Successful political reform in Southeast Asia has tended to be crisis-driven. Established elites have been reluctant to reform unless forced to do so by sustained popular protest and upheaval. This was certainly the case in Indonesia, where popular protests forced the resignation of President Suharto and ended more than three decades of authoritarian rule in May 1998. In the relationship between reform and crisis, there are perhaps some lessons for Thailand today.
Thailand and Indonesia are, of course, very different countries, with different histories and political traditions. But back in 1998, they had a lot in common, for both countries had experienced financial and economic crises.
The difference was that Thailand had just completed an exhaustive process of political reform that culminated in the liberal 1997 constitution. Indonesia was still under authoritarian rule. Because of the reforms undertaken here in Thailand, this government responded to the crisis with harsh but responsible policies with reasonable care and attention to popular concerns; in Indonesia there was chaos.
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