Contention and Regime Change in Asia
Indonesia, South Korea, Thailand
Recent waves of mass demonstrations around the world have attracted renewed scholarly and political attention to the question of the role of grassroot movements in political change. In explaining political transition processes, the democratization literature usually attributes a prominent role to elite actors. Influential democratization scholars depict the transition process as a process of negotiation and pact-building between key elite actors. By contrast, mass movements are seen as a rather passive element in the process that can be mobilized and demobilized by the elite.
This project challenges the democratization literature’s narrow focus on the political elite and aims at combining it with insights from the social movement literature. The experience of newly democratized countries in East and Southeast Asia provides an interesting empirical basis to study how key stages in the democratization process are related to mass mobilization. Relying on a newly constructed dataset of protest events (1985–2005), the project analyzes similarities and differences between mass mobilization and respective actions and responses by elite actors in three countries in the region, namely Indonesia, South Korea, and Thailand.
In dynamic transitions, as we identified in Korea or Indonesia, we see quick and big
changes in the size of overall protest, its geographic spread, the composition of protest actors,
and their actions and demands. It is those dynamic aspects of mass mobilization that turn the
power of “the street” into a critical challenge for authoritarian power holders. Our results
suggest that for such dynamism in contention to unfold, certain organizational capacities need
to be in place within the political opposition which are difficult to find in authoritarian settings.
While the beginning of mass mobilization may often be accidental and take the form of
spontaneous and local protest, we have found that important regularities exist once mass
protest takes off. An important finding of the project is that such regularities are
related to the presence of certain protest actors, such as political opposition parties and students, and their organizational capacities. It is also
the identity of actors and their organizational capacities that help explain repressive
government behavior during regime change.
The method of data collection and analysis employed in this project is protest event analysis, as developed by social movement researchers. More specifically, we carried out a content analysis of national newspapers. We selected one daily quality newspaper of English language for each country under study. The first step of the content analysis consisted of screening and preselecting news reports. To identify newspaper articles which report on protest events, we used a list with predefined categories of protest actions. The second step consisted of extracting relevant information on the protest, as specified in the newspaper article. This included protest forms and goals, protest actors, and the presence or absence of repressive actions by the government.
|Ethical approval||No||Study type||
|Start - End date||01.09.2009 - 06.03.2020|