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January 31, 2019

ASEAN-India: Governance & Polity

Governance off late has become a ‘buzz’ word. Governance in essence refers to all processes of governing whether undertaken by a Government or any other organisation or agency through language, laws norms or power. Studies and discussions on governance have also varied around different subjects, such as international relations, public policy, law, polity etc.

As per the United Nations Development Programme , good governance can be characterised as follows:
• transparent – free flow of information is guaranteed; processes and institutions are directly accessible to those concerned with them;
• accountable – decision-makers in government, the private sector and civil society organisations are accountable to the public, as well as to institutional stakeholders;
• based on the rule of law — legal frameworks are fair and enforced impartially;
• efficient and effective — processes and institutions produce outcomes that meet needs while making the best use of resources; and
• participatory – differing interests are mediated and broad consensus is reached on political, social and economic priorities

The Commission on Global Governance, a think group, noted in its report submitted to the United Nations that is only a responsive and credible leadership that can catalyse governance in any country “Whatever the dimensions of global governance, however renewed and enlarged its machinery, whatever values give it content, the quality of global governance depends ultimately on leadership. It needs leadership that is proactive, not simply reactive, that is inspired, not simply functional, that looks to the longer term and future generations for whom the present is held in trust. ”

Therefore, the discernible interconnectedness between polity and governance is key in fulfilling the larger objective of regional cohesion and integration between the ASEAN member countries. It is also imperative to know what truly the ingredients of the envisaged political leadership are. For instance, Singapore has premised its political leadership on three pillars, namely, accountability and transparency, long-term social orientation, and social justice. Within the ASEAN member countries, consensus and consultative leadership decision have led to envisioning region specific economic integration.

Good governance and growth go together. The ASEAN region is also known for not making too many volatile policy surprises. In one sampling of some 3,600 firms worldwide made by the World Bank in 1996, less than 30 percent of entrepreneurs were worried about policy surprises in Southeast Asia . This continuum has also led to faster growth; a period between 1990-98 the robustness of the respective economies was such that the ASEAN countries ended up overtaking the OECD countries.

This economic growth and financial confidence has resulted in the creation of a socio-economic situation in ASEAN states that mirrors that of India. Shifting from an agrarian and primary sector dominated economy to one driven by services, large scale urban migration, smoother class mobility, and exponential technological advancement are some of the socio-political trends that have shaped the demographics of the ASEAN over the last few decades. Much like India, this increased economic strength has resulted in the creation of a new paradigm in ASEAN states, with citizens now demanding better and more accountable governance from their leaders. In this sense, India and the ASEAN are in the unique position to collaborate so as to create new and innovative methods of governance to address the concerns of populations that are growing in both size and wealth.

Analysts and observers have noted that the ASEAN countries have many effective checks and balances on the actions of political leaders. To begin with, the form of state varies from the Philippines’ presidential democracy to the parliamentary systems of Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia. Thailand and Malaysia are constitutional monarchies, but Malaysia also has a federal structure, which gives it a veto point. Thailand’s monarchy has been key to ensuring some political continuity, in the face of recurrent changes in its civilian government.

Beyond these formal checks, governance in the ASEAN must also address the field of civil society. Civil society not only offers an effective check on the power of governments, but is also essential to the thriving of a political structure. In 2018, the ASEAN Foundation, in partnership with Temasek Foundation Connects held the 3rd S. Rajaratnam Endowment (SRE) – ASEAN Community Forum (SRE-ACF) series. “The 3rd SRE–ASEAN Community Forum serves as a strategic platform to embrace CSOs (civil society organisations) to deepen their knowledge and understanding about the ASEAN Community Blueprints 2025 and explore how their roles can contribute to achieving the ASEAN community goals. We hope that the work plans that they develop here in the forum can add value to their work and make their initiatives more impactful, ” said Ms Elaine Tan, Executive Director of the ASEAN Foundation. Given the sheer size and complexity of India’s civil society, it is clear that there exists scope for collaboration between India and ASEAN regarding questions on the role of civil society organisations in governance.

While ASEAN has historically exhibited a high level of good governance, there is a need to adapt the political structure to a changing paradigm. As this paradigm continues to mirror that of India’s, there is an opportunity for the two to strengthen their relationship in the field of governance. Free exchange of ideas and interaction of institutions between the two regions would ensure the creation of new and innovative ideas aimed at tackling the political needs of both regions.


United Nations Development Programme. “Discussion Paper: Governance for Sustainable Development Integrating Governance in the Post-2015 Development Framework,” March 2014.–Governance-for-Sustainable-Development.pdf.

The Commission on Global Governance. Our Global Neighborhood: The Report of the Commission on Global Governance. 1 edition. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Stiglitz, Joseph E., and Marilou Uy. “Financial Markets, Public Polict and the East Asian Miracle.” The World Bank Research Observer 11, no. 2 (August 1996): 249–76.

“Mobilising Civil Society Leaders across ASEAN for Greater Regional Integration.” Association of South East Asian Nations (blog), March 14, 2018.

i) United Nations Development Programme, “Discussion Paper: Governance for Sustainable Development Integrating Governance in the Post-2015 Development Framework.”
ii) The Commission on Global Governance, Our Global Neighborhood.
iii) Stiglitz and Uy, “Financial Markets, Public Polict and the East Asian Miracle.”
iv) “Mobilising Civil Society Leaders across ASEAN for Greater Regional Integration.”

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