The Accommodative States

One of the courses I am taking this semester requires me to write a paper about a particular case study of democratization. It does not necessarily a case of democratic country, but one country struggling for democracy can also be taken. The paper was set as an ongoing research project, meaning that the students are expected to report the progress of their researches to the professor every week. Fairly demanding, but it challenges me to think about my research in advance.

I decided to compare how different approaches on development in Malaysia and Indonesia during 1980-1990s led to different outcomes of regime types. During the same period, two countries were ruled by somewhat a similar form of government. But why does, in the eye of financial crisis, the authoritarian regime endure in Malaysia while, conversely, breakdown in Indonesia and thus paved the way for democracy? Pepinsky (2009) asks the same puzzle by explaining that the different degree of political coalitions and capital mobility in both countries are critical to explain regime survival/collapse during the crisis. Yet, I think, he doesn’t sufficiently explain why and how such coalitions emerge (and then collapse in Indonesia), what factors that might strengthen or wane them. These puzzles are roughly I would like to ponder.

And in light of this argument, I came across to a piece of writing by Kuhonta in Southeast Asia in Political Science: Theory, Region, and Qualitative Analysis (in Kuhonta, Slater, Vu, 2008). Unlike a broadly accepted Weber’s definition of the state (the practice of the monopoly and legitimate use of physical force within a given territory), he offers a different way of understanding the states in Southeast Asia. The countries in the region have generally opposed from the normative view of states as autonomous entities that able to pass their agenda through strategic policies. Instead, the state should be comprehended as an intersection of interests among business players and ethnic groups, along with, obviously, politician’s benefit. Thus, the state is not an autonomous or impersonal of any sorts, but rather an accommodative one.  

One might easily relate this idea with Robison & Hadiz (2004) or Jeffrey Winter’s oligarchy (2011). Robison & Hadiz idea could be useful to look at Malaysian developmental periods, but it tells us very little about Malaysia’s regime survival during the crisis. It is also unable to explain why did the autocracy step down in Indonesia. I have to go further into more details during these developmental periods. I also need to track down specific groups, communities, or elites who were actively involved in shaping state-society relations during these phases. But for the time being, I guess the insight of ‘accommodative state’ is quite appealing to me.

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