Politics has been an interest of mine for as long as I can remember. During my time here at SSU, although there are no outright political science courses per se, I have managed to weave the thread of politics into many of the papers I have written in the multiple disciplines. Whether it is contrasting Aristotelian and modern political theory in philosophy, or discussing the social and political ramifications of James Joyce’s literature, as much as possible I like to find the “political angle” within my studies.
This past term allowed me to gain a new angle: discovering the world of Southeast Asian politics. I was excited to learn about the way governments operated in a different part of the world and what involvement the citizens had with their political system. It was fascinating to see the different influences on each of the countries that we visited and how they had shaped the country’s political history. The current government of the Philippines has been modeled mainly upon that of the United States with some evidence remaining of the previous Spanish colonization and the effect of the Catholic Church in that country. In Malaysia, the Islamic religion plays an influential role in the governance but there are also clues that point to the British presence there. Thailand is unique among the Southeast Asian nations for having never been officially colonized; there the role of the Buddhist religion and the institution of the monarchy greatly influence the politics.
When looking into the politics of this region, the majority of the countries in Southeast Asia seem to be rife with corruption, bid-rigging, ethnic conflict and military intervention. From a Western perspective, it was all to easy to approach these issues with a bit of a superiority complex, thinking: “Wow, it’s a good thing we don’t have it this bad back in Canada/the U.S.” I’ll admit, before I went on the trip and at the beginning of my time there, this is how I felt. By the end of the trip though, and after being home for a few weeks, I have come to a different conclusion. We in the West should not be so smug about our system: it is not perfect. Although in theory it looks good when compared to the blatant corruption of officials in some of these other countries, we would be kidding ourselves if we thought that there was no corruption over here. The fact is that it’s more covert and sometimes more insidious.
This conclusion was confirmed for me after I read an article just the other day that I thought could have been a page from one of my Southeast Asian textbooks. The headline was: “7 Ottawa tech firms charged with bid-rigging”. Now the difference is that in Southeast Asia this would be front-page news whereas in Canada (where this supposedly doesn’t happen) it is buried in the news. (Type “bid-rigging” into Google News and there are 2 results for this story).
Although we should be thankful for the relative peace that we experience in the West, we should not allow that peace to let us to slip into complacency but to always be striving for better, at home and abroad.