Title Date & Time
Localizing Liberalisms in Southeast Asia
Prof Mark R Thompson, co-chair; Dr Michael Connors, co-chair; Dr Federico Ferrara; Dr Renaud Egreteau; Dr Stephan Ortmann; Dr Lisandro E Claudio; Dr Astrid Norén-Nilsson; Dr David Bourchier; Dr Kee Beng Ooi; Prof Ian Holliday


SEARC-AIS workshop -- Localizing Liberalisms in Southeast Asia
Date:   16 May 2019
Venue: Lau Ming Wai Academic Building- 17/F- 201 (LAU-17-201)

Workshop Programme




Registration (8:45-9:15)


Welcoming remarks (Michael Connors,  Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, and Mark R. Thompson, CityU, Hong Kong)    


Session 1 (9:30-10:45)


Methodological Problems in the Study of Southeast Asian Liberalisms : Lisandro Claudio, De La Salle University


Two Challenges to ‘Liberal Reformism’ in Southeast Asia- Mark Thompson


Session 2 (11:00-12:15)


Thai Liberalism in Comparative-Historical Focus: Democracy, Dictatorship and the ‘Revolting’ Middle Class- Federico Ferrara, City University of Hong Kong


Thai Liberalism in the 20th Century: Revisiting 1997- Michael Connors


Session 3 (14:00-15:15)


Cambodia: Banal Liberalism, Accidental Liberalism - Astrid Norén-Nilsson, Lund University


Is Myanmar’s NLD a Liberal Political Party? – Roman David, Lingnan University


Session 4 (15:30-17:15)


Liberalism in Indonesia: Between Authoritarian Nativism and Islamism - David Bourchier, University of Western Australia


Free and Illiberal: On the Manifest Paradox in Malaysian Nation Building – Kee Beng Ooi, Penang Institute


Liberalism in Singapore: Liberal Vestiges in an Illiberal Regime – Stephan Ortmann, City University of Hong Kong


Closing session and publication plans (17:30-18:30)


16 May 2019 (Thu)
Authoritarian governance and Singapore's developmental state: The roundtable

Roundtable participants:

Cherian George is professor of media studies at Hong Kong Baptist University’s School of Communication. His research focuses on media freedom, censorship, and hate propaganda around the world. He has published two collections of essays on Singapore politics: Singapore, Incomplete: Reflections on a First World Nation’s Arrested Political Development (2017) and Singapore: The Air-Conditioned Nation – Essays on the Politics of Comfort and Control (2000). His other books include Freedom from the Press: Journalism and State Power in Singapore (2012). He was a political journalist with The Straits Times in Singapore before moving to academia.

Donald Low is a faculty member at the Division of Public Policy at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology as well as its Director of Leadership and Public Policy Executive Education. He was formerly the Associate Dean (Research and Executive Education) at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. His research interests include economics in public policy, inequality and social spending, behavioural economics, public finance, organisational change, and governance and politics in Singapore. He served fifteen years in the Singapore government, holding various senior positions. He is the editor of Behavioural Economics and Policy Design: Examples from Singapore (2011) and Hard Choices: Challenging the Singapore Consensus (2014).

Stephan Ortmann is an assistant professor in the Department of Asian and International Studies of City University of Hong Kong. His research focuses on political transformations, civil society, and contentious politics in Asia. He is the author of and Environmental Governance in Vietnam: Institutional Reforms and Failures (2017), Politics and Change in Singapore and Hong Kong (2010), Managed Crisis: Legitimacy and the National Threat in Singapore.


Please click here for youtube video of the seminar.

15 Apr 2019 (Mon)
The 2019 Philippine Midterm Elections: Party Politics in the Age of Duterte
Prof Julio Teehankee


The May 13, 2019 midterm elections in the Philippines will elect half of the 24-seat national Senate, all 297 members of the House of Representatives, and all local government officials. Midterm elections are usually seen as a referendum on an incumbent especially under a presidential system of government where there is a fixed term of office for national and local positions. This is in contrast with most parliamentary systems where a government can be dismissed on a vote of no confidence and fresh elections are called. The upcoming elections will also test the political strength of the country’s populist strongman president – Rodrigo R. Duterte. Despite the lack of solid party support and political machinery, the former mayor of Davao City in Mindanao, rode a wave of angry votes to capture the presidency in 2016. But unlike previous Philippine presidents, he did not personally endeavor to consolidate his political support under a dominant party. PDP-Laban, the moribund political party that supported his presidential candidacy in 2016,  ballooned from a party of three elected members to more than 300 as political turncoats switched party affiliations. However, the party recently suffered a major setback as most of its members have again switched affiliation to the Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP), the regional party established by incumbent Davao city mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio. Meanwhile, the former dominant Liberal Party (LP) has been decimated with most of its members jumping to the administration parties. It was barely able to form a senatorial slate and one of its key leaders, defeated presidential candidate Mar Roxas, is running an independent senatorial campaign. Following recent works on populist politics, this presentation will delineate how Duterte has been able to eschew patronage-based political party building in favor of populist mobilization or “a strategy to build a mass of supporters to gain and retain power with the minimum of institutional intermediation” (Kenny 2017, 58). Moreover, it will provide an initial reading of the 2019 midterm elections using the lens of the 2022 presidential election.

Short bio:

Julio Cabral Teehankee is Professor of Political Science and International Studies at De La Salle University where he served as Chair of the Political Science Department (1994-2007); Chair of the International Studies Department (2008-2013); and Dean of the College of Liberal Arts (2013-2017). Currently, he is the President of the Philippine Political Science Association (PPSA). He completed his postdoctoral studies at the Graduate Schools of Law and Politics at the University of Tokyo, Japan and obtained his PhD in Development Studies from De La Salle University. He specializes in comparative politics of the Asia-Pacific, with a particular focus on issues of popular participation, governance, democratization, and contested institutions. Professor Teehankee has published extensively on the topics of elections, party politics, and political dynasties. His current research includes presidentialism in Asia; comparative constitutional dynamics in East and Southeast Asia; and party-building the Pacific Islands. He appears regularly as a political analyst for local and international media outlets.


Please click here for youtube video of the seminar.

8 Apr 2019 (Mon)
The Nature of Ming Loyalism a Century After the Fall of the Ming
Dr Claudine Ang


In the aftermath of the Ming-Qing dynastic transition, a group of Chinese Ming loyalists settled in Ha Tien (now located on the border between Cambodia and Vietnam) on the Mekong delta. On those frontier lands, they built a flourishing city around a busy port that maintained close trading connections with Guangdong, Fujian, and Chinese communities along the Vietnamese coastline. Through works of literature composed on the frontier, Chinese literati attempted to shape the cultural and political landscape of the Mekong delta. This paper examines an ambitious eighteenth-century literary project, which takes as its topic the landscape of the port-city of Ha Tien. In this project, Ha Tien’s ten scenic sites were first described in poetry, then distributed via the South China Sea trading network to thirty-one other poets scattered along the Vietnamese and southern Chinese coast. The poets were asked to compose matching suites of poems and to return them to Ha Tien with the next sailing season. The poems appear to be lyrical celebrations of nature; I argue, however, that they were a medium through which the originator of the project rendered his domain civilized by bringing it into cultured discourse. Moreover, I have discovered that the poems contained coded messages urging dispersed Ming loyalists to make Ha Tien their new capital.


Short bio:

Dr Claudine Ang is an Assistant Professor of Humanities (History) at Yale-NUS College. She completed her doctoral studies at Cornell University, where her dissertation was awarded the 2012 Lauriston Sharp Prize. Her book, Poetic Transformations: Eighteenth-Century Cultural Projects on the Mekong Plains, is forthcoming with Harvard University Asia Center Publications in July 2019. Her second book project examines the woodblock-print production of Vietnamese-language books composed in the demotic script (chu Nom) in nineteenth-century Guangdong and its distribution in Saigon.


Please click here for youtube video of the seminar.

1 Apr 2019 (Mon)
Stocktake of Myanmar’s Economy and Reforms
Prof Sean Turnell


In 2016 the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi came into government in Myanmar. Elected on the promise of a new era of freedom and hope, the NLD’s economic platform was no less ambitious in its pledge of dramatic reform. Such reform was desperately needed in a country for fifty years under the sway of erratic military rule and socialist dogma, but from the outset the task was not assumed to be an easy one. Thus it has proved. In this presentation I will present the NLD Government’s reform progress, the obstacles to it, and the current state of Myanmar’s economy. The steep challenges the Government faces will be squarely addressed, as will the reasons for new-found hope in Myanmar’s reform trajectory.    


Short bio:

Special Economic Consultant to the State Counsellor, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Sean Turnell has been a researcher of Myanmar’s economy for over twenty years. Concurrently a Professor at Macquarie University in Sydney, and formerly at the Reserve Bank of Australia, Sean has written widely on Myanmar’s economy. In addition to the Myanmar government, he has been an advisor on Myanmar to the US State Department and other agencies, to USAID, to Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, to the World Bank, and many other international bodies.

In 2009 Sean’s book on the history of the financial sector in Myanmar, Fiery Dragons: Banks, Moneylenders and Microfinance in Burma was published.  He has been a visiting fellow at the University of Cambridge, Cornell University, Johns Hopkins, and the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore.  In addition to his advisory role, Sean is the Director of Research at the Myanmar Development Institute (MDI) in Naypyitaw.


Please click here for youtube video of the seminar.

4 Mar 2019 (Mon)
Myanmar’s Way to Genocide: The Rohingya Crisis in a Disciplined Democracy
Dr Roger Lee Huang



An estimated 700,000 Rohingyas have fled Myanmar into neighbouring Bangladesh since the tatmadaw’s (Myanmar’s armed forces) August 2017 ‘clearance operations.’ This has turned Cox’s Bazar into one of the world’s fastest growing and largest refugee settlement. Although state-directed violence in Myanmar’s ethnic peripheries is not unique, the state’s attitudes towards the Rohingya community are qualitatively different to other major ethnic groups in the country. Identity politics are a powerful factor shaping the ongoing mass violence against the Rohingya community. The “othering” of the Rohingya community as illegal “Bengali” migrants that are not a part of the Myanmar nation is a long-term state-led process. Whereas some critics argue the crisis in Rakhine state exposes Myanmar’s apparent democratization as a false dawn, this paper argues that genocidal violence against the Rohingya “others” is part-and-parcel of Myanmar’s consolidation into the tatmadaw’s disciplined democracy.


Short bio:

Dr Roger Lee Huang is Lecturer in Terrorism Studies and Political Violence with the Department of Security Studies and Criminology, Macquarie University. He received his PhD from the Department of Asian and International Studies, City University of Hong Kong as a Hong Kong PhD Fellow. He has previously worked at Lingnan University, the Democratic Progressive Party of Taiwan and Academia Sinica (Taiwan) and has interned with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Yangon, Myanmar.


Please click here for youtube video of the seminar.

14 Jan 2019 (Mon)
Federal Republic or Dynastic Federalism? Imperatives of Political and Electoral Reforms in the Draft Federal Constitution of the Philippines
Prof Julio C Teehankee



The Consultative Committee to Review the 1987 Constitution (ConCom) convened by President Rodrigo Duterte in early 2018 completed a draft federal constitution premised on the implementation of extensive political and electoral reforms as major pre-requisites to a shift to federalism. These reforms include: (1) the need to regulate the number of political dynasties; (2) the need to institutionalize a package of political party reforms that include campaign finance reform, subsidy to political parties, a ban on party switching, and strengthening citizen parties linkages; and (3) the need to strengthen a mixed-electoral system in the House of Representatives. Without these important reforms, a shift to federalism might prove to be disastrous for the country with the regions becoming fiefdom of local political clans and dynasties. Recently, the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments released its own draft federal constitution, co-authored by former president and current Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The House draft constitution has not only expunged all of the ConCom’s proposed reforms, it has removed the anti-political dynasty provision and term limits for local and nationally elected officials already enshrined in the 1987 Constitution. With the 2019 midterm and 2022 presidential elections in the horizon, it is apparent that the country’s political elite cannot rise above their self-serving, narrow, and partisan interests for the good of the Filipino nation.


Short bio:

Julio C. Teehankee, an educator, researcher, and political consultant with a wide experience in electoral and political party related activities, is professor of Political Science and International Studies at De La Salle University. Teehankee served as chair of the Subcommittee on Political Reforms of the Consultative Committee to Review the 1987 Constitution that was convened by President Rodrigo Duterte in early 2018. He has published extensively on Philippine elections and party politics, and his latest publication is “Regional Dimensions of the 2016 General Elections in the Philippines: Emerging Contours of Federalism,” Regional and Federal Studies 28 (2018)


Please click here for youtube video of the seminar.

12 Nov 2018 (Mon)
The Rise of Duterte and the Return of Mahathir: Current Features of Authoritarianism in Southeast Asia
Dr Bonn Juego



Through an analysis of news reports, public debates, survey results, speeches and policy documents, the concepts of emergent authoritarian populism in the Philippines and the enduring authoritarian neoliberalism in Malaysia will be developed. The first part of the presentation will elucidate the significant features of the process through which the new regime of authoritarian populism is taking shape in the Philippines, and conclude that the dying EDSA-type liberal democracy has been a spawning ground for the popularity of Duterte’s authoritarian politics. The second part will unpack the historical trajectory and prevailing institutions of Malaysia’s neoliberal economy embedded in an authoritarian political framework – which shall serve as initial conditions, normative indicators and benchmarks against which the promises for regime change of Mahathir and his Reformasi allies must be evaluated. Based on these studies in contemporary Southeast Asia, the seminar will comparatively reflect upon the contradictory trends of cases in which a democratic route has been taken to either legitimize or overcome authoritarianism.


Short bio:

Bonn Juego is postdoctoral researcher at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland, with interdisciplinary teaching responsibilities in the social, political and economic sciences of development issues. He is visiting fellow at SEARC, City University of Hong Kong during the autumn of 2018, and has held guest researcher positions at the Department of Political Science, Aalborg University, and the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, University of Copenhagen. His recent publications and research endeavours are on contemporary Philippines and Malaysia, the political economy of the ASEAN Economic Community project, the challenge of right-wing populism and nationalism in Asia and Europe, the concept of authoritarian neoliberalism, and the new privatization of global development finance. His talk is based on two recent publications: “The Philippines 2017: Duterte-led Authoritarian Populism and Its Liberal-Democratic Roots” (Asia Maior, 2018) and “The Institutions of Authoritarian Neoliberalism in Malaysia: A Critical Review of the Development Agendas Under the Regimes of Mahathir, Abdullah, and Najib” (ASEAS, 2018).


Please click here for youtube video of the seminar.

5 Nov 2018 (Mon)
Propagating the Singapore Model: Geographic Imaginaries of Urban Renewal and Transnational Cooperation in the Belt and Road Era
Dr Elmo Gonzaga



Studies of Singapore as a creative or communicative city typically focus on its Renaissance City Plan to refashion its urban environment into a domain with “cultural vibrancy", which would draw foreign capital and talent to fuel innovation. Looking at the global circulation of cultural flows amid the shift of the world economy to Asia, this paper examines Singapore’s expanding sphere of influence in the burgeoning ASEAN Economic Community, whose aggregate GDP is already the world’s fifth largest. Consolidating its geopolitical position within the region, Singapore aims to transform itself into a leading hub for knowledge production by disseminating geographic imaginaries of urban renewal and transnational cooperation that highlight its exceptionality. On the one hand, the state-owned consultancy firm Surbana Jurong designs master plans for emerging metropolitan areas using templates for Special Economic Zones and Smart Cities based on Singapore's successful trajectory of development. On the other, the state-run cultural institutions National Gallery Singapore and Singapore Art Museum stage international exhibitions that promote new narratives and networks of intraregional creative practice with Singapore at the vanguard of innovation.

Short bio:
Elmo Gonzaga is Assistant Professor of Cultural Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He obtained his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley with a focus on Southeast Asian media cultures. His two recent publications in Cinema Journal and Cultural Studies look respectively at the culture industry of poverty porn and digital nostalgia in the smart city.

Please click here for youtube video of the seminar.

10 Sep 2018 (Mon)