1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Identities, Conflict and Cohesion (2000 - 2009)

Race, Discrimination and Citizenship in South East Asia (Draft)



The East Asian regional economic crisis has precipitated a questioning of previous approaches to economic, social and political governance for the new millennium. In particular, the fall of Indonesia's authoritarian Suharto regime, the subsequent independence of the East Timorese from the yoke of Javanese domination, and the strengthening of democratic impulses in the region have served to energize ethnic minorities and other marginalized communities to vociferously champion their rights.

Significantly, the political turbulence in many Southeast Asian countries suggests that consensus for the political ground-rules and a shared political culture was at best tenuously maintained. For example, Indonesia's pancasila ideology has been uneasily received by the more orthodox Muslims, while Malaysia's bumiputera affirmative action policies may have created new inequities while attempting to resolve old ones. The latter is accused of depriving non-indigenous Malaysians of their citizenship rights. Correspondingly, the ideologies of meritocracy and multiracialism in Singapore have been cynically perceived by ethnic minorities as an ideological smokescreen for preserving Chinese hegemony.

Of conceptual import was the ability of these authoritarian multi-ethnic states to contain ethnic tensions during the high-growth years of the 1980s and 1990s, and to retain their performance-based legitimacy. The relationship between the health of the economy and its impact on state management of ethnicity and ethnic relations are explored in this paper.

The Southeast Asian experience suggests that authoritarian regimes are more likely to employ communally based policies, less responsive to ethnic minority concerns, disinclined to conform to international human rights standards and disinterested in establishing state-sponsored anti-discrimination agencies.