A Second Separation? Malaysia’s Democratic Moment vs. Singapore’s Status Quo: David Matijasevich (Simon Fraser University) Abstract: Malaysia and Singapore have historically had much in common. Beyond the fact that they belonged to the same political community for certain periods of their respective colonial and post-colonial histories and, in turn, share many socio-cultural traits, both have been governed by soft authoritarian or illiberal democratic regimes. As a result of the lopsided political playing field, both Malaysia's Barisan Nasional (BN) and Singapore's People's Action Party (PAP) had the distinction of being among the longest-serving democratically elected ruling parties in the world. This, of course, was until the BN's May 2018 electoral demise at the hands of Pakatan Harapan (PH), led by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. While it is far too early to predict whether the PH government will put the country on a more democratic path, Malaysians have undoubtedly brought about the type of political change that remains far-fetched in the Singapore context. The purpose of this paper is to offer a series of explanations as to why such a moment has been able to unfold in one country and not in the other, despite the abundance of institutional and socio-cultural similarities. It is particularly hoped that the paper will help contribute to scholarly debates regarding the possibility of future political change in Singapore.
Continuity and Change in the Quality of Democracy in Latin America: Maxwell Cameron (University of British Columbia), Agustín Goenaga (Lund University) Abstract: Latin America’s “left turns” raised hopes about the possibility of political change in the region. However, as those leftist regimes have fallen out of power (Brazil being the most recent and extreme example), oligarchic tendencies, patterns of exclusion, and the use of repression have returned to many of these countries. The left turns seem to have been just another moment in longer cycles of political continuity in a region known for oscillations between populist mobilization and oligarchic demobilization (or what Slater calls “careening” between populist and oligarchic modes of rule). What explains the persistence of low democratic quality in most of the region?
Through a comparative historical analysis of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Chile and Uruguay, we argue that the high levels of economic informality and inequality that characterize the region encourage certain kinds of political coalitions that weaken the ability of the popular sectors to form collective wills and the capacity of the state to tackle major social problems. The paper revisits the arguments set out first by Collier & Collier (1991) regarding how different experiences with the initial incorporation of the popular classes at the dawn of the 20th century shaped the long-term survival and collapse of democracy up until the 1970s. We expand their analysis to the present day by identifying distinct national trajectories triggered by the neoliberal reforms of the 1980s and 1990s, which served as a new critical juncture that shaped subsequent efforts (or the lack thereof) towards a “second popular incorporation”.
Is Democracy Backsliding? Satisfaction with Democracy and Democratic Institutions in Comparative Perspective: Holly Ann Garnett (Royal Military College), Patricia Mockler (Queen's University) Abstract: In recent years, literature on democracy’s backsliding in various regions of the world have come to the fore. While the theory of democratic fatigue, or even backlash, was predominately developed to make sense of Central and Eastern European contexts, it has been recently considered among established Western democracies as well, especially in light of populist movements, and the success of authoritarian-leaning leaders. But is this phenomenon of ‘democracy’s backsliding’ borne out in survey data on public satisfaction with democracy and elections? Has the public worldwide become disenchanted with the quality of democracy in their country?
This paper uses comparative survey data the last four modules of the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES), alongside other institutional variables, to respond to two main questions. Firstly, has overall satisfaction with democracy and elections changed over the 20-year period covered by the CSES? In what countries and contexts has it increased or decreased? Secondly, what can account for these changes in satisfaction in democracy over time? Do changes in electoral institutions, the quality of elections, or individual-level factors best account for these changes? The results speak to growing concern over public perceptions of democracy in a wide variety of contexts, and the importance of democratic institutions in strengthening the public’s value of democracy.