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Democratization and political reform in the Asia-Pacific: is there an 'Asian model" of institutional design?



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Democratization and Political Reform in the

Asia-Pacific: Is There an ‘Asian Model’ of

Institutional Design?

Dr Benjamin Reilly

Asia Pacific School of Economics and Government

Australian National University

Canberra ACT 0200

AUSTRALIA

Refereed paper presented to the

Australasian Political Studies Association Conference

University of Adelaide

29 September - 1 October 2004

Benjamin Reilly: Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific

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Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific: Is There an

‘Asian Model’ of Institutional Design?

ABSTRACT: One of the little-noticed consequences of the democratization of

the Asia-Pacific has been reforms to key political institutions such as electoral

systems, political parties, and parliaments. I argue that, across the region,

these reforms have been motivated by common aims of increasing

government stability, reducing political fragmentation, and limiting the

potential for ethnic politics. As a result, similar strategies of institutional

design are evident in areas such as the increasing prevalence of ‘mixed-

member majoritarian’ electoral systems, attempts to develop aggregative

political party systems, and constraints upon the formation of small, ethnic or

regional parties. I argue that these political reforms have increasingly

converged on an identifiable "Asian model" of institutional design.

Benjamin Reilly: Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific

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Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific: Is There an

‘Asian Model’ of Institutional Design?

The past decade has been a period of major political reform in the Asia-Pacific

region. More governments are elected in competitive, freely contested

elections today than ever before. Thailand and the Philippines now appear to

have joined Japan, South Korea and Taiwan as genuine competitive

democracies. In addition, both Indonesia and East Timor have navigated the

initial challenges of democratization by holding successful transitional

elections. All of this represents a dramatic change in the nature of Asian

regimes: from what a decade ago was a region dominated by authoritarian

governments, there is now a clear trend towards democracy being the

accepted means for choosing and changing a country’s political leadership.1

One consequence of this movement towards democracy has been the reform

of democratic institutions such as electoral systems. Electoral systems

represent a particularly important democratic institution because they

determine how votes won in an election are translated into seats won in

parliament, and are the central ‘rule of the game’ affecting who governs. The

formative role of elections in shaping broader norms of political behaviour

means that they are also “the most specific manipulable instrument of

1 See John Fuh-Sheng Hsieh and David Newman (eds) 2002, How Asia Votes, Chatham House

Publishers, New York.

Benjamin Reilly: Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific

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politics”2, and can be designed to achieve specific objectives and outcomes.

Thus Lijphart writes that “if one wants to change the nature of a particular

democracy, the electoral system is likely to be the most suitable and effective

instrument for doing so”.3

This paper argues that many of the electoral system changes in the Asia-

Pacific region in recent years have attempted exactly this kind of political

manipulation, via the common aim of reducing instability by promoting

cohesive political parties and limiting party fragmentation. These have been

driven by several distinctive patterns of political reform across the region,

including the increasing prevalence of mixed-member electoral systems, the

distinctively majoritarian nature of these systems, and attempts to engineer

political party systems. The nature and similarities of these reforms are such

that they constitute an emerging ‘Asian model’ of institutional design.

Democratization in the Asia-Pacific

The democratization of East Asia deserves to be seen as a historic shift in the

region’s affairs.4 Major transitions from authoritarian rule towards democracy

began with the “people power” uprising in the Philippines in 1986 and the

negotiated transitions to democracy in South Korea and Taiwan in 1987,

before moving on to Thailand in 1992, Cambodia in 1993, Indonesia in 1998,

2 Sartori, G. 1968, ‘Political Development and Political Engineering’, Public Policy, 17, p. 273.

3 Lijphart, A. 1995, ‘Electoral Systems’, in S.M. Lipset (ed), The Encyclopedia of Democracy, Congressional

Quarterly Press, Washington DC., p. 412.

Benjamin Reilly: Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific

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and East Timor (following international intervention) in 2001. Of course, not

all of these transitions to democracy are assured, and the democratization

wave is far from universal: politics in China, for one, remains firmly under the

control of the Communist Party, despite an economic transformation.

Likewise, Vietnam, Burma, Laos and North Korea have shown little sign of

adopting democracy.

There are significant regional variations in the extent and timing of

democratization across the region. In North Asia, the democratic triumvirate

of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are some of the longest-established

democracies in East Asia -- and Japan deserves to be seen as being in a class of

its own given that it has been a stable (if remarkably non-competitive)

democracy for almost 50 years. If “democratic consolidation” is a measure of

the staying-power of democratic rule, then this group could be considered to

be consolidated democracies: it is unlikely that democracy could be

overturned in any of these countries. For example, it is notable that South

Korea, despite the severe economic difficulties it suffered as a result of the

Asian economic downturn, has shown no signs of flirting with a return to

authoritarianism -- and in fact elected the region’s foremost democracy

activist, Kim Dae Jung, as its President in 1997.

4 See Lee, J. 2002. ‘Primary Causes of Asian Democratization’, Asian Survey 42(6):821-837.

Benjamin Reilly: Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific

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Turning to South-East Asia, the Philippines and Thailand are now clearly the

two best-established democracies amongst the ASEAN member states. Both,

for example, have experienced successive elections and, importantly, peaceful

turnovers of government as a result of the electoral process. Depending on

how the ongoing process of democracy unfolds, Indonesia may join this club

at some stage in the next decade. It will hold its second consecutive free

election in 2004. There is also the case of East Timor - a new democracy born

out of the crucible of a liberation struggle and international intervention, but

which appears to be moving quite quickly to becoming one of the region’s

firmly democratic states. However, while the democratization of all of these

countries is proceeding rapidly, none could yet be said to be truly

consolidated in the sense of democracy being considered the “only game in

town” and any reversion from it unthinkable.5

Then there are the semi-democratic or ‘soft’ authoritarian regimes, principally

Malaysia and Singapore - neither of which have experienced a turnover of

power since independence, but both of which maintain regular and fraud-free

electoral processes. In these cases, the fairness of the electoral process is

biased not through outright manipulation as much as via restrictions on

opposition parties’ right to campaign openly, a compliant judiciary and a pro-

government press. Cambodia should probably be seen as a borderline

5 This is the definition suggested by Adam Przeworski 1991, Democracy and the Market, Cambridge

University Press, Cambridge.

Benjamin Reilly: Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific

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member of this group, due to the violence and intimidation that accompanied

the flawed 1998 and (to a lesser extent) 2003 elections there.

Finally, there are the ongoing outright authoritarian regimes in the region -

North Korea, China, Vietnam, Brunei, Laos and Burma/Myanmar - in which

elections are either not held at all, or do not involve a contest for actual

political power. Although some democratic reforms and innovations are

taking place amongst this group (opposition candidates have been allowed to

contest elections in Laos, for example, while competitive village-level

elections have been held in China), in general elections in these countries are

empty and stage-managed exercises. I will therefore not be dealing with the

electoral systems of these countries in this paper.

Probably the best-known measure of democracy is the annual rankings of civil and

political rights produced by the US private foundation Freedom House. The Freedom

House rankings for the Asia-Pacific in the 30 years from 1972 to 2002 are shown at

Table One, and tend to support the other judgements. Using the Freedom House

criteria, five countries - Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand -

are ranked as “free”. East Timor, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore are all adjudged

as “partly free”, although their trajectories run in different directions, with Indonesia

and East Timor having improved their rankings while Malaysia and Singapore have

regressed. The others - Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, China, North Korea, Laos, and

Vietnam -- are all adduced as being “not free”, although again there is enormous

variation within this group, with some countries having held at least partly free

Benjamin Reilly: Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific

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elections in the 1990s (eg Cambodia) while others remain completely dominated by

authoritarian rule (eg North Korea).

Benjamin Reilly: Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific

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Table One: Freedom House Rankings of Political Rights and Civil Liberties in the Asia-Pacific, 1972-2002

Year Brunei Burma Cambodia China E. Timor Indonesia Japan Korea, N. Korea, S. Laos Malaysia Philippines Singapore Taiwan Thaila nd Vietnam 1972-73 6,5,NF 7,5,NF 6,5,NF 7,7,NF - 5,5,PF 2,1,F 7,7,NF 5,6,NF 5,5,PF 2,3,F 4,6,PF 5,5,PF 6,5,NF 7,5,NF - 1973-74 6,5,NF 7,5,NF 6,5,NF 7,7,NF - 5,5,PF 2,1,F 7,7,NF 4,6,PF 5,5,PF 2,3,F 5,5,PF 5,5,PF 6,5,NF 6,3,PF - 1974-75 6,5,NF 7,5,NF 6,6,NF 7,7,NF - 5,5,PF 2,1,F 7,7,NF 5,6,PF 5,5,PF 3,3,PF 5,5,PF 5,5,PF 6,5,NF 5,3,PF -

1975-76 6,5,NF 6,6,NF 7,7,NF 7,7,NF - 5,5,PF 2,1,F 7,7,NF 5,5,PF 6,6,NF 3,4,PF 5,5,PF 5,5,PF 6,5,NF 2,3,F -

1976-77 6,5,NF 6,6,NF 7,7,NF 7,7,NF - 5,5,PF 2,1,F 7,7,NF 5, 6,NF 7,7,NF 3,4,PF 5,5,PF 5,5,PF 5,5,PF 6,6,NF 7,7,NF

1977-78 6,5,NF 7,6,NF 7,7,NF 6,6,NF - 5,5,PF 2,1,F 7,7,NF 5, 5,PF 7,7,NF 3,4,PF 5,5,PF 5,5,PF 5,4,PF 6,5,NF 7,7,NF

1978-79 6,5,NF 7,6,NF 7,7,NF 6,6,NF - 5,5,PF 2,1,F 7,7,NF 5, 5,PF 7,7,NF 3,3,PF 5,5,PF 5,5,PF 5,4,PF 6,4,PF 7,7,NF

1979-80 6,5,NF 7,6,NF 7,7,NF 6,5,NF - 5,5,PF 2,1,F 7,7,NF 4, 5,PF 7,7,NF 3,4,PF 5,5,PF 5,5,PF 5,5,PF 4,3,PF 7,7,NF

1980-81 6,5,NF 7,6,NF 7,7,NF 6,6,NF - 5,5,PF 1,1,F 7,7,NF 5, 6,PF 7,7,NF 3,4,PF 5,5,PF 5,5,PF 5,6,PF 3,4,PF 7,7,NF

1981-82 6,5,NF 7,6,NF 7,7,NF 6,6,NF - 5,5,PF 1,1,F 7,7,NF 5, 6,PF 7,7,NF 3,4,PF 5,5,PF 4,5,PF 5,5,PF 3,4,PF 7,7,NF

1982-83 6,5,NF 7,6,NF 7,7,NF 6,6,NF - 5,5,PF 1,1,F 7,7,NF 5, 6,PF 7,7,NF 3,4,PF 5,4,PF 4,5,PF 5,5,PF 3,4,PF 7,6,NF

1983-84 6,5,NF 7,7,NF 7,7,NF 6,6,NF - 5,5,PF 1,1,F 7,7,NF 5, 6,PF 7,7,NF 3,4,PF 5,5,PF 4,5,PF 5,5,PF 3,4,PF 7,6,NF

1984-85 6,6,NF 7,7,NF 7,7,NF 6,6,NF - 5,6,PF 1,1,F 7,7,NF 5, 5,PF 7,7,NF 3,5,PF 4,4,PF 4,5,PF 5,5,PF 3,4,PF 7,6,NF

1985-86 6,5,PF 7,7,NF 7,7,NF 6,6,NF - 5,6,PF 1,1,F 7,7,NF 4,5,PF 7,7,NF 3,5,PF 4,3,PF 4,5,PF 5,5,PF 3,4,PF 7,7,NF

1986-87 6,5,PF 7,7,NF 7,7,NF 6,6,NF - 5,6,PF 1,1,F 7,7,NF 4,5,PF 7,7,NF 3,5,PF 4,2,PF 4,5,PF 5,5,PF 3,3,PF 7,7,NF

1987-88 6,5,PF 7,7,NF 7,7,NF 6,6,NF - 5,6,PF 1,1,F 7,7,NF 4,4,PF 7,7,NF 3,5,PF 2,2,F 4,5,PF 5,4,PF 3,3,PF 6,7,NF

1988-89 6,6,NF 7,6,NF 7,7,NF 6,6,NF - 5,5,PF 1,1,F 7,7,NF 2,3,F 6,6,NF 4,5,PF 2,3,F 4,5,PF 5,3,PF 3,3,PF 6,7,NF

1989-90 6,6,NF 7,7,NF 7,7,NF 7,7,NF - 5,5,PF 1,1,F 7,7,NF 2,3,F 6,7,NF 5,4,PF 2,3,F 4,4,PF 4,3,PF 2,3,F 7,7,NF

1990-91 6,5,NF 7,7,NF 7,7,NF 7,7,NF - 6,5,PF 1,1,F 7,7,NF 2,3,F 6,7,NF 5,4,PF 3,3,PF 4,4,PF 3,3,PF 2,3,F 7,7,NF

1991-92 6,5,NF 7,7,NF 6,6,NF 7,7,NF - 6,5,PF 1,2,F 7,7,NF 2,3,F 6,7,NF 5,4,PF 3,3,PF 4,4,PF 5,5,PF 6,4,PF 7,7,NF

1992-93 7,6,NF 7,7,NF 6,6,NF 7,7,NF - 6,5,PF 1,2,F 7,7,NF 2,3,F 7,6,NF 5,4,PF 3,3,PF 4,5,PF 3,3,PF 3,4,PF 7,7,NF

1993-94 7,6,NF 7,7,NF 4,5,PF 7,7,NF - 7,6,NF 2,2,F 7,7,NF 2,2,F 7,6,NF 4,5,PF 3,4,PF 5,5,PF 4,4,PF 3,5,PF 7,7,NF

1994-95 7,6,NF 7,7,NF 4,5,PF 7,7,NF - 7,6,NF 2,2,F 7,7,NF 2,2,F 7,6,NF 4,5,PF 3,4,PF 5,5,PF 3,3,PF 3,5,PF 7,7,NF

1995-96 7,5,NF 7,7,NF 6,6,NF 7,7,NF - 7,6,NF 1,2,F 7,7,NF 2,2,F 7,6,NF 4,5,PF 2,4,PF 5,5,PF 3,3,PF 3,4,PF 7,7,NF

1996-97 7,5,NF 7,7,NF 6,6,NF 7,7,NF - 7,5,NF 1,2,F 7,7,NF 2,2,F 7,6,NF 4,5,PF 2,3,F 4,5,PF 2,2,F 3,3,PF 7,7,NF

1997-98 7,5,NF 7,7,NF 7,6,NF 7,7,NF - 7,5,NF 1,2,F 7,7,NF 2,2,F 7,6,NF 4,5,PF 2,3,F 5,5,PF 2,2,F 3,3,PF 7,7,NF

1998-99 7,5,NF 7,7,NF 6,6,NF 7,6,NF - 6,4,PF 1,2,F 7,7,NF 2,2,F 7,6,NF 5,5,PF 2,3,F 5,5,PF 2,2,F 2,3,F 7,7,NF

1999-00 7,5,NF 7,7,NF 6,6,NF 7,6,NF 6,4,PF 4,4,PF 1,2,F 7, 7,NF 2,2,F 7,6,NF 5,5,PF 2,3,F 5,5,PF 2,2,F 2,3,F 7,7,NF

2000-01 7,5,NF 7,7,NF 6,6,NF 7,6,NF 6,3,PF 3,4,PF 1,2,F 7, 7,NF 2,2,F 7,6,NF 5,5,PF 2,3,F 5,5,PF 1,2,F 2,3,F 7,6,NF

2001-02 7,5 NF 7,7 NF 6,5 NF 7,6 NF 5,3 PF 3,4 PF 1,2 F 7, 7 NF 2,2 F 7,7 NF 5,5 PF 2,3 F 5,5 PF 1,2 F 2,3 F 7,6 NF

Note: The characters representing scores for each year are, from left to right, political rights, civil liberties, and freedom status. Each of the first two is measured on a one-to-seven scale, with one representing the hi ghest degree of freedom and seven the lowest. “F,” “PF,” and “NF” respectively stand for “free,” “partly free,” and “not free.” Countries whose combined averages for political rights and for civil liberties fall betw een 1.0 and 2.5 are designated "free"; between 3.0 and 5.5 “partly free”; and between 5.5 and 7.0 “not free.” Source: Freedom House (http: //www.freedomhouse.org/research /freeworld/FHSCORES.xls.)

Benjamin Reilly: Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific

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Despite their marked differences in levels of democracy and democratic

consolidation, there has been a convergence in patterns of political reform in

the Asia-Pacific’s electoral democracies -- Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the

Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and East Timor -- over the past decade.6 The

remainder of this paper examines this convergence in the field of electoral

reform, looking both at the institutional characteristics of systems chosen as

well as their intended outcomes.

Electoral Systems

The most striking movement in terms of electoral systems in the Asia-Pacific

has been the increasing enthusiasm for “mixed-member” systems - that is,

where part of the parliament is elected by proportional representation (PR),

part by some type of plurality or majority method. As in other world regions,

such systems have become increasingly popular in Asia in recent years,

perhaps because they appear to combine the benefits of proportional election

outcomes with district-level representation.

Mixed systems can be divided into two broad systemic categories, parallel

and compensatory (also known as ‘unlinked’ and ‘linked’) systems. Parallel

mixed-member systems run district-level and elections and a national party

6 For an excellent recent survey of Asian electoral systems, see Allen Hicken and Yuko Kasuya. 2003. ‘A

guide to the constitutional structures and electoral systems of east, south and southeast Asia’, Electoral

Studies 22:121-151.

Benjamin Reilly: Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific

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list vote concurrently (hence the term ‘parallel’). Because of this, parallel

systems are generally classified as semi-proportional, producing outcomes

that fall somewhere between the strict proportionality of PR systems and the

distorted results of plurality-majority forms. By contrast, compensatory

systems link the two electoral systems so that the allocation of list seats is

dependent at some level of the results from the district elections. In most

cases, such as New Zealand, this results in broadly proportional outcomes.

While parallel systems have been chosen by many Asia-Pacific states, none

currently use compensatory systems.7

The adoption of mixed systems in the Asia-Pacific has occurred in two

different contexts. In North Asia, mixed systems have been introduced mostly

as a replacement for the single non-transferable vote (SNTV). In South-East

Asia, by contrast, mixed systems have been introduced as a replacement for

the block vote (BV). Both SNTV and BV are variations on a standard plurality

electoral system, and were once widespread for elections throughout Asia.

Under SNTV, each elector has one vote but there are several seats in the

district to be filled, and the candidates with the highest number of votes fill

these positions. This system was formerly used in Japan, Taiwan and South

Korea, and is still used to elect the district seats in Taiwan’s mixed-member

system.

7 See Andrew Reynolds and Ben Reilly 1997, The International IDEA Handbook of Electoral System Design,

International IDEA, Stockholm.

Benjamin Reilly: Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific

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Across Asia, the rejection of SNTV and BV systems as part of political reforms

through the 1990s resulted in the introduction of parallel mixed-member

systems to combine two divergent system types, such as PR and plurality in

Thailand, or PR with SNTV in Taiwan. South Korea should be seen as the

instigator of this movement, as it first adopted a parallel mixed-member

system in 1963.8 Taiwan was the next to introduce the party list option,

moving to a SNTV/PR combination in 1992, followed by Japan in 1994 and, in

1996, a revision of Korea’s system to make the allocation of list seats truly

proportional. Since then, the Philippines, Thailand and East Timor have all

followed suit.

Japan is probably the best-known case of the change to a mixed system in

Asia. Japan’s choice of a mixed system was in large part a reaction to the

strategic impacts of the SNTV system, which it had used for many decades.

Because SNTV enables parties to put forward multiple candidates in each

district, and hence for members of the same party to run in competition with

one another, it encourages intra-party competition. As the region’s only long-

term “established” democracy, Japan’s electoral reforms were stimulated not

just by a decline in public confidence in SNTV, which was widely seen as

having encouraged intra-party factionalism and hence corruption, but also by

a deliberate attempt to change the way the political system operated by

8 South Korea thus has some claims to having invented this model of elections, contra the common

misconception that non-compensatory mixed systems were invented in Eastern Europe before being

Benjamin Reilly: Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific

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manipulating of the electoral system, an approach that has been followed by

other Asian countries more recently.

Since 1994, Japan has thus utilized a parallel mixed-member system, with 300

seats elected by plurality rules in single-member constituencies, and a PR list

(using the d'Hondt method) for the remaining 180 seats. The allocation of

these proportional seats is based on the parties' share of the national vote in

11 large multi-member districts. However, candidates are allowed to transfer

between the party lists and the single-member districts, creating an unusual

“dual-candidate” system which appears to have undermined some of the

goals of electoral reform, such as the creation of less personalistic and more

programmatic political parties.9

Predating the Japanese reforms, Taiwan first adopted a mixed system for its

Legislative Yuan elections in 1992, but has continued to use SNTV for the

district-based component of elections, which comprises 80 percent of the 225

seats in the Yuan. The other 20 percent of legislative seats are for national

representatives (including eight overseas Chinese representatives) elected by

PR in two nationwide constituencies. Unlike the Japanese version, however,

electors are not given a separate vote for these national constituencies. Rather,

taken up by other states like Japan and Taiwan. See S. Birch 2003, Electoral Systems and Political

Transformation in Post-Communist Europe. Palgrave Macmillan: Hampshire and New York, p. 32.

9 See McKean, Margaret and Scheiner, Ethan. 2000. ‘Japan’s new electoral system: la plus ca change …’,

Electoral Studies 19:447-477.

Benjamin Reilly: Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific

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national seats are allocated to parties who poll more than 5% of the vote in the

SNTV seats in proportion to their vote share at the district level.

The South Korean experience of mixed systems has, until recently,

represented a third approach to electoral reform. Over the years, Korea has

experimented with several different combinations of mixed system in which

local districts and national PR lists have been combined in a variety of ways.

At the time of writing, of the Korean National Assembly’s 273 seats (reduced

from 299 prior to the April 2000 elections as a means of cost saving), 227 are

elected from single-member constituencies by a plurality formula, while the

remaining 46 are chosen from a national constituency by proportional

representation. These seats are divided proportionately among the political

parties based upon their votes obtained in the districts, on condition that they

have obtained at least 5% of the total valid votes cast. Prior to 1996, however,

the national list seats were given to parties on the bases of their seat share at

district elections, meaning that the national seats usually exacerbated any

disproportionality at the local level.

These North-East Asian cases can collectively be seen as a ‘democratic club’ in

which divergent approaches to reform have resulted in a surprisingly high

degree of similarity in electoral models. A similar conclusion applies to the

two best-established democracies in South-East Asia, the Philippines and

Thailand, which have also undergone major electoral reforms in recent years.

Benjamin Reilly: Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific

15

In both cases they replaced the block vote (BV) described earlier, and today

only Laos continues to use the BV for its elections.

Under its 1987 Constitution, the Philippines adopted a mixed system in which

80% of the 250 House of Representatives seats are elected from single-member

districts via a plurality formula, and the remaining 20% are chosen from a

national list. These lists seats, however, are not open to established parties but

are designed to represent “sectoral interests” and marginalized groups such

as youth, labour, the urban poor, farmers, fishermen and women. Each group

can put up a maximum of three candidates, and any group securing 2% of the

party-list vote gets a seat, up to a maximum of three seats. However, the list

seats have been dogged by problems. In 1998, only 14 of the 52 list seats were

filled, as electoral authorities struggled to verify the credentials of elected

groups. In 2001, ten parties and organizations surpassed the 2% threshold,

although again less than one-third of all available seats were filled. Following

the 2001 elections, the Supreme Court found that most of the groups elected

did not in fact represent minorities, and that some indeed had links to the

major parties. Less than half of the elected party-list members have so far

taken up their seats.10 To further complicate matters, up to 20 or more

positions are filled at each election - and candidate names do not appear on

10 R. J. May, 2002, ‘Elections in the Philippines, May 2001’, Electoral Studies, Volume 21(4):673-680.

Benjamin Reilly: Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific

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the ballot papers, but have to be written in by voters, creating practical

difficulties in a country where literacy remains a problem.11

Like the Philippines, Thailand has also moved away from the block vote to a

mixed system in which 80% of the parliament’s 500 seats are elected from

local constituencies, and the remaining 20% of the seats are elected from a

national party list. This exercise in institutional engineering has created two

classes of politicians with radically divergent career incentives for election.

The district MPs must represent local areas and bring development

opportunities to them; while the national MPs are explicitly charged with

playing a role in issues of national, not local, importance. Parties competing

for party-list seats must attain at least 5 percent of the vote, a provision which

discriminates against splinter parties. This has resulted in a sharp drop in

party system fractionalization, with the ‘effective’ number of parliamentary

parties falling by half between 1995 and 2001.12

The three other cases of democratization in South-East Asia - Indonesia,

Cambodia and East Timor - have also experimented with mixed-member

systems, but with significant variations. Each of these cases also demonstrate

11 See Montinola, Gabriella R. 1999. ‘Parties and accountability in the Philippines’, Journal of Democracy

10(1):126-140.

12 See Hicken, Allen. 2003. “From Province to Parliament: Party Aggregation in Developing

Democracies.” Paper presented to the 2003 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science

Association, Philadelphia, 28-31 August.

Benjamin Reilly: Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific

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some of the underlying issues driving the adoption of mixed systems in the

region.

The electoral system used for Indonesia’s transitional 1999 elections was an

unusual and possibly unique combination of party list PR with ‘personal vote’

characteristics. In an attempt to reward individually popular candidates

without moving all the way to a district-based system, Indonesia’s political

engineers effectively tried to graft an element of local representation onto a

party-list PR system. They did this by specifying that the vote totals parties

gained in each local government area (kapupatem) would determine which

candidates from the party list would be elected. In theory, a locally-popular

representative who attracted an above-average proportional of votes to the

party in a particular district would thus have an increased chance of gaining a

parliamentary seat. In practice, this procedure was almost impossible to

administer, and the successful candidates ended up being chosen by the

parties internally.

For the 2004 elections, a more conventional form of ‘open list’ proportional

representation was adopted. Unlike mixed-member systems, where some

parliamentarians are elected from districts and some from national lists, all

candidates were chosen from party lists, but voters were able to influence the

composition of these lists by voting directly for a chosen candidate. However,

this ‘open list’ provision had little influence on the final election outcomes, as

Benjamin Reilly: Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific

18

an exceptionally large number of personal votes were needed to alter a

candidate’s position on the party list. Nonetheless, demands in Indonesia for

some kind of district-based system remain strong, fuelled in part by the

expectation that democratic prospects would be enhanced if the power of

party elites was reduced and politics brought closer to the masses.13 In part in

response to this, Indonesia’s 2004 elections were conducted under a PR

system, but used much smaller electoral districts than previously, with a

maximum of 12 members per district. This raised the threshold for election

and made it difficult for smaller parties to win seats compared to the 1999

elections, when districts were based around entire provinces.14 The effect of

this - in keeping with the reforms in Japan, Thailand, and the Philippines -

was to make outcomes in Indonesia’s 2004 election more majoritarian than

previously, with the elimination of a number of very small parties from the

1999 parliament and a reduction in the number of parties overall.

In Cambodia also, there has also been pressure for the introduction of some

kind of district-based or mixed system due to concerns about the lack of

accountability in the proportional system inherited from the United Nation

Transitional Authority in Cambodia mission in 2003. Like Indonesia,

Cambodia uses a list PR system in 23 constituencies based around the

country's provinces, which results in broadly proportional outcomes.

13 See Andrew Ellis 2000. ‘The politics of electoral systems in transition: the 1999 elections in Indonesia

and beyond’, Representation 37:241-248.

Benjamin Reilly: Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific

19

However, in response to the calls for greater local linkages and accountability

between voting populations and their representatives, over one-third of these

constituencies are actually single-member districts.15 Predictably, this has led

the elimination of some small parties, and more majoritarian outcomes

overall.

The final case of electoral reform in process in the region, East Timor, also

used a mixed-member model for its foundation elections in 2001. As in

Cambodia, the majority of voters in East Timor are elected from the party

lists, not from districts. For the August 2001 elections to the Constituent

Assembly, the body charged with drawing up the new nation’s constitution,

75 seats were elected on a nationwide basis by proportional representation,

and only 13 seats (one for each district) by first-past-the-post. The

Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (FRETLIN) captured a

majority of 55 seats in the 88-member Assembly, winning 43 of the 75 national

seats and all of the available district seats. The Assembly has since

transformed itself into a legislature and passed a new constitution which

specifies that elections must be held under proportional representation for a

much smaller parliament, so it is likely that future elections will be held under

a straight PR system with no district level representation.

14 Stephen Sherlock 2004, ‘Consolidation and Change: The Indonesian Parliament after the 2004

Elections’. Canberra: Centre for Democratic Institutions., p. 4.

Benjamin Reilly: Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific

20

Table Two sets out the changes in electoral system across the democratic

states of the region since 1990.

15 At the time of writing there were eight single-member constituencies in Cambodia, up from six in

1993.

Benjamin Reilly: Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific

21

Table Two: Electoral Systems Changes in Asia Since 1990

Country Former Electoral System New Electoral System

Japan SNTV Mixed FPTP-PR (1994)

Taiwan SNTV Mixed SNTV-PR (1992)

Thailand Block Vote Mixed FPTP-PR (1997)

Philippines Block Vote Mixed FPTP-PR (1998)

South Korea* Mixed SNTV-PR Mixed FPTP-PR (1996)

Indonesia Closed List PR Open List PR (2004)

Cambodia Closed List PR List PR with SMDs (2003)

East Timor - Mixed FPTP-PR (2003)

* The system adopted in South Korea 1988 delivered compensatory list seats to the party that won the most seats in the district contest, ensuring it an overall majority in the assembly. In 1996, the list seats were de-linked from the district results, in order to make the overall result more proportional.

The two remaining cases, the ‘soft-authoritarian’ states of Malaysia and

Singapore, can be covered quickly. Malaysia, alone amongst the region, uses a

standard Westminster system with first-past-the-post elections. Constituency

boundaries are gerrymandered to favour the Malay community, and the

electoral commission is a compliant servant of the government. Singapore’s

system is similar, except that there are a range of single-member and multi-

member districts. While MPs for the single-member seats are elected by FPTP,

most MPs are elected from multi-member districts known as Group

Representation Constituencies, each returning between four and six members

from a single list of party candidates. Voters choose between competing party

lists rather than candidates, and the highest-polling party wins all seats in the

Benjamin Reilly: Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific

22

district. This has benefited Singapore’s ruling party, the PAP, which regularly

wins over 90 percent of seats in parliament on a plurality of the vote. In the

most recent elections in 2001, for example, the PAP won 82 out of 84 seats in

Parliament on 73.6% of the vote.

Political Parties

In addition to the new electoral systems, reformers in a number of Asia states

have also featured an attempt to ‘engineer’ the development of their nascent

party systems by introducing new rules governing the formation, registration

and campaigning of political parties.16 In Thailand, for example, the electoral

reforms were just one of a number of measures designed to produce a more

consolidated and stable political system, which included measures to combat

vote-buying, the establishment of an elected but non-partisan Senate, the

introduction of compulsory voting, and restrictions on ‘party hopping’. 17 The

“self-restraining’ nature of the Thai state’s new institutional apparatus makes

it a particularly interesting and possibly influential example of constitutional

reform in the region.18

Indonesia’s attempts to regulate its emerging party system have gone even

further. Prior to Indonesia’s transitional 1999 election, over 200 new parties

16 For more on this, see Benjamin Reilly 2003. ‘Political Parties and Political Engineering in the Asia-Pacific Region’, Asia Pacific Issues: Analysis from the East-West Center, 71:1-8.

17 See Murray, David. 1998. ‘Thailand’s Recent Electoral Reforms’, Electoral Studies 17:525-535.

18 See Andreas Schedler, Larry Diamond and Marc F. Plattner (eds) 1999. The Self-Restraining State: Power

and Accountability in New Democracies. Boulder and London: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Benjamin Reilly: Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific

23

mushroomed, many with extremely limited support bases. In an attempt to

combat the potentially disastrous consequences of party fragmentation,

Indonesia’s political engineers introduced a complex series of incentives and

constraints on party development. As a precondition to compete in the

elections, all new party had to demonstrate that they had an established

branch structure in more than half of Indonesia’s (then) 27 provinces, and

within each of these provinces have established branches within over half of

all regions and municipalities, before they could stand candidates. In

addition, in order to combat the centripetal forces of party fragmentation,

there were also strong systemic pressures for party amalgamation: parties

which failed to gain more than 2% of all seats in the lower house of

parliament, or at least 3% of all seats in both houses combined, had to merge

with other parties to surmount these thresholds and contest future elections.

These rules whittled down the field considerably: of 141 parties screened by

the KPU, only 48 were approved to contest the 1999 elections, and only five

gained significant representation: PDIP (led by President Megawati), Golkar

(the party machine created by former President Soeharto), and the three

Islamist parties, PAN, PPP and PKB.19

These rules were further strengthened prior to the 2004 elections: new parties

had to establish branches in two-thirds of Indonesia’s provinces and in two-

thirds of the regencies within those provinces. Each local-level party unit also

19 Suryadinata, Leo. 2002. Elections and Politics in Indonesia. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian

Studies, pp. 90-92.

Benjamin Reilly: Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific

24

had to demonstrate that it had at least 1,000 members (or at least one-

thousandth of the population in smaller regencies). This led to a further drop

in party numbers, with only 24 parties qualifying to contest the 2004 elections.

However, unlike 1999, most of these parties proved to be electorally viable,

and were also able to attract a spread of votes across the three main regions of

Indonesia. Whereas the 1999 DPR was dominated by the “big five”, the 2004

parliament features the “big seven”: the five main parties from 1999, plus the

two new entrants in the Justice and Welfare Party (PKS) and the Democrat

Party (PD) created by presidential aspirant Susilo Bambang Yudhonyo. 20 As a

result, while the number of parties in parliament declined, the effective

number of parties actually rose from 5.4 in 1999 to 8.3 in 2004.

Patterns of Reform

Three clear trends in electoral system choice thus stand out when surveying

the East Asian region as a whole.

The first is the predominance of mixed electoral systems, structured to give

electors both a vote for political parties from a party list (usually at a national

level), and a vote at a district-level election for candidates. While mixed

systems have been a popular innovation around the world over the past

decade, the Asian version has been distinctive for several reasons.

20 See Sherlock, Stephen 2004, Consolidation and Change: The Indonesian Parliament after the 2004 Elections.

Canberra: Centre for Democratic Institutions.

Benjamin Reilly: Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific

25

First, in all cases bar East Timor, mixed systems in the region are heavily

weighted in favour of the majoritarian, single-member districts rather than

the PR list. In Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines, only 20

percent of seats are elected from the national list. In Japan, the figure is 40

percent. In all cases, the majority of seats in the legislature are elected from

single-member seats. This stands in contrast to the international norm, where

most mixed systems have an almost equal split between tiers. Only East

Timor, which allocated 80% of all seats to the party list for its 2001 elections,

went against this trend (see Table Three). This bias towards districts over lists

may retard the development of more nationally-focussed and programmatic

political parties in the region, as district-based systems are generally thought

to provide lesser incentives towards national party formation than PR.

A second way in which the adoption of mixed systems have been unusual is

in the rejection of compensatory mechanisms in the allocation of list seats to

balance for disproportionality arising out of the district-level competition. In

contrast to countries like Germany, New Zealand, and Mexico, none of the

Asian cases use list seats to adjust overall electoral outcomes in this manner

(indeed, in one case - South Korea from 1963-96 - the list seats were awarded

to the party which did best in the district seats, thus compounding rather than

compensating for such imbalances). Rather, in each case the PR list runs in

Benjamin Reilly: Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific

26

parallel with the district contest, but with no interchange between the two.21

This means that while smaller parties can legitimately hope to gain some

representation from the lists seats, overall levels of proportionality will, in

many cases, not be greatly improved unless parties have strong regional

support and can thus win a fair share of the district-based seats. The effect of

this is to reinforce the bias away from proportionality created by the

structural breakdown between list and district seats.

Most of the mixed-member electoral systems used in Asian countries are thus

examples of what Shugart and Wattenberg call ‘mixed-member majoritarian’

(MMM) systems - that is, mixed member systems in which most seats are

elected from districts, creating predominantly majoritarian electoral

outcomes.22 This is not an accident. In cases like Thailand and the Philippines,

for example, an overriding goal of constitutional and electoral reforms has

been to strengthen executive government, combat parliamentary instability,

and encourage the development of cohesive political parties. Proportional

representation has been seen as inimical to all three goals. As Table Three

21 Although some scholars have incorrectly classified the Philippines as a compensatory system. See

Louis Massicote and Andre Blais 1999. ‘Mixed electoral systems: a conceptual and empirical survey’,

Electoral Studies 18, p. 353.

22 Matthew S. Shugart and Martin P. Wattenburg (eds) 2001. Mixed-Member Electoral Systems: the Best of

Both Worlds? New York: Oxford University Press. Although they do not focus on Asian cases beyond

Japan, Shugart and Wattenberg’s discussion of MMM systems from other regions may have relevance

for the Asia-Pacific. Specifically they find that in most cases the adoption of MMM systems was the

result of a compromise between incumbent and newly emerging political parties with strongly

divergent preferences (Hungary, Italy, Japan and Mexico are all examples of this).

Benjamin Reilly: Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific

27

shows, all the East Asian mixed systems are clearly majoritarian in their

structure.

Table Three: Mixed-Member Electoral Systems in the Asia-Pacific

Country District

seats

District

system

List seats List System Total seats

Japan 300 FPTP 180 List PR 480

Korea 227 FPTP 46 List PR 273

Taiwan 188 SNTV 38 List PR 225

Thailand 400 FPTP 100 List PR 500

Philippines 209 FPTP up to 53 List PR, with

3 seat limit

262

East Timor 13 FPTP 75 List PR 88

The outcomes of the application of mixed systems in the Asia-Pacific region

tend to support the findings of the broader scholarly literature. In Russia, for

example, the introduction of a parallel mixed-member system in 1995 was

designed to achieve the same goals as most Asia-Pacific reforms: that is, to

refashion the party system by stimulating the development of national

parties, consolidate smaller parties into large ones, and produce a more stable

Benjamin Reilly: Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific

28

legislature.23 More generally, the most comprehensive evaluation of mixed-

member systems to date has concluded that they are more likely than most

other electoral systems to generate “two-block” party systems, and are more

likely than any other electoral system to simultaneously generate local

accountability and a nationally-oriented party system.24 These were precisely

the goals which most Asian reformers had high on their list of priorities as

part of their broader quest for political stability. The Asian experience of

mixed systems thus supports the findings from other regions.

Reinforcing this conclusion is the fact that other countries in the region which

have not adopted mixed-member systems - such as Cambodia and Indonesia

-- have also adopted more majoritarian and disproportional electoral models

in recent years. In keeping with the logic of the political party reforms, these

have had the effect of penalizing smaller parties, restricting political

fragmentation, and hence - not incidentally -- promoting the interests of the

established parties. In Cambodia, for example, successive electoral reforms

adopted since the restoration of democracy in 1993 have each resulted in

small steps away from proportionality. Similarly, Indonesia’s 2004 electoral

system was markedly less proportional than that used at the 1999 elections,

with most of the smaller parties that gained representation in 1999 failing to

be re-elected.

23 Robert G. Moser 2003. Unexpected Outcomes: Electoral Systems, Political Parties, and Representation

in Russia. Pittsburgh PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Benjamin Reilly: Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific

29

This rejection of proportionality in favour of majoritarian outcomes has, in

most cases, been quite deliberate. Many years of comparative research has

clearly identified PR systems as being the foremost institutional variable

encouraging party multiplicity.25 The increasing use of single-member

districts in many Asia-Pacific states, the penalties on smaller or regional

parties, and the increasingly majoritarian nature of electoral system choices,

reflects a desire to limit political fragmentation and government instability,

promote more meaningful and programmatic political parties, and encourage

a greater degree of identification between electors and their elected

representatives.26

To illustrate this swing towards majoritarianism, Table Four shows the level

of disproportionality for pre-reform and post-reform elections in Japan,

Cambodia, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines, using

Lijphart’s measure of the average seat-vote deviation of the two largest

24 Matthew S. Shugart and Martin P. Wattenburg (eds) 2001. Mixed-Member Electoral Systems: the Best of

Both Worlds? New York: Oxford University Press, p. 591.

25 See, for example, Rae, D.W. 1967, The Political Consequences of Electoral Laws, Yale University Press,

New Haven; Taagepera, R. and Shugart, M.S. 1989, Seats and Votes: the Effects and Determinants of

Electoral Systems, Yale University Press, New Haven and London; Lijphart, A. 1994, Electoral Systems and

Party Systems: A Study of Twenty-Seven Democracies, 1945-1990, Oxford University Press, New York.

26 This course of action is supported by research which has found that small district magnitude helps to

block the rise of ‘fringe’ or extremist parties in established democracies. See Joseph Willey 1998,

‘Institutional Arrangements and the Success of New Parties in Old Democracies’ in Richard Hofferbert

(ed), Parties and Democracy. Blackwell: Oxford.

Benjamin Reilly: Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific

30

parties at each election.27 As the Table shows, in almost all cases,

disproportionality levels following the reforms were considerably higher than

the average levels experienced in previous years. In Thailand and Japan, for

example, the first elections held under the new mixed-member systems

resulted in rates of disproportionality almost twice that of previous elections.

As Crossant notes, “The change in vote-seat deviation in the wake of electoral

reforms is remarkable … [in Thailand] disproportionality rose significantly

after components of the proportional representation system were introduced.

The same is true for the Philippines’s party-list system, used for the first-time

ever in 1998 and again in 2001.”28 Cambodia also saw an increase in

disproportionality, due in part to the increase in the number of single-

member districts. Only Indonesia, where proportionality actually increased

between 1999 to 2004, bucks this trend, somewhat surprisingly given the

marked reduction in average district magnitude there.

Table Four: Electoral Disproportionality in Pre- and Post-Reform Elections

Country Disproportionality

average all elections

Disproportionality

Post-reform

Cambodia 5.42 (1993-1998) 7.30 (1998)

Japan 4.80 (1947-2000) 7.60 (2000)

27 Arend Lijphart 1994. Electoral Systems and Party Systems: A Study of Twenty-Seven Democracies,

1945-1990. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

28 Auriel Croissant 2002. ‘Electoral Politics in Southeast and East Asia: A Comparative Perspective’ in

Aurel Croissant, Gabriele Bruns and Marei John (eds), Electoral Politics in Southeast and East Asia.

Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Singapore, p. 329.

Benjamin Reilly: Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific

31

Korea 7.00 (1988-2000) 7.95 (2000)

Taiwan 4.20 (1992-2001) 4.3 (2001)

Thailand 2.70 (1992-2001) 6.04 (2001)

Philippines 4.46 (1987-1998) 2.60 (1998)

Indonesia 1.87 (1999-2004) 1.5 (2004)

Source: Auriel Croissant 2002. ‘Electoral Politics in Southeast and East Asia: A Comparative

Perspective’ in Aurel Croissant, Gabriele Bruns and Marei John (eds), Electoral Politics in

Southeast and East Asia. Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Singapore, p. 329; author’s calculations.

Complementing this widespread rejection of proportionality, a third

distinctive element of electoral system design in the Asia-Pacific has been the

attempt to forge cross-regional and cross-ethnic politics via interventions in

the development of political party systems. In general, the recognition of

minorities through the electoral system in the many Asia countries has been

achieved through methods other than proportional representation.29 In

Malaysia, for example, informal ethnic balancing has been achieved through

‘vote pooling’ arrangements between the Malay (UMNO), Chinese (MCA)

and Indian (MIC) parties which make up the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.30

29 Indeed, one of the interesting aspects of electoral system design in East Asia is the way that some of

the most ethnically-divided countries of the region - such as Malaysia, Singapore, and Burma - have

maintained plurality electoral laws. This represents a reversal of the choice of electoral systems in

Europe, where the earliest moves towards proportional representation came in the ethnically most

heterogeneous countries. See Rokkan, S. 1970, Citizens, Elections, Parties: Approaches to the Comparative

Study of the Processes of Development, Universitetsforlaget, Oslo, p. 157.

30 See Horowitz, Donald L. 1991, ‘Making Moderation Pay: the Comparative Politics of Ethnic Conflict

Management’ in J.V. Montville (ed), Conflict and Peacemaking in Multiethnic Societies, Lexington Books,

Benjamin Reilly: Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific

32

Despite being dominated by UMNO, the fact that every Malaysian

government to date has been comprised of parties representing the country’s

three major ethnic groups has provided a form of credible commitment that

future governments will similarly follow this prescription. While the

institutionalisation of such practices in Malaysia has come at a considerable

cost to democracy, via increasingly flagrant gerrymandering of constituencies

and intimidation of opponents, it has nonetheless helped preserve ethnic

peace in Malaysia.

In Singapore, this kind of ethnic balancing takes place within the main party,

the PAP, via the use of so-called ‘Group Representation Constituencies’.

These are multi-member electoral districts of between four and six members,

which parties contest by presenting a closed list of candidates for the whole

electorate, at least one of whom must be a Malay or Indian representative. As

well as ensuring the ongoing dominance of the PAP, such arrangements help

to ensure a degree of ethnic balancing within both the party and the

parliament, as it effectively requires all parties to put forward a multi-ethnic

candidate list as a pre-condition for competing in the election. Singapore also

uses “best loser” seats for opposition candidates in some circumstances.

Thailand and Indonesia have taken this process a step further by actively

discriminating in favour of broad-based parties that can command national

New York, p. 466; Brown, D. 1994, The State and Ethnic Politics in South-East Asia, Routledge, London and

New York, p. 235.

Benjamin Reilly: Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific

33

(rather than regional) support. The outcomes in both cases have been striking.

In Thailand, the effective number of parties declined from an average of 7.2 in

the ten-year period from 1986-96 to 3.8 at the first post-reform elections in

April 2001. In Indonesia, the raw numbers dropped from 48 parties contesting

the 1999 election to 24 parties at the 2004 poll - again, a fifty percent decline -

and a similar but less extreme decline in the number of parties represented in

parliament, from 21 in 1999 to 17 in 2004. Considering that political reforms in

both countries were aimed at countering party fragmentation, these are

striking outcomes by any measure.

Of course, retarding political fragmentation has costs as well as benefits. In

Indonesia, the new laws have helped to reduce excessive candidature and

fragmentation in what is an extremely heterogeneous society. However, they

have also benefited incumbent parties by restricting the level of political

competition, and place real barriers on new entrants into the political

marketplace.31 Moreover, given that there are now 32 provinces and some 430

regencies in Indonesia, the laws requiring a minimum number of party

members in each are truly onerous requirements -- as one commentator

noted, if the laws are enforced “parties may, instead of collecting dues from

members, be paying them to sign up in future”.32

31 Benjamin Reilly 2003, ‘Political Parties and Political Engineering in the Asia-Pacific Region’, Asia

Pacific Issues: Analysis from the East-West Center, 71, December 2003, pp. 1-8.

Benjamin Reilly: Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific

34

Another application of cross-voting rules will take place at the forthcoming

presidential elections in Indonesia in October 2004. In contrast to the other

presidential systems in the region (Taiwan, South Korea and the Philippines),

all of which use a plurality method, Indonesia will make use of a two-round

system, with candidates for the presidency and vice presidency running as a

team. In order to avoid a second round of voting, first-round winners must

gain over 50% of all votes as well as a minimum of 20% in half of all

provinces.33 This latter provision - known in the scholarly literature as a

“distribution requirement” - was borrowed from Nigeria, another large and

ethnically diverse country. Again, the aim is to ensure that the winning

candidate not only has majority support overall, but also is able to attract

support across most parts of the country as well. In this respect, the

presidential electoral law is consistent with the centripetal logic of the laws on

party formation, aiming to promote parties with a cross-regional support

base.34

Conclusion

To return to the question posed in the title of this paper - “Is there an Asian

Model of institutional design?” - the answer appears to be ‘yes’.

Overwhelmingly, Asian democracies in recent years have chosen mixed-

32 Paige Johnson Tan 2002, ‘Anti-Party Reaction in Indonesia: Causes and Implications’, Contemporary

Southeast Asia, 24(3): 484-508.

33 The second round of voting, if required, will be a straight runoff between the two leading candidate

teams, with no distribution requirements.

Benjamin Reilly: Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific

35

member systems when reforming their electoral arrangements, and have also

attempted to shape the nature of their emerging party systems. In almost all

cases, strategies of reform have been strongly majoritarian in both design and

outcome.

Structurally, this preference for majoritarianism is apparent in four ways.

First, all mixed-member systems adopted have been ‘parallel’ in nature,

meaning that there is no compensation of any seats-votes disparities from the

district seats with seats from a party list. Second, the balance of seats in these

systems is, in all cases bar East Timor, strongly weighted in favour of the

district component, so that systems perform more like straight plurality

contests than like mixed systems in other regions. Third, countries have

placed restrictions on the proportionality of the PR component of mixed

systems by the use of explicit thresholds (in the case of Taiwan, Thailand, and

Korea), manipulation of district size (Indonesia, Cambodia) or restrictions on

which parties can compete for party list seats (the Philippines). Fourth,

complementing these electoral reforms, some countries (Thailand, Indonesia)

have tried to shape the development of their political party systems by

rewarding national parties and restricting smaller ethnic or regional ones.

It is important to emphasise just how distinctive the Asia-Pacific’s adoption of

majoritarianism and centripetalism is in comparison to other world regions.

34 For more on the concept of ‘centripetalism’, see Benjamin Reilly. 2001. Democracy in Divided Societies:

Electoral Engineering for Conflict Management. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Benjamin Reilly: Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific

36

In Africa, for example, there has been a strong trend in the other direction -

towards the increasing use of list PR electoral systems - and an equally strong

tendency towards one-party dominant regimes.35 Similarly, in Latin America,

democratizing states have, without exception, maintained list PR systems -

despite the combination of presidentialism and PR being widely blamed for

political fragmentation and legislative deadlock in many cases.36 Similarly, in

the new democracies of Eastern Europe, the tendency has been to follow the

example of Western Europe and introduce highly proportional electoral

systems with ethnic parties and strong guarantees for minority rights. Indeed,

the guidelines of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe

(OSCE) make this explicit, affirming the right of ethnic minorities to form

their own parties and compete for office on an ethnic basis.37

By contrast, in Asia, the focus has been on creating more majoritarian political

systems, reducing overall levels of proportionality, promoting the electoral

prospects of larger political parties, and restricting the ability of minority

groups to form parties in the first place. The divergence between the Asia and

other world regions in this regard is itself the strongest affirmation of a

35 See Hermann Giliomee and Charles Simkins, eds. 1998, The Awkward Embrace: Democracy and

Dominant-Party Rule in Semi-Developed Countries (London: Harwood Academic Publishers; Andrew

Reynolds 1999, Electoral Systems and Democratization in Southern Africa, Oxford: Oxford University

Press.

36 See Mainwaring, S. 1993, ‘Presidentialism, Multipartism, and Democracy: The Difficult Combination’,

Comparative Political Studies, 26(2):198-228.

37 See, for example, the OSCE’s 1990 Copenhagen declaration at www.osce.org/docs/english/1990-1999/hd/cope90e.htm.

Benjamin Reilly: Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific

37

distinctively Asian approach to the issue of democratization and institutional

design.

This is not to suggest that such reforms are necessarily coherent. Indeed,

mixed incentives appear to be a common problem across the region. For

example, by limiting the development of regional parties, the Indonesians

may have improved the prospects for a nationally-consolidated party system,

but they have also undercut the ability of all but a few established parties to

form and mobilize support. Ethnic groups that are unable to mobilize and

compete for political power by democratic means will likely find other ways

to achieve their ends. If restrictions on regional parties end up encouraging

extra-constitutional action by aggrieved minorities, they will have

exacerbated the very problems they are designed to prevent.

Similarly, the Thai reforms, while reducing fragmentation, have excessively

centralized government power and fostered single-party domination.

Measures to promote political stability may thus have many unintended

consequences, including the delegitimizing of the political order and multiple

unforeseen or even mutually contradictory outcomes.38 The heavy-handed

nature of these reforms is likely to produce some unusual side-effects. The

danger of overkill - placing so many incentives in favour of party aggregation

and against regional or ethnic parties that they form a pattern of systemic

38 Duncan McCargo 2002, ‘Democracy Under Stress in Thaksin’s Thailand’, Journal of Democracy,

13(4):112-126.

Benjamin Reilly: Democratization and Political Reform in the Asia-Pacific

38

discrimination and disempowerment - is clearly present. A balance needs to

be struck between encouraging national parties, which is in general a positive

thing, and restricting regional ones, which can have clear downsides.

The final distinctive aspect of East Asian electoral systems is simply how

much inter-regional borrowing and imitation there has been, and how much

innovation has taken place over the past decade. This is not simply a

consequence of democratization or political bargaining, important though

these have been. Rather, there also appears to be a real willingness in a

number of transitional Asian democracies to experiment with new forms of

representation and revised political institutions, a process that may have

reached its zenith in the extensive constitutional reforms that have taken been

enacted in Thailand and are now taking place in Indonesia. This willingness

to experiment is, in part, a response to the troubled democratic history of such

countries, and particularly the failure of previous attempts at democratization

due to a combination of weak institutions, fragmented party systems, and

unstable governments. As such, they represent a distinctively Asian

contribution to the field of institutional design.

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