Southeast Asia Studies Seminar Program
The MacMillan Center at Yale University
Apr 16 , 2013

"The Slow Road from Authoritarianism to Democracy: Where are Malaysia and Singapore?"
Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh, Senior editor, Asia, Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), Singapore

For decades, the vast majority of Malaysians and Singaporeans appeared relatively content with their respective ruling parties-the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition and the People's Action Party (PAP). Their consistent electoral success was built on a combination of rapid economic growth and iron-fisted political control.

As living standards got better, most people in the two countries were happy to live their lives quietly under the democratic radar.

But over the past decade, a combination of forces-including policy missteps by the ruling parties, the emergence of more credible opposition candidates, and the widening of political space through the Internet-has blown the lid off these hitherto politically apathetic countries.

Malaysia and Singapore are, in reality, witnessing two slow, quiet, largely peaceful socio-political revolutions that will ultimately change the complexion of the region.

What is prompting these changes? How are the ruling parties responding, and what does the future hold for the fabled one-party state? How are historical narratives being revised and rewritten? What are the implications for the different strata of society, particularly the less fortunate? How is civil society evolving? Is the sense of "identity" in Malaysia and Singapore likely to change?

Join us for a discussion of these issues.

Sudhir Vadaketh was born in Singapore, and left after completing high school and mandatory military service to study at Berkeley and Harvard, before returning home in 2005. His literary and research interests are about the way grand political and social systems influence ordinary people's lives, their worldviews, and their interactions with each other. He hopes to follow his first book, Floating on a Malayan Breeze: Travels in Malaysia and Singapore, with narratives on Asia's other great societies. Sudhir will be leaving his job is as a senior editor with the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) at the end of March to pursue a new book project. He has written for a variety of publications, including The Economist and The Straits Times.

 

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