Politics of Answerability in Southeast Asia

Ken Miichi (Associate Professor, Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies, Waseda University)

“Politics of Answerability in Southeast Asia” is a IPCR Type IV grant under the “Exploratory Area Studies Aiming at Larger-scale Research Projects” (YF 2016-17). Accountability is, a key concept of this research project, is, on the one hand, signifies “a government’s responsibility to respond to citizen demands through the disclosure of official information,” and on the other, “sanctions imposed on the government when it fails to meet that responsibility.” Effective accountability mechanisms enable changes in the behavior of politicians to more appropriately satisfy citizen preferences. It can be expected, therefore, that such mechanisms lead to a more efficient and effective public service.

However, political leaders’ direct answers to constituencies also leads to an increase in populism. The spread of SNS accelerates this trend. Political leaders like Thaksin of Thailand, Duterte of the Philippines, and Joko Widodo of Indonesia gained popularity through their promises to carry out economic redistribution and combat corruption and drugs. Such leaders often make detours around parliament to execute their policies with “extralegal measures,” which endangers legal guarantees and minority rights. The lack of checks and balances among state institutions (horizontal accountability) is the fundamental problem.

In this research project, we invited two, relatively young, practitioners from Indonesia who are knowledgeable about the internal affairs of the “politics of answerability” and involved with the current administration in Indonesia. Mr. Sudiyatmiko Aribowo, a Central Board member of the Indonesia Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) openly discussed the tensions between the ruling party and the president. Mr. Pramaartha Pode, an Assistant to the Special Staff of the President, shared details of the president’s public relations strategy. We also held a seminar with Dr. Christian von Lübke from Freiburg University, Germany, who researches accountability mechanisms in Southeast Asia.

Thanks to IPCR we were able to carry out seminars in a timely manner, and having a base of research in Kyoto was very helpful, especially as I was in Iwate Prefecture at the time. This IPCR project allowed us to successfully obtain support from the Japan Society for Promotion of Science (JSPS) Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research (“Politics of Answerability in Southeast Asia: introduction of accountability reform and rise of populism,” FY 2017-19), after two previous attempts. As an outcome of the grant, we now are preparing a book with tentative title, “Southeast Asian Politics in the era of SNS.”