Chapter 8: The Hegemonic Party-State, Democratization, and East Asian Political Institutions

hard state, state corporatism, development, and democracy

I. Historical Alternatives to Liberal Democracy in East Asia

II. The Hegemonic Party-State

III. The Origin and Spread of the Hegemonic Party State

IV. Can a Hegemonic Party State be Democratic?


I. Historical Alternatives to Liberal Democracy in East Asia

We have looked at the the problem of democratization in East Asia through the lense of political economy, tracing in particular the vagaries of the East Asian developmental state. We have looked at how Confucian political culture has set a context in which East Asian political institutions have evolved. We have shown how changes in international political and economic systems have influenced East Asian political development. With these structural and background conditions in mind, it is time to examine directly the evolution of East Asian political regimes and democratic institutions.

Historically liberal democracy has been only one of several different forms modern political systems have taken in East Asia. In the past, military autocracies, socialist states, and tutelary democracies have been more common in the region than liberal democracy. Even regimes in East Asia that have taken the outward form of western liberal democracy, such as Japan and the Philippines, have not manifested truly competitive, principled party contestation as in the liberal democratic ideal. In Japan one party ruled for two generations and after a brief respite is back in power again. In the Philippines there has been intense competition between parties, but the competing parties have been largely extensions of political clans rather than principled ideological alternatives. In Japan, the Socialist Party offered a real ideological alternative, but it was systematically excluded from power until it faded as an electoral threat and eventually abandoned its principles for a taste of power as a junior member of a coalition with the ruling party. Nowhere in East Asia has the liberal democratic ideal of principled competition between responsible parties been realied.

In recent years, accompanying the economic and political integration of the region, states with different origins have shown signs of converging toward similar types of regimes. Students of the region have increasingly classed together under vague rubrics like "soft authoritarianism" or "pluralist authoritarianism" states with electoral systems with one dominant party and limited electoral competition like Singapore and Malaysia, military autocracies like Indonesia, reforming military autocracies like Taiwan and South Korea, and sometimes even socialist states like China and Vietnam. One thing becomes apparent when examining a number of regimes in East Asia. There is a symbiosis between a strong, developmental state and a ruling party that dominates, but does not completely monopolize, the political horizon.

In the future these strong party-states might move toward either a more ideologically conscious neo-Confucian/East Asian version of autocracy or toward a new style of communitarian democracy, but they are unlikely to overnight transform themselves into pure liberal democracies. The rise of future Islamic states in historically Muslim countries like Indonesia and Malaysia may seem unlikely at present, but cannot be ruled out as a future possibility. What is striking the similar path of political development of most of the regimes in East Asia. Just as striking is how much they diverge from the prescriptions of liberal demoracy.

The evolution of political institutions is influenced by both political culture and political economy and in turn influences the evolution of political culture and political economy. Certain types of political institutions are more likely in certain political cultural or political economic environments. Yet these relationships are fluid and only probabilistic.

For example, certain elements of Confucian political culture such as patriarchy or resistance to open conflict make it hard for democratic political institutions to emerge. Yet the simple fact that democratic forms have arisen in such heavily Confucian cultures as Taiwan and South Korea demonstrate that there is no insurmountable barrier between Confucian political culture and democratization. Similarly, there are certain affinities between the political economy of the East Asian developmental state and the political institutions of the dominant party-state. The tight relationship between large corporations and the government in the developmental state and the huge benefits ruling parties can direct toward their corporate supporters encourages corporate backing of the dominant party. Yet there are also cases of nations with developmental political economies democratizing to a significant degree, e.g. South Korea. There are also cases of dominant party-states operating political economies relatively open to the international trading system, e.g. Singapore.



Military Autocracies

Japan 1870s-1945

China 1910s-1949

Taiwan 1949-1980s

South Korea 1950s-1988

Thailand 1930s-1980s

South Vietnam 1954-1975

Indonesia 1966-present


Socialist States


North Korea

(North) Vietnam


Tutelary Democracies

Japan 1945-195?

Indonesia 1957-1966

Malaysia indep-1969

Singapore indep-break w/ Malaysia

II. The Hegemonic Party-State

There is a growing consensus among scholars that a new type of regime has been developing in East Asia. Many have tried to define the new type using the concepts of democracy or authoritarianism. Diamond and others have tried the term semidemocracy. Bell et al coined the term illiberal democracy. Roy has called it soft authoritarianism. Scalapino uses the term authoritarian plurualism. I will use the term Elective Hegemonic Party State.

The concept of the hegemonic party state has several advantages over the other classifications that have been used. First of all, the term authoritarianism is a residual category, loaded with Cold War baggage and often conceptually vague, serving as a catch-all classification for any system that was not liberal democratic or Soviet-style socialist. The term pluralism is similarly loaded. In addition, while some analysts have rigorously defined pluralism as a very particular type of political system, manifesting a certain kind of political competition and very specific rules of the game, others have stretched the concept to include any system in which there are multiple centers of power and some form of competition for power, which applies to virtually any complex political system. Terms like semidemocracy or illiberal democracy presume a standard version of western, liberal democracy, and therefore implicitly or explicitly judge non-western regimes by overly westernized criteria. I have chosen to finesse the issue of democracy in defining these regimes and later assess how democratic these regimes are or can be. I will use the term Elective Hegemonic Party State.

The Elective Hegemonic Party State can be defined as a long standing regime with a dominant political party presiding over a developmental, corporatist state with limited electoral competition. The Elective Hegemonic Party State combines three characteristic subsystems. First, a dominant party holds state power virtually in perpetuity yet maintains a relatively regular and fair electoral system. Second, the political economy is organized along state corporatist lines, a developmental state as outlined by Johnson almost single-mindedly pursuing an activist growth strategy. Third, the legitimation of the political system is based not primarily on western liberalism, but rather mostly on an indigenous Asian value system, to some degree Confucianism or other pre-modern values, to some degree a new, synthetic ideology of national or Asian uniqueness.

The party system of the Elective Hegemonic Party State does not easily fit prevailing models of political science. It is not really liberal democratic nor authoritarian in the way that term is usually conceived, nor does it appear to be an authoritarian state in transition to liberal democracy. In these regimes one party dominates a system in which in some sense competition is limited, yet there are relatively regularized and fair elections. In the purest cases, a leading party played a key historical role in creating a modern state and a modern political system. In regimes that are evolving toward an Elective Hegemonic Party State, parties are often replacing the military as the central form of political organization.

While there are relatively regular mass elections in the Elective Hegemonic Party State, there is little chance of the dominant party being ousted in any particular election. To be truly hegemonic, the dominant party must never experience, or only briefly experience, being out of power. The dominant party does not hold a complete monopoly on political activity as in a Leninist state. Opposition parties are able to form and compete for seats in the national government and for local and provincial offices. The opposition can expect to hold some seats in the national legislature and even to win some subnational executive contests. The limits placed on the opposition's freedom to organize parties and interests groups to compete for power may be relatively few as in Japan or quite restrictive as in Singapore. But regardless of whether the limits on competition are formal or informal, everyone knows that as long as the system is functioning, the only route to national executive power is through the hegemonic party. To borrow Pzezworski's characterization of democratic consolidation, the hegemonic party is "the only game in town," at least for those who seek national executive power.



Dominant Main Opposition Other Opposition

Party Party Parties

Percentage % of % of % of % of % of

of Seats in Total Seats Total Seats Total

Legislature Vote Vote Vote

1996a 47.8 31.2 21.0

1993b 43.4 36.6 13.7 15.4 42.9 48.0

1990 53.7 46.1 26.6 24.4 19.7 29.5

1986 58.7 49.4 14.7 17.2 26.6 33.4

1983 48.9 45.8 21.9 19.5 29.2 34.7

1980 55.6 47.9 20.9 19.3 23.5 32.8

1979 48.5 44.6 20.9 19.7 30.5 35.7

1976 48.7 41.8 24.1 20.7 27.2 37.5

1972 55.2 46.9 25.1 21.9 19.9 21.2

1969 59.3 47.6 18.5 21.4 22.2 31.0

1967 57.0 48.8 28.6 27.9 14.4 23.3

1963 60.6 54.7 30.8 29.0 8.6 16.3

1960 63.4 57.6 31.0 27.6 5.6 14.8

1958 61.5 57.8 35.5 32.9 3.0 9.3

1955c 63.6 33.4 3.0



1995 162 (88)/192 65.0 9 12.1

1990 127 (72)/180 52.0 20 16.5

1986 148 (83)/177 57.3 24 21.1

1982 132/154 60.5 9 19.5

1978 130/154 57.2 16 19.1

1974 144/154 60.7 9 18.3

1969 125/144? 44.9 8? 14.6

1964 58.5 14.6

1959 51.8 21.3

See Diamond 358 for slighly different stats



1993* 58.7

1991 77/81 61.00

1988 80/81 61.76

1984 77/79 62.94

1980 75/75 75.55

1976 69/69 72.40

1972 65/65 69.02

1968 58/58 84.43

1963 37/51 46.46

1959 43/51 53.40



1995 85/164

1992 102/161


missing data

Japan, last election % vote

Malaysia, pre-1974

Singapore, last election

Taiwan, % of votes, opposition seats


I term these parties hegemonic not only because they dominate, but also because they define the parameters of the system, both on a practical day to day level, and on an ideological level. They structure and limit political competition not only in the electoral system, but throughout the political system, including the sphere of political ideas. I include the term long standing because the dominant party must be in uninterrupted or nearly uninterrupted power for at least a generation before it can effectively exercise truly hegemonic control over the perceptions of actors within the system.

It is also important to focus on the crucial role of the state, not only in shaping the economy but also in shaping civil society. One of the things that differentiates the Elective Hegemonic Party State from other types of dominant party systems is the practice of state corporatism. The state actively shapes the basic political and economic institutions of the nation. The Elective Hegemonic Party State is not only deeply involved in the economy, but actively regulates political expression and other aspects of civil society. The representation, articulation, and even formulation of political interests is subordinated to the politics of the dominant party. Some elective hegemonic party states such as Singapore practice a rigid kind of exclusionary corporatism in which unauthorized political organizations are strictly banned. Other elective hegemonic party states such as Japan practice a more inclusionary brand of corporatism in which formal limits on political organization are light and relatively benign neglect or cooptation of new groups is more the norm. But in all cases the elective hegemonic party state has final say over who can organize social and political groups, who can contest elections, and what the rules of the political game are. Put another way, civil society is weak and subordinated to the state.

In East Asia, the hegemonic party-state takes the form of the developmental state as defined by Johnson and others. The contemporary hegemonic party-state is generally a response to the problems of late developing states attempting to modernize in a competitive international system. However, a hegemonic party need not necessarily follow all the policies of the developmental state as discussed in Ch ? on political economy. The state in a hegemonic party system can take a more predatory rather than developmental form. A hegemonic party may not have the singleness of purpose or the sophisticated coordination of party and state actors of the ideal developmental state. For example, for most of this century the PRI in Mexico was a hegemonic party which operated a state corporatist system, but did not pursue the coordinated growth stategies typical of the hegemonic party-state of East Asia.

On the other hand, the political economy of a developmental state is not likely to be the outcome of a liberal democratic system, where the open play of organized parochial interests is likely to undermine the coordinated state policies characteristic of the developmental state. There is certain fit, a kind of elective affinity, between the politics of the hegemonic party state and the economic policies of the developmental state.

It is important to differentiate the East Asian style of corporatism from certain types found in Europe and Latin America. Many students of corporatism in Western Europe have come to associate corporatism with a tripartite system of centralized bargaining between big capital, organized labor, and the state, particularly over economic policy. But as one of the first analyses of corporatism in East Asia put it, East Asian corporatism is generally "corporatism without labor," in which large corporations and the state deliberately exclude labor from key decision making processes. The East Asian developmental state does not take the form of a tripartite coordination of capital, labor, and the state that is characteristic of the societal corporatism of Western Europe.

East Asian corporatism also differs from certain forms of Latin American and Southern European corporatism in which pre-capitalist "organic statist" institutions or ideas are expressed in later stages of political development. East Asian corporatism is not a carry-over from a pre-capitalist political or cultural inheritance but rather is essentially synthetic. The state and the dominant party artifically create mechanisms where none had existed before, rather than building on a pre-capitalist organic legacy.

Elective Hegemonic Party States do however indirectly reflect their pre-capitalist heritage. The rule of the dominant party and the synthetic state corporatist institutions are partially legitimated in terms of the traditional value system, i.e., Confucianism, Islam, etc. The ideology of the system draws on a mix of traditional and modern values while maintaining a sense of national uniqueness and difference from western societies and western liberalism. The regime legitimates itself with a synthesis of modern performance criteria, traditional values of the pre-captialist philosophical systems such as Confucianism or Islam, and a sense of national or regional pride.

One cannot propound a regime type like the Elective Hegemonic Party State without uttering a word of caution. To assert the existence of the hegemonic party-state is not to assert that all hegemonic party states are the same, any more than all democratic states are the same or all socialist states are the same. As we shall see there are major differences in the dynamics of the different states lumped together here under one rubric. For examples, some Elective Hegemonic Party States have relatively open and fluid electoral competition, such as Japan. Other such systems are more closed and quasi-monopolistic party states, such as Singapore. Elective Hegemonic Party States are not monolithic, but they do have significant commonalities that are worth exploring in depth.


The Elective Hegemonic Party State in Comparative Perspective

The Elective Hegemonic Party State can be defined more precisely by locating at the intersection of two more general regime types--hegemonic party systems and state corporatist systems. Party systems can be aligned on a continuum depending on the level of competition between parties. At one end of the continuum are purely competitive systems. At the other end are purely monopolistic one party systems. A hegemonic party system falls somewhere in between these two extremes. One party dominates the system but other parties are allowed to compete for power on a limited basis.



Party System



Dominant Party



Political Economy


Liberal Capitalism

Societal Corporatism

Social Democracy

State Corporatism



Market Socialism

State Socialism


Political Ideology




Synthesis of Modern

+ Traditional Values



Dominant Party System + State Corporatism + Synthetic Ideology = Hegemonic Party-State

Political economies can be arrayed along a similar continuum based on the relative importance of the state and the private sector. Liberal capitalism would be at one end of the continuum, Leninist style state socialism at the other. State corporatism lies somewhere in between.

The principal forms of legitimation of political systems can also be aligned along a continuum ranging from most modernized and westernized ideologies to most traditionalistic ideologies. As has been argued in previous chapters, East Asian states are modernizing, but they are not completely westernizing. They are retaining a residue of traditional philosophical systems like Confucianism and Islam while they modernize. The contemporary Elective Hegemonic Party State in East Asia synthesizes a characteristic ideology to legitimate its rule based on both modern performance criteria and traditional values.

This classificatory system is not meant to be exhaustive, only indicative. Defining political systems by level of party competition leaves out systems where parties are not the primary institution of political organization, for example. military autocracies In addition these types can be divided into sub-categories. There are other sub-types of state corporatism besides the developmental state characteristic of East Asia which I have left out of this classification. There are also several sub-types of hegemonic party systems, with the Elective Hegemonic Party State characteristic of East Asia being one of those sub-types. My purpose here is not to develop a global typology, but to locate the particular type of regime I am calling the Elective Hegemonic Party State within broader categories of political theory and comparative politics.

Historically, there have been certain affinities between political economic structures and party systems. Not all combinations of economic structure and party systems have been equally prevalent. For historical and structural reasons certain combinations are more likely appear. Historically competitive party systems have usually been associated with liberal capitalism or societal corporatism. Single party systems have more often been associated with socialism. But other combinations are logically possible and cases of other mixtures of systems can be found. There is no necessary, tight connection between any particular type of political economy and any particular type of party system.


The Elective Hegemonic Party State differs from both a liberal capitalist, competitive party system (a liberal democracy) and a state socialist, monopolistic party system (a Leninist party state). While they both have regular, contested elections, the Elective Hegemonic Party State differs from liberal democracy in several important ways. In liberal democracies, there is party turnover. Different parties go in and out of power on a regular basis. While there are minimal rules for political parties and organizations, the state does generally does not seek to restrict or structure electoral competition or other forms of political activity. The state is supposed to be neutral, not only in regard to political organizations and parties, but also with respect to businesses and economic activity.

At the other end of the political economic continuum, the Leninist party holds a pure monopoly on political activity and power that is not present in a hegemonic party state. In the hegemonic party state opposition parties exist and are allowed a limited range of activities. While the hegemonic party state guides the economy more than a liberal democratic state, it does not practice central planning on the Leninist model nor does it try to revolutionize social relations. The hegemonic party has a more or less explicit ideology, but this ideology is not as crucially important in determining the day to day actions of government as in Leninist state.

In a sense, the dominant party in electoral systems like Japan, Malaysia, and Singapore can be seen as more truly hegemonic than the Leninist communist parties in China or the former Soviet bloc. Soviet-sytle parties could never subject themselves to serious competition, in part because they knew their ideology did not really hold sway over the minds of the people. It is no coincidence that the Soviet Union disintegrated almost as soon as the official monopoly of the Communist Party was abolished. Yet in East Asia, some political parties have achieved what the Leninist party sought, real acceptance of their right to rule in virtual perpetuity, legitimated by regular and relatively fair polls.

The hegemonic party state falls between liberal democracy and Leninism on several dimensions: 1) the degree of control of the leading political party and the state bureaucracy over society, 2)

the balance between the state and the private sector, 3) the level of political and economic competition, and 4) the degree of internal consensus and cohesion. However, this is true of most states in the world. It is important to differentiate between the particular regime type of the Elective Hegemonic Party State and other regimes that have been lumped into the vague, catch-all label of authoritarianism.


Different Types of Modern States Falling Between Leninist Party-States and Liberal Democracy

Leninist Elective Hegemonic Liberal Democratic

Party-States Party-States States

Corporatist States

without Dominant Parties


Dominant Party-States

Military Autocracies



Fascist Warrior States

Market Socialist


Social Democracies

A distinction can be drawn between the more general concept of a hegemonic party system and the particular sub-type of the Elective Hegemonic Party State. I have defined the Elective Hegemonic Party State as a long standing regime with a dominant political party presiding over a developmental, corporatist state with limited electoral competition. But a party can dominate a political system without establishing the organized institutions of state corporatism. A dominant party may or may not use elections to legitimate its rule. A dominant party that comes to power through elections may also refuse to hold regular elections in order to freeze minor parties into permanent inferiority.

There are many cases in the modern world of one party dominating a political system with some form of electoral competition for longer than a generation. The PRI has been in power in Mexico for almost a century. The Congress Party in India was the only governing party in India from independence until the 1970s. The ruling Islamic Republican Party in Iran has dominated politics for a generation and certainly strives for hegemony. The parties in Iraq, Syria, Algeria, and Egypt, which all came to power in the 1950s as Arab socialist regimes, have held continuous power since then, although their ideological legitimations and institutional forms have changed over the years. Systems with one dominant party and limited electoral competition are common in Africa. South Africa has seen the passing of power from a hegemonic white party to a potentially hegemonic black party. In Europe, the Swedish Social Democrats have held power with a few short interruptions since the 1930s under a system of open competition. From the end of World War II until recently, the Italian Christian Democrats held a stranglehold on state power despite open electoral compeition.

Some of these cases are examples of hegemonic party states as the term is used here. Mexico certainly fits the definition, at least until its recent market liberalization under NAFTA and the breakdown of PRI dominance. But not all polities with dominant parties manifest the kind of corporatist state found in East Asia. Many African and Middle Eastern regimes do not have the systematic set of institutions that structures and regulates economic and political activity that are found in Elective Hegemonic Party States. Many regimes also do not allow regular electoral competition, particularly if the dominant party doubts its ability to control the outcome.

The hegemonic party state should also be differentiated from regimes where political parties are not the central political institution. The hegemonic party state is not simply a military or personal dictatorship which uses a political party as a veneer of legitimation. In the hegemonic party state the party is the central political organ, not the military, an individual, or a leading family. The military and security apparatus may play a key role in suppressing political opposition, but they are subordinated to one degree or another to the hegemonic party. Elections are regular and relatively fair. Elections are not patently rigged, nor are they arbitarily overturned or cancelled when the results are inconvenient, as is often the case in military, personalistic, or familial regimes.

Indonesia under Suharto has had one dominant political party. But the military and increasingly the Suharto family really run things. The party and the state are subordinated to the military and the Suharto family. Thus Indonesia does not fit the definition of a hegemonic party state, although it has been moving in that direction and could conceivably take that form after the death of Suharto.

One test of whether a regime is a hegemonic party system or a military or personalistic autocracy is the test of succession. When a leader dies or retires, who succeeds him? In a hegemonic party system the new leader will be of the same party, but of a different family. If both predecessor and successor are military men, then the control of the civilian party over the military is highly suspect. If over time several leadership transitions fit this pattern, it is a case of a hegemonic party state.

Finally, the hegemonic party state must be differentiated from fascism. There are certain similiarities between the two types of regimes. Both are state corporatist systems with powerful political parties. But the fascist regimes of the first half of the century were war machines, highly mobilized polities whose primary purpose was to put society on a permanent war footing. While the Italian and German fascist regimes came to power through elections, competitive elections were abolished when the fascist system was in place. The use of the repressive apparatus of the state was much more extensive than in a contemporary hegemonic party state. Spain and Portugal, between the end of the second world war and their transitions to democracy, were less militarized and less repressive than their prewar and wartime versions, and thus became more similar to contemporary East Asian hegemonic party states.

Of course, it should be made clear that not all East Asian regimes fit into the category of a hegemonic party-state. The Philippines and Thailand have vigorously competitive party systems. South Korea has moved from a military autocracy to an unstable dominant party system in which the ruling party and the opposition parties undergo dizzyingly rapid splits and mergers so that it is unclear whether a hegemonic or competitive party system will eventually emerge. Burma and Indonesia are military dictatorships in which political parties have little import. However, the hegemonic party-state is a distinct type of political regime, one that is more common in East Asia than real liberal democracies, and perhaps becoming more common in the near future.



Elective Hegemonic Party-States

Japan 195?-199?

Malaysia 1969-present

Singapore break w/ Malaysia-present


Corporatist State with a Semi-Hegemonic Party

Japan 199?-present


Former Military Autocracies Moving Toward Elective Hegemonic Party-States

Taiwan 1980s-present

South Korea 1987-present

cross over to truly competitive?


Military Autocracy With Hegemonic Party-State Tendencies

Indonesia 1967-present


Socialist States with Leninist Parties With Hegemonic Party State Tendencies

China 1976-present

Vietnam ?-present


level of party control

differences tween hps







Singapore Malaysia Taiwan Japan Korea Philippines


The Origin of the Elective Hegemonic Party State in East Asia

East Asian elective hegemonic party states originate as a solution to the problems of new nations in a difficult and sometimes hostile environment. The empires carved out by the European imperialists often did not correspond to the distribution of peoples in the region. The new states created after the second world war reflected the boundaries of the old European empires rather than local political realities or ethnic identities. Indonesia, Burma, and Malaysia in particular were artificial states, rent by ethnic divisions which had the potential of degenerating into communal strife and even civil war. These new states had a need to create authority and political legitimacy to overcome the tendency toward political disintegration. In such nations the state, like the nation, was an artificial construct, a self-conscious creation. Governing parties had to generate ideologies, symbols, and other artifices in order to overcome centripetal social and political forces. Often open political conflict was inimical to the basic political cohesion necessary to construct a new state and a new nation.

These new states were born in a hostile international system. They were loci of cold war struggle pitting communist insurgencies against western attempts to maintain political and economic control. They were small economies in a global system. Colonial modes of production had left them dependent on the West for many of the requisites of economic development. The leaders of these new nations believed they needed a strong state to guide economic development and buffer themselves from the fluctuations and pressures of the global economic system.

These new states did not have much of an indigenous democratic ethos nor much practical experience in self government. Their primary cultural legacy was Confucian, Islamic, or Buddhist. Democratic values were not rooted in a long process of political development, but were principally a cultural overlay carried by elites educated in the West or tutored by colonial administrators. Neither the pre-modern philosophical system nor the self-serving guidance of the colonial government provided much of a basis for either democratic development or practical self government. The hegemonic party had to develop its own creative legitimations if it was to hold the new state together. It had to develop a new, syncretic philosophy to justify maintaining its hold on power.

The first and purest cases of hegemonic party states arose in Malaysia, Singapore, and Japan. Each of these states inherited a liberal democratic regime imposed by an outside colonial or occupying power. In the cases of Malaysia and Singapore the hegemonic party was formed during the independence struggle, became the leading force of the independence struggle. UMNO (United Malayasian National Organization?) and PAP (the People's Action Party, Singapore) won convincing victories in electoral tests before independence and in the first national election after independence. UMNO and PAP, as leaders of both resistance to colonial rule and of elective governments, thus had mixed experience with liberal democracy. They had led a struggle against a colonial power which had restricted truly open political expression, yet they had come to power through democratic elections. Western liberal democratic parties to some degree served as a model for UMNO and PAP, but so did non-democratic mass parties in other nations struggling for political independence.

The Japanese experience was somewhat different. Japan was not a small weak colony but an advanced economic and political power before the war. Japan was ethnically homogeneous. Japan's hegemonic party was not a product of a decolonization struggle, but was created after the U.S. occupation had ended. Yet there were also significant similarities. The U.S. occupation was similar to a colonial government. It reshaped indegenous Japanese political institutions even more self consciously than a colonial power. Thus the post-occupation Japanese governments had one foot in the liberal democratic system the U.S. had created and which had brought them to power and another foot in a totally different political tradition.

Like newly decolonizing states, once powerful Japan also felt extrememly vulnerable to the international system. The protective walls around the Japanese economy and society which had been built up for a century had been ripped apart by the Occupation. Industry had been devastated by the U.S. bombing campaigns, and even more importantly, society was in shock over the civilian casualties in the nuclear and fire bombings of major cities.

The post-occupation government had a massive problem of political legitimation. It could not rely on the old political tradition which had brought the catastrophic defeat of the war and had been dismantled during the occupation. And yet the alien institutions imposed by the occupation did not resonate well with either political elites or the mass public.

The Diffusion of the Elective Hegemonic Party State in East Asia

The first and purest cases of hegemonic party states in East Asia arose in liberal democracies imposed by outside powers. In Malaysia, Singapore, and Japan, elective systems produced hegemonic parties which pursued policies of state corporatism. In the 1980s and 1990s a wave of liberalization and democratization has swept across East Asia. The increasing integration of the East Asian economies and polities, the growing importance of East Asia in the global system, and the end of the Cold War have all led to some degree of convergence of political systems as well. States with different political origins are moving toward somewhat similar political systems. Several military autocracies and even a couple of the remaining Leninist states are moving in the direction of hegemonic party states.

Military autocracies like South Korea, Taiwan, and Indonesia have maintained democratic facades for much of their existence. A fig leaf of electoral processes, however staged and managed, were useful both for gaining international acceptance and for coopting domestic dissidents. A democratic facade was useful especially for relations with the U.S. during the Cold War. American governments used elections, however well staged, to justify support for regimes crucial to its Cold War strategy. Elections also provided these regimes with legitimacy with their own people even if real power flowed from the barrel of a gun.

In Taiwan, South Korea, and Indonesia, opposition forces repeatedly tried to seize upon nominal democratic rights and freedoms to truly open up the system. In such cases the military autocracy faces the choice of liberalization or intensification of repression. Taiwan in the 1980s, gripped in a succession crisis and losing diplomatic ground to a reformed China, finally began a true liberalization. The South Korean opposition had briefly forced a democratic interim in the early 1960s and again in 1980, only to be crushed by greater repression. However, in the mid-1980s, faced with a growing opposition movement and the possiblity of losing the prestige of hosting the international Olympics, the South Korean government chose liberalization. On the other hand, the Indonesian government has consistently chosen repression at the first sign of growing domestic dissidence.


From the other end of the political spectrum, the socialist states of China and Vietnam are also moving toward becoming more like their neighboring hegemonic party states. As the control of the monopolistic Leninist party over both the economy and the society loosens, more space not only for marekt competition but also for political pluralism is created. So far the Chinese and Vietnamese parties have tried to walk a fine line between loosening up and yet maintaining control. Economic liberalization has proceeded much more rapidly than political liberalization. In particular, the communist parties have not given up their monopoly on political power, as the crushing of the students at Tianaman Square demostrated. But the Chinese party is allowing multiple candidate elections and nonparty contestation for leadership of selected enterprises and local party positions. The Chinese and Vietnamese socialist regimes are still significantly different types than the hegemonic party states of East Asia, but they are becoming more like them every day. If there is future liberalization in China or Vietnam, the outcome is more likely to be something like the Elective Hegemonic Party State than a western style liberal democracy.

This convergence of East Asian political regimes is driven primarily by similar solutions to similar institutional dilemmas, comparable constellations of domestic forces, and converging economic systems, but conscious modelling and demonstration effects are also contributing to this process. While the Japanese developmental form of the corporatist state is more often a taken as a model for economic development, Japan's ability to combine open elections with a stable political system has not been unnoticed. Malaysia and Singapore have been at the forefront of the Asian values movement, self-consciously presenting a different model of political development. Both the integration of ASEAN and the need to accommodate growing Chinese power in the region has also led to a convergence of poiltical regimes. While the integration of East Asia is much less advanced than that of Europe, a similar process of convergence of political regimes can be seen.

Most regimes in East Asia believe they need a strong state to create social and political cohesion and to buffer their relatively small nations from the vagaries of the international market. In the modern world, strong parties make for strong states. Lenin and Mao were not the only ones to recognize this equation. Many Japanese and non-Japanese observers of Japan have argued that the political stability of two generations of Liberal Democratic Party rule provided a favorable context for the evolution of the developmental state which guided the rapid economic growth of post-World War II Japan. None of the original 4 East Asian "tigers," South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, or Singapore, with their strong, developmental states, has had a truly liberal, competitive political system, with Singapore and Taiwan having strongly hegemonic parties. In the Western world, Sweden provides a different example of the principle that strong parties make for strong states. The Social Democratic Party has been hegemonic in Sweden for three generations, and not coincidentally, has built the world's most developed social democratic state. For a state to transform society, it needs the long term, concentrated political power which a hegemonic party can provide. Any state that wishes to reshape society, whether it is a Leninist state, an East Asian developmental state, or a social demoratic state, benefits immensely from a strong political party as an instrument to accomplish its aims.

Of course, there are many cases in East Asia that do not fit the pattern of the hegemonic party state. In the Philippines and Thailand the competition between parties is too open and intense and thus no hegemonic party has been able to form. In both these nations the military is too factionalized to form a central core around which a hegemonic party might coalesce. In Burma a brief liberalization produced elections that threw out the ruling group, leading to an overturning of the elections and a crackdown on dissidents. Indonesia maintains a facade of elections but the military has not really given up the reins and the Suharto family has turned the regime into a personal dictatorship. While a dominant government party and two minor parties exist, transparent control over the opposition in maintained. The ruling party is almost as powerless as the opposition, and thus Indonesia is not truly a hegemonic party state.


IV. The Hegemonic Party State and Democracy

Can a hegemonic party state be democratic? Clearly there are significant differences between hegemonic party states and western liberal democratic regimes. The governing party of a hegemonic party state does not change hands and the ruling party has little fear of losing power, at least in the short run. The hegemonic party maintains control over the articulation of interests. There is little open debate or criticism of government officials or the ruling party.

Yet on the other hand there are elections with some degree of competition for power. There is at least the theoretical possibility that the ruling party could be defeated at the polls. The Japanese Liberal Democratic Party held power continuously for almost two generations, but was booted from office in 199?. The UMNO coalition which has ruled Malaysia since independence got a real scare in the 199? election. The corporate state limits the ability for political groups to form and articulate demands, but it also provides channels for expressing interests to political leaders and government officials. Open debate or criticism of the government are rare, yet there are oblique methods of veiling critical ideas within the approved limits of political discourse.

Rather than measuring the degree of democracy by western liberal democratic standards and of course finding that hegemonic party states are different, perhaps it is better to begin by looking at the range of democratic possibilities within different hegemonic party states. There are at least 4 important dimensions of openness or closedness of a hegemonic party state: 1) the level of electoral competition for national and subnational office, 2) the degree of control over political organizations, 3) the amount of open ideological conflict, and 4) the frequency of the intrusion of military and/or security forces into the political system.