research will comprehensively explore the regime emergence in post-transitional periods by contrasting it to the pre-transitional regime and the political regime throughout the transition phase. Four critical factors are usually identified in the transition literature as leading to the success of transition: (1) the pattern of economic development (state-led development), (2) the non-repressive nature of the authoritarian regime (the nature of authoritarian regime), (3) the trajectory of regime transition, and (4) cultural and ideational elements. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, once the transition phase had been completed and Thai politics moved into democratic consolidation, these factors turned out to become critical hurdles in the process of consolidating Thai democracy. In the post-transition period, contradictory impacts of these factors had manifested shifting into covert potential for the revitalization of the “authoritarian legacies” that would turn Thai politics into authoritarian regression. This research project investigates such paradoxical impacts of otherwise supportive factors to democracy and aims to shed light into the political and ideational circumstances in post-transitional periods that enabled a too low degree of public commitment to democracy among urban middle classes.


  • Mansrisuk, Chaiwatt (2017): Successful Transition, Failed Consolidation: Historical Legacies and Problems of Democratization in Thailand, PhD diss., University of Freiburg.


Securitization vs. Desecuritization. Dynamics of the State under the Democratic Transition Process: A Case Study of Indonesia since 1998

Ph.D. Candidate: Yandry Kurniawan Kasim
Department: Department of Political Science, University of Freiburg
Funding: Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD)
Duration: 2009 - 2013


The Indonesian democratic transition has shown that there are inherent problems behind the process and that the transition has its own security dynamics that need to be addressed. The evidence can be identified both from the outbreak of horizontal and vertical conflicts, as well as the increasing challenge from transnational threats within the Indonesian territory. This evidence has confirmed one important premise of democratization studies. That is, contrary to most expectations at the beginning of the transition, the democratization process turns out to be more connected to conflict rather than to peace. During the transition process, the diminished domestic legitimacy of the state is the main cause that leads to such a deteriorating situation. Therefore, states undergoing such problematic transitions have to re-arrange its security governance to deal with security issues, in accordance with democratic principles.

The re-arrangement of security governance in Indonesia has been conducted through an on-going process of security sector reform (SSR) since 1998. The initial process of SSR in Indonesia has actually begun with the military reform in order to create military disengagement from political, economic and social life in the context of long-term democratization process. Furthermore, this research argues that the military reform as well as the larger frame of SSR in Indonesia has aimed to terminate the state of emergency and begin to deal with differing political issues within the normality of day-to-day politics. In this context, one of the cornerstone aspects of re-arranging security governance in Indonesia is how to de-politicize and de-securitize its highly-cost consuming internal political disputes.

Based on the above mentioned argument, this research attempts to provide theoretical and empirical evidence relating to: (1) the democratization of the security governance; (2) the discursive dynamics of securitization - desecuritization; and (3) the effects of securitization - desecuritization dynamics on the development of democratic security governance. Case studies will be conducted in Aceh and Ambon.


  • Kurniawan, Yandry (2017): The Politics of Securitization in Democratic Indonesia. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.


Parliaments and Security Sector Governance. A Comparative Study of Indonesia and Nigeria

Project Director: Prof. Dr. Jürgen Rüland
Principle Researcher: Dr. Maria-Gabriela Manea
Cooperation: Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) Geneva, Universitas Indonesia, Policy Analysis and Research Project (PARP) and the National Assembly, Abuja, Nigeria. 

German Foundation for Peace Research

Duration: November 2007 - October 2009

This research project studied security sector governance in newly democratizing countries. It proceeded from the assumption that democratic consolidation is more likely to occur, if potential “veto” players like the military are co-opted into the new democratic order. Hence, civilian supremacy and democratic oversight of the armed forces are important prerequisites for successful democratic consolidation. Due to their oversight and budgetary functions, a key role in this process is attached to parliament’s. The role of legislatures in “civilizing” and “democratizing” the armed forces in the process of democratic transition is thus the main objective of this research project. It examined under which conditions and to what extent parliaments effectively engage the military and eventually contribute to the latter’s transformation. Apart from that, it explores the strategies applied by legislatures to influence policymaking in security fields and to oversee the military. The study follows a comparative design and draws from empirical research in Indonesia and Nigeria.


  • Rüland, Jürgen; Manea, Maria-Gabriela & Born, Hans (eds.) (2013), The Politics of Military Reform. Experiences from Indonesia and Nigeria, Heidelberg: Springer. 


Parliaments in Asia

Project Director: Prof. Dr. Jürgen Rüland
Principle Researcher: Dr. Michael Nelson, Dr. Patrick Ziegenhain, Clemens Jürgenmeyer, M.A.
Funding: Konrad-Adenauer Foundation
Duration: May 2001 - May 2003

Studies of parliaments in non-Western countries and, in particular, Asia are rare. The conventional wisdom is that they are merely rubber stamps in authoritarian regimes and their impact on political decision-making is limited. With the Third Wave of democratization reaching Asia in the 1980s and 1990s, these certainties eroded.
Inspired by four major theoretical discourses, namely, neo-institutionalism, Linz’ presidentialism critique, Lijphart’s distinction between majoritarian and consensus democracy, and transition theory, the project examined the specific role of parliaments in political decision-making, regime change, democratization, and consolidation of democracy in a comparative perspective. Cases chosen were either established democracies such as India or countries that have undergone democratic transitions such as the Philippines, South Korea, Indonesia and Thailand.
The project findings suggest that parliaments indeed play a greater role in political decision-making of their respective countries than is often assumed and that there is no cogent causal relationship between parliamentary performance and system of government.
  • Rüland, Jürgen; Jürgenmeyer, Clemens; Nelson, Michael H. & Ziegenhain, Patrick (2005), Parliaments and Political Change in Asia. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
  • Ziegenhain, Patrick (2008), The Indonesian Parliament and Democratization. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
  • Rüland, Jürgen (2003), “Constitutional Debates in the Philippines. From Presidentialism to Parliamentarianism?” Asian Survey XLIII (3), 461-484.


New Religious Movements in the Philippines and their Political Impact

Project Director: Prof. Dr. Jürgen Rüland
Principle Researcher: Dr. Christl Kessler
Funding: Academic Working Group for World Church Affairs of the German Catholic Bishop Conference
Duration: May 2001 - May 2003
Evangelical and Pentecostal churches have grown worldwide in the last decades. In the Philippines, this growth has not resulted in a decrease of the Catholic faithful, but in a Pentecostalization of Philippine Protestant Churches and the Philippine Catholic Church as well. In terms of numbers, the Catholic Charismatic movement is by far outnumbering the adherents of Evangelical and Pentecostal churches. This project explores the surge of Charismatic and Pentecostal Christianity using data from a nationwide survey with interviews and observations among Pentecostal churches and Catholic Charismatic groups. The authors question common perceptions of Charismatic Christians as underprivileged masses and depict the Charismatic success as a genuinely religious phenomenon, which nevertheless might have political repercussions. They transfer the concept of political populism to the religious sphere and explain the attractiveness and the ambivalences of Charismatic religion with the properties of populism. The potential political ramifications of the Charismatic success are ambiguous: it has the potential to strengthen the legitimacy of democratic institutions in the Philippines as well as the potential to foster theocratic attitudes.
  • Kessler, Christl & Rüland, Jürgen (2008), Give Jesus a Hand! Charismatic Christians: Populist Religion and Politics in the Philippines, Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.
  • Kessler, Christl & Rüland, Jürgen (2006), “Responses to Rapid Social Change: Populist Religion in the Philippines,” Pacific Affairs 79 (1), 73-96.
In 2007, Pacific Affairs awarded Christl Kessler and Jürgen Rüland the William L. Holland Prize for the best article in 2006.

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