Cancelled Contentious Electoral Politics in Southeast Asia

Course content

How far do elections underpin changes of regime in Southeast Asia and beyond? In this era of democratic rollback, the mere holding of elections offers no guarantees that a government genuinely reflects the popular will – as seen from contentious recent examples in Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand. A range of theories will be explored to help account for continuing salience of the military, the rise of populism, the role of social media and disinformation and the constant possibility of mass protests on the streets. All of these trends are complicating factors in assessing the nature of supposedly representative governance across the region – and similar trends are affecting many other parts of the world.


This course will examine recent developments in the contentious electoral politics of three Southeast Asian countries, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines, with some comparative references to Burma/Myanmar. Following a brief review of the case countries, the course will adopt a thematic approach, first reviewing the character of the state, including national mythologies, and the historical role of the military. It will then explore aspects of transition, including the changing political economy, the rise of electoral politics, the role of religion and media, and the phenomenon of rally politics. Challenges to national elites from the regions will also be closely scrutinised. These themes and issues have a broader relevance to wider debates in comparative politics, which students will be encouraged to explore in their papers. Students will be permitted to write papers addressing other cases (especially Cambodia, Malaysia and Myanmar) that cannot be covered in depth during formal class sessions.


Lecture topics


  1. The Puzzle: Elections – why bother?
  2. Thailand: Authoritarian nostalgia
  3. Indonesia: Team of rivals?
  4. The Philippines: Executive aggrandisement?
  5. Unpacking Elites: Monarchs and myths
  6. Security States: Military and politics
  7. Challenges to the Centre
  8. Changing Political Economy
  9. New Modes of Populism
  10. The Resurgence of Electoral Politics
  11. Social Media and Disinformation
  12. What’s Religion Got to Do with It?
  13. Rally Politics
  14. Conclusions? Making sense of Southeast Asian elections



Full-degree students enrolled at the Department of Political Science, UCPH

  • MSc in Political Science
  • MSc in Social Science
  • MSc in Security Risk Management
  • Bachelor in Political Science


Full-degree students enrolled at the Faculty of Social Science, UCPH 

  • Master Programme in Social Data Science
  • Master programme in Global Development


The course is open to:

  • Exchange and Guest students from abroad
  • Credit students from Danish Universities
  • Open University students


Enrolled students register the course through the Selfservice. Please contact the study administration at each programme for questions regarding registration.

Learning outcome


Students will gain knowledge about contentious elections through the lens comparative politics. Students will be able to analyze the factors shaping electoral politics using examples from a range of Southeast Asian cases. Students will be able to account for a range of theoretical perspectives on these issues.



Students will be able to analyze specific instances of electoral contestation and evaluate the empirical challenges facing a number of transitional polities in Southeast Asia. They will understand the different political challenges that arise from alternative approaches to securing regime legitimacy and balancing political representation with the suppression of oppositional movements.



Students will be able to assess and understand the political and societal context of electoral politics in a specific group of Southeast Asian states, politics that have a broader application to other parts of the world, using a range of theoretical and analytical perspectives.

The weekly four hour session will be divided into two 2 hour topics with a break in between. The first hour of each 2 hour topic session will include a presentation by the instructor. Following a couple of short student led presentations the class will use a discussion format to explore salient questions addressing the themes and critiquing the readings.

Indicative List


Bermeo, Nancy (2016) “On Democratic Backsliding.” Journal of Democracy, 27, 1: 5-19.*

Blaug, Ricardo (2002), “Engineering Democracy”, Political Studies, 50, 1: 102–116

Carothers, Thomas (2002), “The End of the Transition Paradigm,” Journal of Democracy 13,1: 5–21.

Diamond, Larry (2008), “The Democratic Rollback: The Resurgence of the Predatory State,” Foreign Affairs, March/April: 36–48.

Huntington, Samuel P. (1991), The Third Wave of Democratization, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, especially pp. 31–85.

Kurlantzick, Joshua (2013), Democracy in Retreat, New Haven, CT: Yale, pp. 1–48.

McCargo, Duncan (2001), “Political Transitions in Pacific Asia,” in Jeff Haynes (ed.), Towards Sustainable Democracy in the Third World, Basingstoke: Palgrave, pp. 141–62.

Rodan, Garry (1996) “Theorising political opposition in East and Southeast Asia,” in Rodan, Garry (ed.), Political Oppositions in Industrialising Asia, London: Routledge, pp. 1–32.

Slater, Dan (2010), Ordering Power: Contentious Politics and Authoritarian Leviathans in Southeast Asia, New York: Cambridge, especially pp. 3–32.

Way, Lucan, and Steven Levitsky (2010). Competitive Authoritarianism: Hybrid Regimes After the Cold War. New York: Cambridge University Press.



Chambers, Paul and Napisa Waitoolkiat (2016), “The Resilience of Monarchised Military in Thailand,” Journal of Contemporary Asia, 46, 3, 425–444.

Connors, Michael K. (2002), “Framing the People’s Constitution,” in Duncan McCargo (ed.) Reforming Thai Politics, Copenhagen: NIAS, 2002, pp. 37–55.

Girling, John L. S. (1981), Thailand: Society and Politics, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, pp. 187–230.

Hewison, Kevin (1997), “Introduction,” in Kevin Hewison (ed.) Political Change in Thailand, London: Routledge, pp. 1–20.

Handley, Paul, (2006), The King Never Smiles, New Haven, CT: Yale, pp. 346–393.

McCargo, Duncan (2005) “Network Monarchy and Legitimacy Crises in Thailand,” The Pacific Review, 18, 4: 499–519.

Montesano, Michael (2007), “Thailand: A Reckoning with History Begins,” in Daljit Singh and Lorraine C. Salazar (eds), Southeast Asian Affairs 2007, Singapore: ISEAS.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun, (ed.) (2014), Good Coup Gone Bad: Thailand’s Political Developments Since Thaksin’s Downfall, Singapore: ISEAS.



Anonymous (2018), “Anti-Royalism in Thailand Since 2006: Ideological Shifts and Resistance”, Journal of Contemporary Asia, 48, 3: 363–394.

Connors, Michael K. (2008), “Article of Faith: the Failure of Royal Liberalism in Thailand,” Journal of Contemporary Asia, 38, 1: 143–165.

McCargo, Duncan (2005), “Network Monarchy and Legitimacy Crises in Thailand”, The Pacific Review, 18, 4: 499–519.

McCargo, Duncan and Ayşe Zarakol (2012) “Turkey and Thailand: Unlikely Twins”, Journal of Democracy, 23, 3: 71–79.

Mérieau, Eugénie (2016), Thailand’s Deep State, Royal Power and the Constitutional Court (1997–2015), Journal of Contemporary Asia, 46, 3: 445–466,

Streckfuss, David (2011), Truth on Trial in Thailand, Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 286–315.

Sebastian, Leonard C. (2006), Realpolitik Ideology: Indonesia’s Use of Military Force, Singapore: ISEAS, pp. 373–88.

Thongchai Winichakul, (2014) “The Monarchy and Anti-Monarchy: Two Elephants in the Room of Thai Politics and The State of Denial’, in Pavin Chachavalpongpun, (ed.) (2014) Good Coup Gone Bad: Thailand’s Political Developments Since Thaksin’s Downfall, Singapore: ISEAS, pp. 79–108.

Serhat Ünaldi (2016), Working Towards the Monarchy: The Politics of Space in Downtown Bangkok, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, pp. 53–85.

Veerayooth Kanchoochat (2016), “Reign-seeking and the Rise of the Unelected in Thailand”, Journal of Contemporary Asia, 46, 3: 486–503.



Chambers, Paul (2018), “In the Land of Democratic Rollback: Military Authoritarianism and Monarchical Primacy in Thailand” in Brendan Howe (ed.), National Security, Statecentricity, and Governance in East Asia, London: Palgrave Pivot, pp. 37–60 (available online through Clio).

Ockey, James (2001) “Thailand: The Struggle to Redefine Civil-Military Relations,” in Muthiah Alagappa (ed.), Coercion and Governance: The Declining Political Role of the Military in Asia, Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, pp. 187–208.

Journal of Contemporary Asia, (2008), Special issue on 2006 Thai military coup, 38, 1.

Mietzner, Marcus (2011), “Conflict and Leadership,” in Marcus Mietzner (ed.), The Political Resurgence of the Military in Southeast Asia: Conflict and Leadership, Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 1–23.

Mietzner, Marcus (2013), “Veto Player No More? The Declining Political Influence of the Military in Postauthoritarian Indonesia, in Mirjam Kunkler and Alfred C. Stepan (eds.), Democracy and Islam in Indonesia, New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 89–108. Aspinall, Edward (2015), “Oligarchic Populism” Prabowo Subianto's Challenge to Indonesian Democracy,” Indonesia, 99: 1–28.

McCargo, Duncan and Ukrist Pathmanand (2005) The Thaksinization of Thailand, Copenhagen: NIAS, chapters 2 and 6.

Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker (2009) Thaksin, Chiang Mai: Silkworm, pp. 316–68.

Somchai Phatharathananunth (2016) “Rural Transformations and Democracy in Northeast Thailand,” Journal of Contemporary Asia, 46, 3: 505–519.

Teehankee, Julio C. and Mark R. Thompson (2016), “Electing A Strongman,” Journal of Democracy, 27, 4: 125–134.



Anderson, Benedict R (1996), “Elections and Participation in Three Southeast Asian Countries,” in Robert H. Taylor (ed.), The Politics 

of Elections in Southeast Asia, New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 12–33.

Anyarat Chattharakul (2010), “Thai Electoral Campaigning: Vote-Canvassing Networks and Hybrid Voting,” Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, 29, 4: 67–95.

Ardeth Thawnghmung (2016), “The Myanmar Elections 2015: Why the National League for Democracy Won a Landslide Victory,” Critical Asian Studies, 48, 1: 132–142,

Mujani, Saiful and R. William Liddle (2010), “Voters and the New Indonesian Democracy” in Edward Aspinall and Marcus Mietzner (eds.), Problems of Democratisation in Indonesia: Elections, Institutions and Society, Singapore: ISEAS, pp. 75–99.

Mietzner, Marcus (2013), Money, Power, and Ideology: Political Parties in Post-Authoritarian Indonesia. Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press.

Mietzner, Marcus (2014), “Indonesia’s 2014 Elections: How Jokowi Won and Democracy Survived,” Journal of Democracy, 25, 4: 111–125.

Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker (2013) “Reviving Democracy at Thailand’s 2011 Election”, Asian Survey, 54, 3: 607–628.

Timberman, David (2016), “Elite Democracy Disrupted?” Journal of Democracy, 27, 4: 135–44.

Weiss, Meredith L. (2014) ‘Introduction: Patterns and Dynamics in Malaysian Electoral Politics, in Meredith L. Weiss (ed.), Electoral Dynamics in Malaysia: Findings from the Grassroots, Singapore: ISEAS, pp. 1–16.



Feedback will be given in individual in-person meetings on proposed free assignment topics



7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Type of assessment details
Free written assignment
Exam registration requirements

Free written assignment

Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship

- In the semester where the course takes place: Free written assignment

- In subsequent semesters: Free written assignment

Criteria for exam assessment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • English
  • 28


Course number
7,5 ECTS
Programme level
Full Degree Master

1 block

Block 1

Department of Political Science, Study Council
Contracting department
  • Department of Political Science
  • Social Data Science
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Social Sciences
Course Coordinator
  • Duncan McCargo   (6-77888176748153817c7486417e8841777e)
Saved on the 22-06-2023

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