The fate of democratization in Asia in the post-Cold War era has been closely identified with four cases: Mongolia, the exemplar in inner Asia of establishing—in the shadow of Russia and China—a bona fide democratic system; Indonesia, the principal test case of a major, Moslem-majority country switching to the path of democratization; Malaysia, proof that democracy can weather the excesses of vast corruption; and Myanmar, the poster-boy of intense international pressure causing a military regime to agree to democratization. Of these cases, however, not one offers unqualified optimism that democratization is on a trajectory of inevitability or even sustainability in our trying times. Mongolia could be squeezed by its two strong neighbors, casting doubt on its “third neighbor” strategy of balancing great power relations. For Indonesia’s vaunted tolerance of diversity, fundamentalism is rapidly posing a grave risk to human rights. Myanmar has seen one of the most flagrant cases of ethnic cleansing, which has been enabled by democratic leadership unable to buck the power of the military. Finally, while Malaysia escaped from a close call in 2018, problems related to manipulation of its ethnic sensitivities, which have been used to distort the democratization process, are not being addressed or resolved. In 2019, as democratization hangs perilously on the cliff’s edge, these cases warrant particular attention.
Drawing on conceptual frameworks derived from experiences in East Asia and lessons learned from cases in Northeast Asia, we look closely at forces shaping prospects for democratization, national identities impacting receptivity to it, and great power relations both in support and opposition to it. Our emphasis is on recent developments, testing whether democratization moves ahead or falls back. In this introduction, comparisons are suggested, based on the findings in the four chapters. These cases provide a useful basis for generalizing about a region at a crossroads. Each of these cases, at one time or another, gave fresh hope that democratization was finally on the upswing in East Asia, but each now provides cautionary evidence of threats to that process.
One question raised in coverage of conceptual frameworks and lessons from Northeast Asia was whether national identities would provoke contention after the first transition to democracy. In all four cases covered below, democratization has faced setbacks. Mongolia has had less backlash from national identity, clinging more to an identity that distances itself from its two neighbors and gives it hope of support from its “third neighbors.” Indonesia is facing a considerable backlash, never having consolidated an international identity while Muslim distrust of such thinking has found fertile soil. Malaysia has overcome a backlash rooted in a corrupt leader’s authoritarian tendencies, using ethnic identity as a rallying cry, but over the past year institutionalization of its gains has been lagging. Finally, Myanmar’s fragile democratization is being tested by flagrant ethnic cleansing. Ethnic, religious, and autonomous identities in today’s very uncertain foreign environment are all at work, shaping the course of democratization and its advancement.
The United States and China hover in the background as indigenous forces battle over the checks and balances as well as identities that could deepen democracy. US-led globalization struggles to win the trust of populations fixated on narrower identities, gaining ground when corruption rises to unfathomable levels, as in Malaysia, or when neighbors appear threatening, as in Mongolia. In China, the prospect of deeper democratization is unwelcome as it interferes with Sinocentric hopes for regionalism; undercuts corrupt networks for economic and political influence; and gives people mechanisms for judging great power competition for what it is. Playing on identity gaps with the United States and Japan is deemed conducive to averting a feared “color revolution.”
The main message, however, in the four articles is that internal factors have been more telling in determining whether democracies are deepened or undermined. One arena is between religious or ethnic identity and democratic identity linked to a liberal international order. There has been limited success in promoting the latter even when leaders such as Jokowi and Mahathir present themselves as vigorous champions of democratization. Another is between corruption, cronyism, or authoritarian tendencies and the rule of law and strict limits on the power of the top leader. A continuous tug-of-war exists as democratically elected leaders are tempted to ignore power limits. Each of the four articles contrasts a boost in democratization to setbacks still threatening in 2019.
Mendee Jargalsaikhan, “Democratization, National Identity, and Foreign Policy in Mongolia in 2019”
Given the legacy of communism and the pressures attributed to Beijing and Moscow, sparsely populated and landlocked Mongolia has not been regarded as a likely stalwart of democracy in recent years when overall optimism about the course of democratization has been receding. Mendee considers the reasons for success in sustaining democracy as well as the evidence of its vulnerability, paying close attention to recent debates indicative of national identity as well as foreign policy factors that continue to operate. Political power is transferred, over and over again, between two main political parties by free, fair, and inclusive elections, putting Mongolia firmly in the ranks of electoral democracies. Unusual circumstances have enabled democratization to proceed, but, of late, they should be recognized as standing in the way of its deepening.
Mendee’s article makes three arguments. First, the favorable external environment has been a crucial factor for the democratization process since the mid-1980s. A geopolitically neutral Mongolia serves its neighbors’ interests; therefore, Beijing and Moscow have been reluctant to make any moves to trigger the traditional security dilemma, even if their shadows do not facilitate deepening the process. Since the mid-1980s, the external environment has remained favorable for domestic politics since the neighbors have prioritized their strategic partnership rather than engaging in direct geostrategic competition in Mongolia. Despite its growing influence over the Mongolian economy, Beijing is still reluctant to upset the Kremlin. Also, none of Mongolia’s new-found “third neighbors” has been dragged into unnecessary geopolitical confrontation over it. The United States, Japan, and Germany have not made any effort to use Mongolia as an arena to engage in direct geostrategic confrontation with either Russia or China. Rather they support the country’s democratic identity as foundation for their relations. It has sufficient democracy to dissuade the third neighbors from thinking of it as a candidate for a “color revolution,” while it is advancing so little to a deeper level of democracy or a model for others that China and Russia, each wary of antagonizing the other, would find cause to intervene.
The Sino-Soviet rapprochement created the most favorable external setting for democratization, in parallel to the impact of Soviet normalization with the Western powers providing obvious breathing space for the transformation of domestic politics in European socialist states. Russia and China have remained neutral to the Mongolian democratization process although both have enormous power to pressure or interfere in its domestic politics. This is not because either respects the sovereignty of small peripheral states, but because they understand the desirability of keeping Mongolia as neutral as possible for their respective geopolitical interests. Mongolia had become an arena for Moscow and Beijing to prove that they could find common ground in testing their ties, e.g. China rarely uses its leverage over Mongolian politics as long as leaders in Ulaanbaatar respect Chinese core concerns, concludes Mendee.
Second, the survival of the ruling communist party, the Mongolian People’s Party (MPP), is a key constructive factor for the consolidation of the electoral democracy. In the crucial period between 1987 and 1990, the Mongolian communist party had taken measures opposite to those of its counterparts in Moscow and Beijing. Following the ousting of the authoritarian leader, new party leaders created a favorable atmosphere for open debate and criticism. Political reform was early backed up by political institutions; therefore, it acquired a broader base of support from the public than personalized reform, which is attached to a particular populist leader, or reform imposed from the outside by external powers. The survival of the ruling communist party has been a key factor for the consolidation of electoral democracy in Mongolia. The existence of an institutionally strong political party has not only prevented hijacking by populist leaders, but also contributed to political stability. If the ruling party were replaced by multiple small parties, there would have been too many leaders to work with, and this would have been too challenging and costly for the international party assistance programs of either the KAS or the IRI, whose wherewithal was crucial for the opposition parties’ takeover of the presidency in 1993 and parliament in 1996. The existence of a well-institutionalized party made the power (leadership) transition process easier than in countries without strong political parties.
The main reason behind this unusual type of collaborative behavior is apparently concern for political stability, linked to appreciation for the value of Mongolia’s democratic national identity for both internal and external purposes. The 2016 parliamentary elections resulted in a landslide victory for the former ruling party, which won 65 out of 76 seats. The Democratic Party won in the 2013 and 2017 presidential elections. However, both parties are struggling to gain popular support as they are unable to deal with growing clientalism and corruption. While their leaders have been pledging since as early as 2004 to fight against corruption, separate the blurred lines between the legislative and executive offices, and depoliticize the judiciary and law enforcement, none have taken bold measures. What worked to propel democratization in the initial stage is not sufficient to advance it into a subsequent, deeper stage.
Of late, corruption poses an increased threat for the country’s democratic institutions. It becomes more difficult to reform judicial institutions amidst intense power struggles than earlier in the transition, says Mendee. Over the last decade, media coverage has been overwhelmed by unresolved corruption scandals, involving a majority of politicians, both in power as well as those now out of power. Politicians and political parties skillfully use the corruption scandals in their political maneuvering. Once they achieve their parochial objectives or reach deals, the scandals are left unresolved. The rule of law is weak in Mongolia, which offers important lessons for countries transitioning from a single-party state to an electoral democracy. First is the danger of neglecting judicial reform. By the 2016 parliamentary and 2017 presidential elections, a number of judicial reform decisions had been undone or shaped according to the interests of the winning political parties as well as varied political-business factions.
If political leaders and parties are not able to uphold the rule of law, there is danger that a populist leader will succeed in discrediting the political parties and assert his control over the judiciary and law enforcement organizations. The frustrated public would likely prefer a strong hand rather than strong institutions. Therefore, Mongolian democratization could arrive at another crossroads. Accepting as a centerpiece in its national identity democratization, Mongolia has gained geopolitical balance and increased its capacity to affirm its distinctiveness versus China and Russia. Because democracy strengthened Mongolia’s identity vis-a-vis China (similar to Taiwan versus the PRC and South Korea versus North Korea), provided an opportunity to gain full independence from the Kremlin, and facilitated integration into the international system beyond its two neighbors, there was not any major opposition to it. Since that time, democratization has still served the interests of Mongolia’s third neighbors, all of which have refrained from measures that could trigger unnecessary geopolitical competition with Mongolia’s two neighbors and, in the process, endanger that very democracy. After all, electoral democracy has remained a key element of identity—linking Mongolia with the world beyond its expansionist neighbors.
Ralf Emmers, “Democratization, National Identity and Indonesia’s Foreign Policy”
Indonesia remained undemocratic for more than four decades, marked first by “Guided Democracy” and later by the “New Order.” The Asian Financial Crisis of 1997-98 eventually contributed to the democratic transition process and the introduction of new civil liberties. The country was embarrassed and deeply affected economically by the strict conditions on loans imposed, argues Emmers, adding that the first years of democratization were politically and economically tumultuous with three non-directly elected presidents. After Yudhoyono’s re-election in 2009, the 2014 election of Jokowi, further established the process of democratization, as he was the first elected leader not to originate from the country’s military or political establishment. Yet, Muslim identity politics has increasingly resulted in the mobilization of religious-based support. Islam plays an important role in presidential elections. Both Jokowi and his opponent, Prabowo Subianto, campaigned along religious lines and the national election in 2019 revealed signs of a more divisive society, Emmers observes, casting doubt on the state of democratization.
Over the last 20 years, national identity had evolved to include the promotion of democracy, respect for human rights, and development of an open political environment, argues Emmers. It filled a void since the Republic of Indonesia was not established based on a common historical unity or legitimacy but rather on its identity as a former Dutch colony. Indonesia’s national priorities have mostly remained constant since its war of independence against Dutch colonial rule. They involve “maintain(ing) the integrity of its far-flung territory, ensuring the cohesion of its diverse society, and promoting the country’s economic interests.” Security challenges to its sovereignty and territorial integrity have traditionally come from within its national boundaries.
The demise of Suharto’s “New Order” was accompanied by a rise of nationalist and religious movements. Democratization and the decentralization of politics increased the use of exclusive politics and accelerated fragmented religious and regional identities. One observed an increase in religious nationalism, as the unifying force of Islam became salient in Indonesia’s changing national identity. The first few years of democratization also saw the rise of an unprecedented number of civil conflicts. While fear of such separatist groups has lessened in recent years, the risk of an ineffective political system in Indonesia remains a source of concern.
The process of democratization in Indonesia is likely to face a series of challenges in the coming years due to compromises made by the Jokowi government to Islamist voices and the military, warns Emmers. Jokowi has brought high-ranking military officers into the executive by, for example, appointing General Wiranto as coordinating political, legal, and security affairs minister, at the dismay of human rights activists. Such challenges are the result of a changing national identity and suggest a grim evolving situation as democratization has been accompanied by a rise of Muslim identity politics and the fragmentation of society. For example, arguably driven by identity politics, Jokowi decided to travel to Mecca in Saudi Arabia to perform the Muslim pilgrimage three days before the polls in 2019, observes Emmers.
Jokowi was viewed after his first presidential victory as a hope for democracy in Indonesia and Southeast Asia. Five years later, the process of democratization is increasingly driven by Muslim identity politics with presidential candidates campaigning along religious lines. The national election of 2019 also showed signs of a more divisive society. In addition, the political dynamics have evolved with a potential return of the military in socio-political affairs. Such developments may ultimately endanger the overall process of democratization in Indonesia, warns Emmers.
Indonesia’s capacity to move beyond the projection of its own democratization experience will depend not only on its own domestic resilience and long-term economic development, but also on its ability to preserve room for maneuver in a worsening strategic environment. The current struggle between the United States and China makes it less likely that Indonesia will be able to focus on a normative foreign policy, argues Emmers. Foreign policy has not been a priority to most Indonesian presidents since the process of democratization started in the late 1990s. The Jokowi government has not given much importance to foreign policy beyond bilateral relations with great and middle powers. Nevertheless, as an extension of its process of democratization, Indonesia has sought to project its own domestic experience and promote democracy and the respect for human rights in Southeast Asia and beyond. It has been disappointed by the resistance encountered from some ASEAN members to endorse a more democratic form of domestic governance based on a common set of values. The politics of Southeast Asia are problematic for democracy promotion, as the ASEAN members remain diverse politically and value the principles of national sovereignty and non-interference in the affairs of other states above all. This state of affairs may have convinced Jakarta to move beyond ASEAN on certain matters. Jakarta has attempted, for instance, to promote democracy through the Bali Democracy Forum launched in 2008. Being a forum and not an organization with “measurable outcomes,” it is “difficult to avoid thinking of it as other than a ‘talk shop.” Indonesia has also sought to promote interfaith dialogue in the context of rising religious fundamentalism and a widening gap between the Western and Muslim world. Yet, unlike his predecessor, Jokowi’s initiatives have been less driven by a normative agenda. He has bolstered a domestic orientation to Indonesia’s foreign policy by emphasizing the need to protect the nation and provide security to all its citizens.
One may speculate whether the rising strategic and economic competition between the United States and China as well as the shift away from democracy and human rights promotion under the Trump administration has influenced Jokowi’s foreign policy. Emmers suggests that the United States influenced the process of democratization in Indonesia when it first started in the late 1990s, applying an arms embargo and suspending military ties in response to abuses committed by the Indonesian armed forces. Amid rising geopolitical competition, Indonesia still adheres to its traditional “free and active” foreign policy. This means that Indonesia continues to avoid taking sides between any competing blocs and refrains from forming formal military alliances. The promotion of democracy and respect for human rights may well have become secondary in this uncertain strategic landscape, observes Emmers.
With a potential slowdown of its economy, it will be more challenging for Indonesia to uphold its normative foreign policy and its role as a responsible follower of the “rules-based order.” Given that Indonesia’s policy options have been narrowed by the rising Sino-US competition and the ongoing trade war risks affecting its economic growth—already affecting Indonesia’s currency and financial market—it is less likely for Jokowi during his second term to drive a normative agenda and promote democracy and respect for human rights in his foreign policy. In response to the Free and Open Indo-Pacific concept promoted by the United States, the Jokowi administration proposed its own version of the term at the ASEAN summit in Singapore in 2018,
offering an ASEAN-centric vision based on the body’s own principles and centrality in the regional architecture. The Indonesian proposal for an alternative approach was turned down by the other member states, as they were concerned to be further embroiled in the US-China rivalry.
Sophie Lemiere, “Truce and Tales in New Malaysia: Happy First Anniversary”
On May 9, 2018 the opposition coalition, Pact of Hope (Pakatan Harapan or PH), led by Mahathir Mohammad, won the general elections, slaying 61 years of single-party rule. Malaysia Baharu (“New Malaysia”) was born; and with it, the hopes of democratization. “New Malaysia” is not just about an unexpected democratic turn but also a unique power transition between two charismatic leaders: Mahathir and Anwar. While Malaysia has been independent since 1957, the federation never became a full-fledged democracy. The semi-authoritarian system perpetuated by UMNO ensured its monopoly over power for decades. The existence of multi-partite elections and the development of a vibrant civil society were used as arguments in favor of a democratic illusion, while overshadowing the extent of the unfairness of electoral competition and the partisan nature of civil society. Far from being a transitional process, says Lemiere, this regime was the successful outcome of a deliberate strategy “to maintain the appearance of democracy without exposing themselves to the political risks that free competition entails.”
Malaysia constitutes a great example of how civil society was used by a government as an authoritarian tool. The anti-imperialistic and nationalist ideals previously shared with other ethnic-based parties acquired an ethnonationalist slant. Over decades, the UMNO-led governments pushed for a national narrative submerging the historical role and social and economic rights of the Chinese, Indians, and indigenous minorities, argues Lemiere. Policies
giving Malay higher representation in public service, reserved quotas for universities, and shares in public companies reinforced the national narrative and nurtured a feeling of both entitlement (among the Malay) and resentment (on other sides of the ethnic spectrum). Yet, embezzlement of the state-managed fund 1MDB, one of the biggest corruption scandals in the world, burst into the limelight in 2015. The development fund, in practice, had become a cash cow for well-placed individuals. By 2015, foreign authorities had opened no fewer than nine investigations into the 1MBD affair, most of which identified Najib as one of the protagonists. Criticism of Najib’s role in the scandal led to a purge from UMNO, the cabinet, and the judiciary. Under these conditions, the coalition Bersih, which had emerged in 2006, held the first march of its supporters in Kuala Lumpur in 2007, and was relaunched as Bersih 2.0 in 2010, raising the level of awareness of the many abuses of the electoral system by the ruling coalition and giving impetus to democratization.
Into the breach rode Mahathir, whose relevance to contemporary politics had faded after his long stint in power. The former strongman was back, and his agenda had made an incredible turn towards democracy—a concept he had despicably criticized and associated with western values over the years. Mahathir played on the extraordinary nature of his action to build momentum and his messianic narrative: In a country on the verge of bankruptcy, returns an unexpected savior ready for all sacrifices (including his own health) to save the people, end kleptocracy, and bring democracy. From demonized authoritarian leader to celebrated democratic icon and champion of human rights, Mahathir’s success in re-inventing himself proved his unique aptitude for pragmatic politics by making the imagery of reform his own, argues Lemiere.
The 2018 electoral success had only marked the first step in the process of democratization, involving two transitions, the second of which is from democratic government toward the effective functioning of a democratic regime, i.e. democratic deepening and consolidation, as Croissant explained. At present, the government, the opposition, civil society, and voters are in a push-and-pull game that has had a negative effect on public perceptions, and has slowed down, if not blocked, the government’s decisions. While reform of economic policies, which have shown their inadequacy, and the reverse discrimination they have engendered is justified, the rhetoric used by government leaders has laid the fault on the community itself rather than on the policies. In the name of democracy, corrupted civil servants are being hunted, a former premier is on trial, affirmative action is challenged, gender equality is promoted (wishful thinking?), but at the same time, the prime minister complains about the lack of flexibility of electoral rules regarding the use of government resources for campaigns, and the premier-in-waiting is reproached with abusing electoral laws during his campaign for a parliament seat. Leaders are sending contradictory messages to their voters, paving the way for critics from a rather weak opposition, which takes refuge in old ethno-religious rhetoric, concludes Lemiere.
In Malaysia, she adds, democratic transition has long been associated with “liberalization,” a concept reinterpreted by some through a moral lens. For the most conservative part of Malaysian society, on which the new opposition tries to rebuild his support, liberalization is intrinsically linked to democratization and a challenge to traditional values. In this context, democratization is perceived as a celebration of a ‘liberal way of life’ and understood by conservative elements as immoral Western practices.
Democratic intentions have not materialized fully through policies; the government lacks cohesion and fails in communicating its progress and agenda. In a context where directions are unclear, the practice of power does not change, leaving space for corruption, cronyism, and also populist short-cuts. The reinvention of Malaysia beyond the religious and ethnic divide is indeed a crucial condition to the success of the second phase of democratization—the more difficult one. The re-training of civil servants, the rewriting of text books and curricula, and a cohesive cultural agenda are pressing reforms. The stagnation of reform in New Malaysia reveals the existence of a deep structural problem in Malaysian politics—the nature of its political culture—Lemiere adds.
Jonathan T, Chow and Leif-Eric Easley, “Myanmar’s Democratic Backsliding in the Struggle for National Identity and Independence”
Democratization has opened up political space for aggressive ethno-nationalists, argue Chow and Easley. The seven-step roadmap to democracy announced by the military government in 2003 turned out to be much more than a piece of paper. The 2008 constitution enshrined the political power of the military and was product of a less than democratic process, but the junta led by Than Shwe dissolved itself in March 2011. The 2015 general election was freer and fairer than most critics expected. The outcome was a resounding NLD win similar to 1990, but this time, the pro-democracy opposition party was allowed to claim its seats in parliament and form a government. In 2016 as the NLD-led government took over from the military-backed political party and entered into a difficult but unprecedented power-sharing arrangement with the military (and state bureaucracies still strongly influenced by the Tatmadaw). Soon after, however, Myanmar’s reform progress became more troubled. Optimism about democratic gains proved short-lived.
Myanmar has exhibited troubling signs of democratic backsliding and egregious rights violations. Aside from the crisis in Rakhine State, Myanmar’s government has retained and even tightened restrictions on civil liberties, including sweeping anti-defamation laws, state secrecy laws, restrictions on interreligious marriage and religious conversion, and discriminatory birth control laws. After democratic backsliding yielded foreign policy consequences in the form of renewed economic and political sanctions, Myanmar’s leaders may be turning to China for support.
Backsliding stems from unfinished nation-building. The lack of national agreement about identity has derailed the transition from a new electoral democracy to a consolidated liberal democracy. There is tension between a vision of Myanmar as a functioning civic polity, inclusive of Myanmar’s great diversity, versus a cultural-ethnic polity centered on Buddhist and Bamar identity. This acrimonious and sometimes violent identity contestation involves different groups seeking to capture the state to further their own visions of a unified Myanmar. Without agreement on the fundamental nature of the state, minority and civil rights, as well as civil-military relations, remain mired in identity-based conflict.
Contributing significantly to Myanmar’s democratic deficiencies are: 1) the effects of defining citizenship in ethnic terms; 2) the use of restrictive laws to suppress political dissent and control ethnic minorities; and 3) governing structures that allow certain political actors to override constitutional protections or circumvent constitutional provisions. A civic conceptualization of citizenship has given way over time to an increasingly ethnonational one.As a result of the 1982 law, significant numbers of ethnic Chinese, Indians, Rohingya, and others are unable to run for office. Even where formal rights to stand for office exist, de facto abridgment of those rights remain. For example, during the 2015 general election, no political party (including the NLD) nominated Muslim candidates owing to fears that widespread anti-Muslim sentiment would harm their electoral chances.The right to vote is not universal either, as illustrated by the mass disenfranchisement of ethnic Rohingya in the lead-up to the 2015 general elections.
Myanmar has also passed or retained a number of laws that provide for the severe curtailment of civil rights. We have seen the use of broad-ranging legislation to arrest and prosecute journalists, activists, social media users, and others for criticizing the government or discussing sensitive topics. Corruption remains endemic. Government bodies have limited ability to check one another, and unelected officials are potentially able to wield vast political powers over the population.
Central questions regarding membership in the body politic, the rights of members and non-members, and the relationship between the Union government in Nay Pyi Taw and local governments remain unresolved, helping to fuel Myanmar’s numerous ongoing ethnic conflicts. Aung San Suu Kyi’s government appears to prioritize electoral politics, despite the costs in terms of human rights, nation-building, and international cooperation. The military considers itself the primary custodian of national unity and security. Myanmar’s so-called “discipline-flourishing democracy” is not just a framework for the military to maintain influence or control the speed of reforms; this concept of democracy reflects the legacies of a monarchal political identity with an almost religiously ordained concept of authority. Democratic reforms in the 2010s were largely motivated by the country’s over-reliance on China.
By 2010, Myanmar’s leaders perceived that sovereignty and non-alignment were being significantly compromised. Democratic reforms and diplomatic opening were thus deemed urgent for economic diversification. But as international criticism of Myanmar ramps up, especially over the persecution of Rohingya people, Myanmar is once again turning to China as the partner of last resort. China’s support may come at a price to autonomy. Chinese actors seek greater access to—or as some Burmese allege, domination of—Myanmar’s market. China may help to shield Myanmar from external pressures for reform and accountability in the name of respecting sovereignty. But the China option may not be helpful for the development of democratic institutions because Beijing does not demand the same good governance standards. China will make Myanmar more indebted and beholden to Beijing. That would erode its non-alignment foreign policy as it is pressured to support a China-led regional order on trade, infrastructure, and Chinese “core interests” such as the South China Sea.
Identities are in flux and under stress, not just between ethnic and religious groups, but also between generations. Myanmar’s political institutions lack many of the features that make for stable democracies. Rights of political participation and civil rights are provided for on paper but frequently violated in practice. Strengthening democratic institutions calls for a more unified vision of Myanmar’s national identity rather than a nation where citizenship is defined as a function of one’s ethnic identity. Such identities drive the proliferation of ethnic political parties and even intercommunal violence.Intolerance threatens to use democratic space to roll back democratization.