Turmoil in Both Markets And Politics: Is There a Link?
Leadership struggles complicate slumping economies of a region, weakening democracy.
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Perhaps the most critical situation is unfolding in Cambodia, where opposition leaders are in sharp confrontation with Prime Minister Hun Sen, whose Cambodian People's Party won the July 26 elections. International observers have said the contest was free and fair, but the losing parties say the voting was marred.Skip to next paragraph
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Their protests are drawing huge public support in a country that has been torn for decades by civil war, a lingering insurgency, and political infighting. The UN has been trying to establish democracy in Cambodia for more than five years, with little to show for it.
Hun Sen seems to be losing patience, threatening to arrest opposition leader Sam Rainsy and then changing his mind after diplomats interceded. Security forces have increasingly used violence against supporters of Mr. Rainsy and Prince Norodom Ranariddh. Cambodians say several protesters, including a Buddhist monk, have been killed, although these deaths are unconfirmed.
Hun Sen yesterday banned future protests, even as Prince Ranariddh was announcing an intention to lead a weekend rally.
Officials of Burma's National League for Democracy, a political party that won elections in 1990 but has not been allowed to take power, say more than 300 opposition leaders have been detained since last weekend.
The military leaders who run Burma have said that the people were invited for discussions and were staying at "guesthouses," but similar explanations have been followed before by accounts of detention and intimidation.
The US seems particularly concerned about this crisis, with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright having warned in July of a possible "explosion" in Burma that could destabilize the region.
This week State Department spokesman James Rubin criticized the regime's tactics. "They were rounding up people in their 70s and 80s at 3 a.m. The government there is not approaching this problem in anything resembling a constructive way."
The NLD, led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, has said that this month it will try to convene parliament, a provocative act that analysts said might be motivated by frustration within the NLD over Ms. Suu Kyi's long struggle. Her activities over the past decade have been severely restricted, and she has so far not been able to convince the generals to agree to a dialogue.
Harold Crouch, an analyst of Indonesian and Malaysian politics at the Australian National University in Canberra, says recent events in Southeast Asia are not part of a simultaneous reversion to authoritarianism. But he agrees that Malaysia, burned by an economic collapse that is part of the regional downturn, is moving in an "anti-market direction."
Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad "has a strong dictatorial aspect to his character" - a feature that seems especially prominent now. He fired Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Anwar Ibrahim amid allegations of sexual misbehavior and abuses of power. Long associated with free-market policies and political liberalization, Mr. Anwar denies the charges and has mounted a reformation movement.
Mahathir also put controls on the convertibility of the national currency, a step designed to protect Malaysia from speculators that the prime minister has blamed for economic troubles.
In Southeast Asia generally, concludes Professor Simon of Arizona State, "there may be a disillusionment with everything connected with the market economy.... If a market economy fails on you, then by extension democracy is wrong and fails as well."