Mr. David G. Timberman, technical director for democracy, governance, and conflict programs of the Management Systems International (MSI), delivered his lecture “Drivers of Political Change in Southeast Asia: Reflections of a Long-Time Observer” at the Carlos P. Romulo Library, Foreign Service Institute (FSI), on 20 March 2015.
Mr. Timberman identified five arenas as sources of change and challenge in Southeast Asia, namely, economic growth and development, demographic and social change, governance, politics, and external influences and actors.
According to him, over the years, states in the region have politically and economically evolved in response to societal and geopolitical changes taking place. Economic growth has rapidly increased and this is seen to be a result of consistent macro-economic and exchange rate policies, focus on agricultural productivity, gradual and partial liberalization of economies, influx of foreign direct investments, and a shift from export orientation to domestic consumption.
Even though the Philippines has experienced the positive results brought by economic growth, it still struggles to address issues related to underinvestment in agriculture, education, and infrastructure. Mr. Timberman pointed out that significant decline in poverty has not been achieved as there is still the pressing need to create enough high paying jobs readily available to the people. Thus, it is a challenge for the Philippines and even for other governments to provide quality education, and to set up strong institutions and robust economic policies aimed at improving the welfare of an increasing population.
Moreover, challenges related to governance, politics, policy making, and influence of external actors continue to confront Southeast Asian states. Mr. Timberman emphasized that respect for the constitution and the rule of law is oftentimes overlooked by states. He also pointed out that the entrenched system of corruption and bureaucratic behavior dominated by patronage relationships and rent-seeking in state politics has stalled greater development and progress. Nonetheless, governments have shown greater transparency and accountability with the influence of the media, civil society, and access to education. Also, it was discussed that China, US, and Japan all seek to play a role in the regional order; thus, there is a need among Southeast Asian states to re-examine their national security priorities so as to better engage these external players.
The ASEAN integration was envisioned to create a prosperous and interconnected region. But creating an environment that fosters sustainable competition to boost economic growth will be one among the many challenges of governments, according to Mr. Timberman. Likewise, states must be able to keep pace with the demands of rapid economic growth and manage diverse politics, policies, and values.
Southeast Asia is a region recognized for its great diversity in politics, economy, and culture. Mr. Timberman concluded that states must challenge themselves to go beyond these differences and to find ways to address issues that continue to arise. Hence, it is essential that states identify short and long term challenges in order to create effective and efficient solutions.
The lecture was part of the Mabini Dialogue Series, a venue where specialists, experts, and practitioners could engage in discussions in international relations. Present during the lecture were representatives from the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Institute, and other government agencies.