Brownbag Series #42: Institutional Engineering and Political Accountability in Southeast Asia

January 25, 2024

Contributor: Hamad Shoukat | Editor: Supriyono

UIII, DEPOK - The UIII’s Faculty of Social Sciences (FoSS), through its Brownbag Series #42, discussed the knotty connection between institutional engineering and political accountability in Southeast Asia as presented by Dr. Phil. Habil Patrick Ziegenhain is an associate professor at the Department of International Relations at President University, Cikarang, Indonesia.

Dr. Ziegenhain's lecture was based on his study on "Institutional Engineering and Political Accountability in Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines," which examines the role of accountability mechanisms and institutional architecture within the intricate political systems of these Southeast Asian nations.

The talk began with an in-depth examination of the current political situations in the three countries. While studying these countries' democracies, Dr. Ziegenhain used the academic concepts of responsibility and institutional engineering. This analytical method laid the groundwork for the discussion by providing a perspective from which to examine the intricate design of political institutions.

Following Sartori's seminal 1992 work, he characterized it as the systematic formation of political institutions to achieve predefined objectives. Adopting power-sharing elements like federalism or decentralization perfectly illustrates the strategic necessity of institutional engineering in preserving political stability and order.

Dr. Ziegenhain navigated the complex web of relationships between all the stakeholders, demonstrating how various actors must answer to various authorities for their actions. The need for accountability as a foundational element of true democracy was a major theme that persisted throughout the presentation.

“By comparing the three countries, we want to understand better the institutional changes, how they affected liberalization initiatives, and what we can learn from this,” Dr. Ziegenhain said.

Distinct geographical variations were uncovered. Proportional voting, Senate composition changes, and problems with maintaining the neutrality of the Election Commission were all parts of the complex web of institutional processes on show in Thailand. On the other hand, open candidate lists have numerous advantages, but Indonesia has faced challenges in addressing potential downsides, such as the impact of money on politics. Meanwhile, direct elections for party-list seats were a welcome improvement over first-past-the-post in the Philippines.

Further, Dr. Ziegenhain contrasted the democratic transition in Indonesia from its early stages up to 2010 with the subsequent collapse of Thailand after military coups. The Philippines managed to maintain its stability despite a stubborn political elite's resistance to significant institutional change. While the results reflected the diversity of political environments in Southeast Asia, they also demonstrated that democracies are contextualized.

As the lecture came to an end, Dr. Ziegenhain expressed gratitude to Universitas Islam Internasional Indonesia and the FoSS for the opportunity to speak after the presentation. His rousing applause paid tribute to the presenter, the audience's common need for information, and the essential role played by the institution in offering such invaluable opportunities for personal and professional growth.