ISEAS Perspective 2021

ISEAS Perspective provides analysis of specific current events and their significance for the Southeast Asian region. This will be published occasionally, and is aimed at keeping decision-makers in both the public and private sectors informed; as well as scholars, laymen and the interested public. This series undergoes a peer-review process.


2021/160 “Asymmetric Territorial Arrangements and Federalism in Myanmar” by Mael Raynaud


2021 No. 160

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY After the abolition of the 2008 Constitution, the opposition to Myanmar’s State Administration Council regime is attempting to imagine and design a federal system of government for the country. That system will certainly include asymmetric territorial arrangements, and thus see territorial arrangements in Myanmar returning to the “mandala system” that characterized the precolonial […]


2021/159 “Islamic Populism and Voting Trends in Indonesia” by Burhanuddin Muhtadi and Kennedy Muslim


2021 No. 159

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY In recent years, the global populist surge driven by religio-political sentiments has taken root in various developing democracies exploiting pre-existing religio-political cleavages within society. India with its ruling Hindu-centric nationalist right-wing party BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Turkey under the “new Islamic sultan” Recep Tayyip Erdogan are two of the most […]


2021/158 “The Kunming-Vientiane Railway: A Post-pandemic ‘Deus ex machina’ for the Lao Economy?” by Nick J. Freeman


2021 No. 158

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Laos’s first major railway, due to open in December 2021, will create a new link with the Chinese market. As such, it has the potential to be a game changer for the Lao economy. The timing is fortuitous, with Laos preparing for post-pandemic recovery in 2022. The World Bank and others are calling […]


2021/157 “The ASEAN-China Comprehensive Strategic Partnership: What’s in a Name?” by Hoang Thi Ha


2021 NO. 157

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY China’s proposal to ‘upgrade’ its relations with ASEAN to ‘comprehensive strategic partnership’ (CSP) is part of Beijing’s active neighbourhood diplomacy, which is given added emphasis and urgency by Sino-US tensions and China’s estrangement from the West. The CSP proposal signals a calibrated and invested Chinese strategy to actively reshape its relations with ASEAN […]


2021/156 “Growing Shariatisation in Indonesia: The Ulama Council of Indonesia (MUI) Moment?” by Norshahril Saat


2021 No. 156

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Under the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono government (2004-2014), the MUI (Ulama Council of Indonesia) became more assertive in the public sphere than under Suharto’s New Order. It issued numerous exclusivist fatwas (religious opinions) targeting religious minorities and wanted the state to oversee Islamic banking and finance. In 2016 and 2017, MUI leaders, especially its […]


2021/155 “Asymmetrical Federalism in Myanmar: A Modern Mandala System?” by Mael Raynaud


2021 No. 155

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY The military coup that took place in Myanmar on 1 February 2021 amounted to a de facto suspension of the country’s 2008 Constitution. Following the coup, Myanmar’s democratic opposition, which had long opposed the constitution, announced its abolition. It is now working towards developing, and adopting, a federal system of government for the […]


2021/154 “The 2022 Gubernatorial Election in Bangkok: Party Support Will Matter” by Punchada Sirivunnabood


2021 No. 154

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Under the Local Elections Act of 2019, passed during the administration of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta, the military government was given the power to determine the appropriate time for holding sub-national elections, including Bangkok’s gubernatorial election. If the military government lapses, the power to approve such elections would […]


2021/153 “Japan’s Foreign Policy Direction under Kishida” by John D. Ciorciari


2021 No. 153

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Japan’s new prime minister, Fumio Kishida, was elected amid rising Sino-Japanese tensions and hardening Japanese threat perceptions vis-à-vis China. Kishida has a reputation for having a moderate and relatively dovish approach to foreign policy, but he won the election in part by campaigning on a more assertive foreign policy platform, especially with regard […]


2021/152 “Mapping Errors and Missed Opportunities in the Twelfth Malaysia Plan” by Lee Hwok Aun


2021 No. 152

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY The Twelfth Malaysia Plan (12MP) clearly and vigorously advocates the “Bumiputera agenda”, while outlining policies designated for minority groups and women, saliently in higher education, entrepreneurship and decision-making positions. The demarcation of the Bumiputera agenda, which is based on programmes under Bumiputera-mandated agencies instead of more systematic criteria, only partially accounts for the […]


2021/151 “Restoring Public Trust in Vietnam’s Pandemic Response: A Bumpy Road Ahead” by Dien Nguyen An Luong


2021 No. 151

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY The worst wave of Covid-19 infections to hit Vietnam since late April has threatened to chip away at the hard-earned public trust the government was able to engender last year. That is a major concern for a regime that relies on public support and patriotic nationalism to boost its legitimacy. As Vietnam’s pandemic […]