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The International Journal
of Not-for-Profit Law

Volume 7, Issue 4, September 2005

A publication of the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law

Table of Contents

Letter from the Editor

The Middle East

NGO Laws in Selected Arab States
Kareem Elbayar

NGO Regulations in Iran
Negar Katirai

Arab Media: Tools of the Governments, Tools for the People?
United States Institute of Peace

Articles

A Comparative Analysis of European Policies and Practices of NGO-Government Cooperation
Nilda Bullain and Radost Toftisova

Assessing the Effects of Church and State on Organized Civil Society
Robert C. Lowry

Imagining Philanthropy: A Personal Commentary from a Part-Time Philanthropoid
Wilton S. Dillon

Reviews

Generations of Giving: Leadership and Continuity in Family Foundation
By Kelin E. Gersick
Reviewed by Al Lyons

Democracy and Civil Society in Asia
Edited by Jayant Lele and Fahimul Quadir
Reviewed by Yuko Kawato

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Democracy and Civil Society in Asia

Edited by Jayant Lele and Fahimul Quadir
Palgrave Macmillan, 2004 / $65 per volume
Vol. 1: Globalization, Democracy and Civil Society in Asia
Vol. 2: Democratic Transitions and Social Movements in Asia
(Buy Now)
Reviewed by Yuko Kawato1

Jayant Lele and Fahimul Quadir’s two edited volumes successfully bring together a variety of issues and case studies on globalization, democracy, and civil society in Asia. The diverse issues addressed in these volumes include economic restructuring, political culture, cultural nationalism, social movement mobilization and impact, poverty reduction, education, empowerment of women, environmental degradation, political parties, and elite pluralism. Though the volumes prove more successful in identifying and presenting a wide range of issues than in specifying and resolving the most prevalent debates in those issues, they offer an excellent overview of the literature on how globalization is affecting democracy, human development, and civil society in Asia.

The authors capably demonstrate that globalization has increased inequality within individual states. Globalization has its winners and losers, and the gaps have grown in wealth as well as in access to healthcare, education, and other social resources. Many of the authors talk about states that have withdrawn welfare and other services, which has increased the insecurity of the poor and other marginalized groups.2

Alissa Trotz and Le Thi Quy concentrate on another form of globalization's disparate impact: women and men, they report, have profoundly different experience of global economic restructuring. For example, the dramatic increase in the number of women in the labor force does not necessarily eliminate gendered inequalities. Women are more likely to be employed in labor-intensive industries than men, and women’s responsibilities in their households remain stable or even intensify.3 The sex trade and trafficking in women offer further examples of the gendered experience of globalization.4 Moreover, as Lawrence Surendra writes, many people have become displaced as destruction and privatization of common lands accelerate for commercial gain.5

Globalization has also increased inequalities between states. Jayati Ghosh describes how states with greater economic power unevenly distribute foreign direct investment and reduce lending to all developing countries when one recipient state has problems with repayment.6 Surendra also notes the global inequality in environmental issues, focusing on global warming. The North is unwilling to restructure its economic production and consumption patterns to provide the solution for global warming; instead, it shifts the responsibility and burden to the South.7 Given the overwhelming evidence that the authors muster, it seems undeniable that globalization increases inequality both within and between states.

As authors spotlight these and other negative consequences of globalization, other themes also emerge, including distrust and disappointment in international institutions. Amiya Kumar Bagchi, for example, does not pull punches when he writes:

The security of health and life is further endangered by the global political economy of agriculture under which, on the one hand, the Washington twins (The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund), in combination with their terrible and dictatorial little sister in Geneva (the World Trade Organization) are pushing the total liberalization of trade and finance down the throats of the developing countries, and on the other hand, the G-7 countries continue to subsidize their agriculture at a rate which has not even been approached by all the developing countries taken together.8

William Tabb also identifies these institutions as the “global state governance institutions.” In his view, their economic policies toward Asian states may impede the advancement of democracy, as these states proclaim themselves powerless given the constraints imposed by globalization.9 He continues: “neither existing regimes which use state power to privilege the few and oppress the many nor the neoliberal alternative which covers attempts at increased foreign domination disguised as self-regulating markets and ‘transparency’, the rule of law, and free competition, are motivated by concern for the people of the region.”10

Most authors, unfortunately, do not give the institutions’ responses to these charges. Leonora C. Angeles touches on this when she mentions the World Bank’s decision to get involved in initiating, facilitating, and nurturing participatory processes.11 Is this yet another example of the Bank attempting to protect the donor states’ interests by steering the system in a preferred direction? Or is it an improvement? It is clear that the policies of international institutions have created many problems and they should be brought into light. But it is equally important to discuss international institutions’ positive contributions – when they exist -- for an overall assessment of the institutions’ usefulness. Authors in these volumes neglect the contributions.

Tabb concludes his chapter by calling on democratic movements to develop an alternative to “a globalization governed exclusively by international finance and transnational corporations and their mediating institutions.”12 Yet he does not tell us what such an alternative might look like. Furthermore, as Surendra says, international civil society has pointed to the undemocratic nature of the international institutions, but it has not “been able to establish agendas for more substantive democratic politics or to demand substantive shifts in domestic formal democratic politics as well as a restructuring of global governance through larger civil society alliances.”13 Concrete prescriptions for institutional reforms or suggestions for future civil society efforts would have been helpful.

Bagchi, however, is certainly right when he argues that “the fight for democracy in Asia … is thus to be waged both against the local ruling class and against the global controllers of finance and international economic policy.”14 Chapters in these volumes explore how a civil society can fight its own country's ruling elites, but do not discuss in detail how the global civil society can wage a comparable fight against the international institutions. For this global perspective, the editors would have greatly benefited from the international relations literature on transnational networks.15

As Quadir and Lele point out in their introduction to volume one, many people hoped that the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s would force states to allow civil society involvement in establishing a more inclusive structure of democratic governance.16 Although authors in the volumes acknowledge that civil society is the “domain for greater socio-political changes” and that the financial crisis represented a political opportunity for civil society activism, they are also aware of the many difficulties that civil society groups face in achieving changes.17 For example, Angeles writes that participation by the poor in civil society and governance bodies does not guarantee effective poverty reduction: states often lack the political will and, consequently, provide inadequate resources to poverty reduction programs. She also mentions that participation of the poor in civil society “suffers from poor quality, small scales and susceptibility to manipulation,” although she does not elaborate on why and how these problems have arisen.18 Furthermore, she writes that many procedural problems and structural obstacles limit people’s participation in policy-making and implementation.19 Joel Rocamora similarly writes that the Philippine state does not impose many formal limits to the organization of marginalized groups, but bureaucratic rules and informal means, including violence, can make organizing difficult.20 In discussing the Thai state’s response to the movement by the Assembly of the Poor, Suthy Prasartset gives concrete examples of the obstacles civil society groups can face. The counter-movement used delaying tactics by agreeing to set up committees to look into grievances, and launched smear campaigns in the media to delegitimize the movement.21

How do civil society groups achieve political change when faced with such obstacles? What provides an opportunity for action, and how can they exploit it? Bagchi writes: “Ordinary people have fought the capital-friendly state and sometimes succeeded in making it change its ways, at times quite radically. The demand for participation in the democratic process has led many countries to decentralize government responsibilities.”22 He does not discuss, however, the conditions under which such changes became possible, or the process through which they were brought about. Quadir and Lele conclude their introductory chapter by saying that the “maintenance of an autonomous space for civil society” is important, so that “societal groups can resist the process of co-optation either by the state or the market.”23 This is quite true, but it is unclear how and by whom this autonomous space can and should be maintained.

Several empirical chapters answer these questions more effectively. For example, Chantana Banpasirichote argues that civil society groups in Thailand did not mobilize spontaneously in the aftermath of the financial crisis. Such a mobilization was “based on the prior construction of social networking resulting from previous social and political actions.”24 Without the previous experience and existing networks, she argues, the civil society groups would have been incapable of taking advantage of the political opportunity after the financial crisis.

David Zweig identifies some other conditions for civil society groups to exert a significant impact. He argues that organizations can mobilize for political change when there are greater levels of democratic consciousness and greater demands for meaningful political participation. Even when formal political means are unavailable, civil society groups may employ informal political means, such as forming legal non-governmental organizations and engaging in social protest or extra-legal political activities.25 His fascinating chapter addresses how civil society groups can demand political change despite facing formal institutional barriers. Yet cultivating a widely shared democratic consciousness can prove difficult when democratic education is not available to many in the society, as Jing Lin observes in her chapter on China.26

Some of the blame may lie with the civil society organizations themselves. Angeles says that civil society groups need to “re-examine the factors behind the splintering of their ranks, internal ideological differences and other weaknesses that led to poor influence on the legislative agenda.”27 Civil society groups without cohesion cannot effectively take advantage of political opportunity. Groups must therefore overcome internal obstacles as well as external ones.

One of the most intriguing issues that some authors bring up but do not explore sufficiently is the relationship between civil society groups and the general public. At times the general public perceives popular participation in politics as suspect. For example, Banpasirichote writes that in Thailand, “direct public participation is … not well received by the general public.… Even civic actions against state policy are suspected, for being masterminded by elites with vested interests.”28 More discussion of this relationship and how it might be improved would have been very interesting.29 Banpasirichote also reports that as a result of the Assembly of the Poor’s actions that increased the marginalized group’s visibility in the civil society, “a large number of urban Bangkokians seem to think that the poor are too demanding and too aggressive.”30 When and how do civil society groups provoke active support, passive support, suspicion, or derision from the general public? I would have appreciated more insight on this.

Quadir and Lele have done an admirable job of introducing a wide range of issues related to globalization, democracy, and civil society. However, at the risk of sounding greedy, some other topics merit more than the brief mentions they receive here. One is the military’s role in democratization and its relationship with civil society groups. Several authors write about militaries and military personnel’s involvement in repressing civil society activities. For example, Prasartset mentions a Thai top-level military officer’s participation in intimidating villagers against dam construction, but does not explain what stakes the military had in this project. In addition, Quadir compares Indonesian and Bangladeshi experience in democratic transition tersely: “Unlike the Indonesian case, the military was not in a position to dictate the transition. Nor was it able to maintain a veto power over the country’s civilian rule.”31 I was left wondering why. It would have been nice to have a chapter on the (changing) civil-military relations in Asia, which affect people’s experience of democratization in the context of the globalizing world.

Another issue that merits greater attention is the possibility that widening inequalities may cause violence and conflicts. Ghosh briefly mentions migrant workers who have been attacked and evicted.32 Surendra also warns, “In Asia, where rapid economic growth is privileged over social justice and ecological and social sustainability,” conflicts pose serious threats to both democracy and nature.33 Peter Stoett similarly cautions against international conflicts over resources such as “shared waterways, mountains, forests, fisheries, and other sources of both income and subsistence.”34 Stoett goes on to say that potential conflicts over resources will contribute to the continued militarization of the region.35 I wonder if this may potentially augment military status and power within states, with implications for democratization. Furthermore, civil society groups’ own use of violence as a means to realize their political goals is a provocative avenue for research. Quadir mentions this about Indonesian civil society.36

I also have some comments on the empirical chapters. First, I was somewhat surprised to find no chapters on South Korea and Japan. The question of how globalization affects democracy and civil society seems worth exploring in these countries as well.

Second, the two volumes include well-written empirical chapters that further our understanding of globalization, democracy, and civil society. However, single case studies are not suited to evaluation of hypotheses and theory.37 Indeed, as Lele and Quadir write, civil society groups’ resistance to states has taken “enormously diverse forms, resulting from their specific socio-political history and the economic and geopolitical context.”38 It would have been useful to have chapters that systematically and theoretically compare the various cases in Asia. Zweig does a great job of comparing Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the Chinese mainland. However, other authors focus on empirical narratives and neglect the sort of comparison that helps theorization.

Last but not least, Banpasirichote cautions that people in different societies harbor different understandings of civil society. I find this interesting and worthy of exploration. Banpasirichote says that the Thai term for civil society does not signify state, market, and society as separate entities, but instead connotes consensus. She writes: “In most cases, the idea of pracha sangkom is used by civil society activists to seek social synergy rather than to mark a political territory distinct from that of the state or the market.”39 I would be interested in finding out how different people perceive their civil societies, and how their perception affects their strategies for establishing more inclusive democracies.

On a related note, Heryanto says that Indonesians and foreigners harbor different conceptions of democracy. The Indonesian conception of democracy is “a lot more modest, and they demand a lot less from the process of democratization in comparison to their distant observers.”40 Such conceptual differences of democracy and their impact on the assessment of the democratization process could also make for an interesting topic of conversation for scholars in this field.

Overall, these are provocative and worthwhile volumes with well-researched chapters. Those new to the literature on globalization, democracy, and civil society will appreciate the wide range of fascinating issues and get off to a good start in exploring this literature. Those already familiar with the literature will still appreciate the authors’ depth of knowledge and recognize opportunities for further research and theorization.

Notes

1 Yuko Kawato, ykawato@u.washington.edu, is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science, University of Washington.

2 Quadir and Lele, v.1, 3; Bagchi, 22; Prasartset,141; Lin, 40; Co, 45; and Quy, 133, 142.

3 Trotz, 110, 118.

4 Ibid, 113; and Quy, 143.

5 Surendra, 151.

6 Ghosh, 34-5.

7 Surendra, 165.

8 Bagchi, 18.

9 Tabb, 76.

10 Ibid. 78.

11 Angeles, 186, citing Bhatbanagar & Williams 1992 and World Bank 1996.

12 Tabb, 79.

13 Surendra, 167.

14 Bagchi, 25.

15 See for example Klotz 1995; Keck and Sikkink 1998; Price 1998; and Evangelista, 1999.

16 Quadir and Lele, 1.

17 Ibid. 2.

18 Angeles, 189.

19 Ibid. 196-7.

20 Rocamora, 196.

21 Prasartset, 155. These findings lend support to Robert Pekkanen’s argument that states use various legal, regulatory, and financial instruments to limit some civil society groups’ formation, activity, and impact. Pekkanen, whose work is not included in Quadir and Lele’s volumes, is an expert on the Japanese civil society and argues that the Japanese state uses such instruments to mold civil society. See Pekkanen 2003, 2004a, 2004b.

22 Bagchi, 24.

23 Quadir and Lele, 9.

24 Banpasirichote, 214.

25 Zweig, 111-2.

26 Quy and Edna Co also discuss this challenge in their chapters.

27 Angeles, 201. Prasartset also writes about some of the problems of the Assembly of the Poor. Prasartset, 157-160.

28 Banpasirichote, 216, 225.

29 Prasartset briefly talks about legitimacy when he quotes an advisor of the Assembly of the Poor. The advisor says: “With the concept of the poor, [groups] would be able to explain our reasons why we were impoverished by pointing our fingers to the state and corporate projects. In this way our constant struggles and protest rallies can be understood and gain legitimacy.” Prasartset, 148.

30 Banpasirichote, 229.

31 Quadir, 95.

32 Ghosh, 53-4.

33 Surendra, 162.

34 Stoett, 187.

35 Ibid. 188.

36 Quadir, v.2, 96.

37 Lijphart 691 and Collier 106.

38 Lele and Quadir, 4.

39 Banpasirichote, 221.

40 Heryanto, 69.

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