Tag Archives: political trust

Political Trust in East and Southeast Asia

This post is based on a recent publication, “How political trust matters in emergent democracies: evidence from East and Southeast Asia,” available at the Journal of Public Policy

How does political trust matter in emergent democracies? Studies suggest that political trust may potentially buffer against public pressures for performance. For emergent democracies that are under pressure to perform on the competing fronts of policy and political performance, the promise of political trust providing policy or political leeway is useful to help with prioritization of the tasks of nation-building.[1] In particular, studies show governments in emergent democracies to be under considerable pressure to deliver on policy performance to broaden support for political survival; meanwhile, the nascent institutions in these democracies need further development to regularize facilities and capacities that will deliver political goods and inspire stalwart “democrats” to uphold democratic processes in the face of poor policy performance.

Unfortunately, limited empirical evidence exists for whether political trust provides such a leeway, and even fewer studies examine the possibility in emergent democracies. This neglect reflects that much of the literature has built around mature democracies, where the trade-off for policy performance versus political performance is unlikely to upend long-standing democratic practices and institutions.

This paper addresses that critical question: it considers if political trust provides political or policy leeway or both in emergent democracies, through assessments of how political trust displaces economic performance in explaining incumbent-approval or system-support. We use economic performance to take into account findings from economic voting studies that consistently show economic achievements to be integral to support for the government or the political system; consequently, if results show that political trust displaces economic performance in explaining public support for the government or the democratizing system, then they are strongly indicative of how political trust directed at incumbent-approval or system-support may provide leeway against public demands for economic performance. If political trust does not provide the political or policy leeway as suggested, then the government and the political system remain hostage to policy performance; if, however, political trust displaces policy-performance, it follows that voters may remain committed to the incumbent or political system or both despite poor policy performance.

The data are drawn from Asian Barometer Survey for the East and Southeast Asia countries of South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand, i.e., three presidential, one semi-presidential, and one (previously) parliamentary systems. The countries for East and Southeast Asia are interesting for examination: they vary in terms of democratic age and economic levels and, importantly, were countries with high economic achievements. More so than other countries, then, the public in the East and Southeast Asian countries may be inclined towards economic performance over political ones; consequently, if the results indicate that political trust displaces the economic performance in these countries to explain support, the results are likely to be highly generalizable.

Three results from successive waves of survey from the Asian Barometer are informative. First, they show that where political trust is statistically significant in explaining democratic support, economic performance is not relevant. That is, the results show where political trust is directed at system-support, it displaces economic performance to buffer political systems from the pressures of economic performance. Second, for incumbent-approval, both political trust and economic performance are relevant explanators; thus, political trust does not displace economic performance to explain incumbent-approval. Third, in conjunction, the results clarify that an economic focus in the respective countries may keep a government in office but political trust undergirds the political system. This emphasizes the priority of building political trust to deepen peace and stability in the region.

These results are particularly relevant for expanding study and understanding of the political trust literature to issues of democratic progression and consolidation that are unique to emergent democracies. By these results, recent events in the emergent democracies of East and Southeast Asia – where governments have prioritized growth over institution-building – are cause for concern. In particular, the results show that the pursuing growth in place of institution-building undermines long-term political peace and social stability. Thus, even for governments with primary interests in office-tenure, the results highlight an overlooked consideration: the long-term benefits of institution-building that helps build political trust in the emergent democracies.

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[1] These arguments of the effects of political trust align with Easton (1975)’s framing of specific and diffuse support. See Easton, D. 1975. “A Re-assessment of the Concept of Political Support.” British Journal of Political Science no. 5 (4):435-457. doi: 10.1017/S0007123400008309.

South Korea – The President, Opposition, and Political Trust

200 days following the Sewol ferry tragedy, the legislature finally formulated a bill for the investigation of the disaster to which the Sewol families have given their consent. The prolonged passage of the bill – due largely to the victim families’ resistance to previous iterations of the Sewol investigation bill – underlines political distrust of President Park and her Saenuri Party government as well as the opposition alliance, the New Political Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), to represent the interests of the Sewol victims’ families. This raises the questions: what is political trust? What are the effects of political distrust in an emergent democracy such as South Korea?

What is political trust? Political trust refers to public confidence in the facility and capacity of the political system to deliver regularly political goods that include contestable political succession, regularized competition, civil and political liberties, and freedom of association and expression.[1] Political trust, then, rests on the design and workings of the “institutions, structures and processes” to produce quality political goods “even if left untended,” based on principles of fairness and accountability. [2]

What are the effects of political distrust? Studies show that political trust – derived from institutional performance – underpins the distinction of political performance from government performance so that it buffers the political system from the pressures of immediate outputs. Conversely, political distrust means that the political system is under pressure to produce immediate outputs, while the concomitant lack of vested interests in the political system means that the public is more willing to engage in non-compliant behaviors, including civil disobedience and protests, to demand for these outputs.[3] Political distrust in an emergent democracy such as South Korea, then, potentially jeopardizes democracy in the country.

The regular rallies and protests in Seoul and outside the Blue House – including hunger strikers – demanding a full, independent investigation of the Sewol tragedy signal the political distrust with a political system that has given rise to regulatory lapses that endanger wellbeing.

Importantly, the political distrust extends to the opposition alliance: indeed, the opposition NPAD alliance’s effort to push through previous iterations of the Sewol bill faced bitter opposition from the Sewol victims’ families and felled the recently-elected NPAD floor leader, Park Young-sun. Clearly, the political distrust means that the opposition – like the government – is faced with pressures of immediate outputs and performance.

The road to build political trust is clear: focus on institution-building that delivers political goods rather than public or private goods such as economic performance. But there are clear trade-offs from such a focus: the political system may be buffered but the parties and the government remain vulnerable to voters’ expectations of performance and subsequent rejection for failing to deliver. The government and opposition may do well to note that, as they struggle with these trade-offs, the democratic health of the country remains at stake.

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[1] Mishler and Rose (2001) ; Yap (2013)

[2] Ruscio (1999:651-2); Grimes (2006); Shi (2001: 401). Shi, Tianjian (2001). “Cultural Values and Political Trust: A Comparison of the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan.” Comparative Politics vo 33 no 4: 401-19

[3] Lianjiang Li (2008) ; Marien and Hogen (2011)

The Philippines – Political parties and Presidential power

Vice president Jejomar Binay recently left his party of 30 years, the Partido ng Demokratikong Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), to form a new party in preparation for his run at the 2016 presidential elections. VP Binay was a member of the Laban (Laban ng Bayan) Party when it was headed by former senator Benigno Aquino. The Laban Party joined forces with the Partido Demokratiko ng Pilipinas (PDP) in 1986, and has enjoyed significant electoral success – winning the presidency under Corazon Aquino in 1986 – as well as lacklustre performance – in the last 2013 elections, it won one seat in the Senate and 2 of the 231 seats in the House.

With VP Binay’s departure from the PDP-Laban, the party has announced that it will leave the main opposition coalition, the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA). The UNA was an electoral alliance formed in part with VP Binay’s support as national chair of PDP-Laban. However, PDP-Laban President Senator Aquilino Pimentel III was opposed to the coalition and did not run under the UNA banner for his senatorial seat but, instead, under the administration’s Team PNoy, which he successfully secured.

The situation with the PDP-Laban and the UNA underscores changeability in political parties in the Philippines and renews the question: how does this changeability affect presidential power and policy performance in the country? The answer – discussed at greater length below – is not hopeful: the changeability undermines programmatic political development and fails to displace personalistic money-centric politics.

Studies identify at least three fundamental roles for political parties:[1] (1) as vehicles to mobilize support for elections; (2) as a political pillar encapsulating regularized patterns, such as programmatic political contestation rather than personalistic politics or candidate-centered politics; and (3) undergird executive-legislature relations that frame political performance.

Do political parties perform as vehicles to mobilize support for elections in the Philippines? On the one hand, thus far, presidential candidates have continued to run under party labels; on the other hand, it is debatable if this represents a rallying under political parties or if political parties are rallying around strong candidates. Thus, for instance, the 2013 elections for the senate are not necessarily indicative of political party performance as much as Team Pnoy’s success.

Are political parties in the Philippines encapsulating regularized patterns? The answer to this is less ambiguous than the previous: studies show that political trust remains low in the Philippines, and the electorate remains sceptical of political institutions and representatives of Congress, Senate, and political parties.[2]

Do political parties undergird executive-legislature relations that frame political performance? As the PDP-Laban and UNA situation indicate, and the rebuilding of the Liberal Party under President Aquino III suggest, political parties are still working out their coalescence. While this process is underway, executive-legislative relations continue to ride on personalistic relations. This means that successful policymaking generally carries high transaction costs.

Clearly, political party institutionalization in the Philippines will benefit the country in the immediate term and the long run. There is reason for hope: as executives and legislators become increasingly cognizant of the significant political and social costs in running personalistic campaigns and as the anticorruption efforts deepen, the trends will converge towards greater institutionalization.