Row of flags from Southeast Asian countries

Politics in Action 2023: Power, polls, and political dynasties

18 May 2023
Political updates on Southeast Asia from researchers on the ground
Our annual Politics in Action forum featured timely analysis of political affairs in six Southeast Asian countries.
Six speakers from Politics in Action 2023

This year’s Politics in Action forum featured political updates on six Southeast Asian countries, brought to us by a talented group of researchers based across the region. Delivered online and held over two days, each presentation was packed with insights and analysis, and followed by lively Q&A sessions.

Designed to be concise, the forum featured updates on Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Timor-Leste. Recent or upcoming elections were a key theme discussed throughout, as were issues of democratic erosion, personality politics, political dynasties and the plight of opposition parties.

  • SINGAPORE | Walid Jumblatt Abdullah (Nanyang Technological University) discussed the designation of Lawrence Wong as Singapore’s prime minister in waiting and the implications for the policymaking approach of the ruling People’s Action Party. He also cast ahead to the presidential election in September and discussed what issues and interests may be at play. Walid commented that larger political structures will likely remain intact, regardless of changes at the top.
  • CAMBODIA | Sovinda Po (Royal University of Phnom Penh) covered the significance of the sentencing of opposition figure Kem Sokha to almost three decades of house arrest. He also discussed the upcoming election in July 2023, which will set the stage for a transfer of power within the long-ruling Cambodian People’s Party, with some figures set to hand the reins to their children or trusted offsiders. Sovinda also spoke about the political standing of Hun Manet, the son of prime minister Hun Sen, who is set to succeed him.
  • INDONESIA | Bivitri Susanti (Indonesia Jentera School of Law) presented this year’s Indonesia update. Bivitri discussed the declining rule of law in the country, including issues of ‘court capture’ and corruption, the judicial harassment of human rights defenders, and the controversial new Criminal Code. She also covered key political issues leading up to the 2024 election, including ongoing speculation about postponement and the two-term presidential limit that prevents president Joko Widodo from running.
  • THAILAND | Surachanee “Hammerli” Sriyai (Chiang Mai University) focused on the impending Thai election, which has subsequently seen opposition parties Move Forward and Pheu Thai win the largest share of votes. Hammerli provided key context for the election, including the youth-led protest movement that called for reform to the monarchy, among other demands. She described the fracturing of the Thai government, the reenergizing of key opposition parties, and possibilities for a future governing coalition.
  • TIMOR-LESTE | João da Cruz Cardoso (independent Dili-based researcher) presented on Timor-Leste. He began with an overview of Timor-Leste’s recent political history, the independence movement, and the ‘old’ and ‘young’ generations of leaders. He discussed the country’s upcoming parliamentary elections, focusing on five key political parties and the different scenarios that may play out. Finally, João explored major development challenges facing the country and the major parties’ plans to address them.
  • PHILIPPINES | Aries Arugay (University of the Philippines Diliman) rounded out this year’s forum with the Philippines update. Aries spoke about the aftermath of the 2022 presidential election, which featured personality politics, disinformation narratives, the phenomenon of ‘authoritarian nostalgia’, and the emergence of what he calls a ‘dynasty cartel’ between the Marcos and Duterte families. Aries also offered a snapshot of the rule of Ferdinand Marcos Jnr, noting the absence of clear policy in key areas and ongoing democratic erosion.

Thank you to all our speakers for making Politics in Action 2023 such an engaging and informative event. Thanks also to our moderators, Vichhra Mouyly, Simon Butt, Aim Sinpeng and Sandra Alday, alongside SSEAC's Sonja van Wichelen, for expertly guiding the sessions.

If you missed it, catch up on the speakers’ presentations below, on our YouTube channel, or on Facebook.

Watch the event videos below:

Singapore update

Cambodia update

Indonesia update

Thailand update

Timor-Leste update

Philippines update