Type: Seminar

Democracy and its impediments in Southeast Asia

Part of the Seminar Series on Global Perspectives on Debate and Democracy, organized by the Weiser Diplomacy Center and co-sponsored by the Center for Southeast Asian Studies for U-M's "Democracy and Debate" theme semester


Pavin Chachavalpongpun, Wai Wai Nu, and Bui Hai Thiem

Date & time

Oct 27, 2020, 6:30-8:00 pm EDT


This is a Virtual Event.

Open to all University of Michigan students.

Please join us for a virtual seminar with Bui Hai Thiem, a research manager at the Institute for Legislative Studies, National Assembly Standing Committee of Vietnam, Pavin Chachavalpongpun, an associate professor at Kyoto University's Center for Southeast Asian Studies and Wai Wai Nua former political prisoner and the founder and Executive Director of the Women Peace Network in Myanmar.

Located in Southeast Asia, the nation-states of Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam have all
embraced a great degree of diversity in ethno-linguistic and socio-cultural terms. Although
having undergone different colonial and postcolonial experiences, these countries have shared
one common feature. In all of these states, the main source fed in the national identity originates mostly from the historical experiences of the majority—the Burmese, the Thai-Siamese, or the Vietnamese. How have these states negotiated their commitment to democracy within a project of nationalism laden with ethnic entanglements over the past decade?
In 2016, Myanmar had its first elected government that has defied the ruling of military
dictatorship. However, the Rohingyas crisis in 2016-2017 has exerted paramount challenges on the inchoate democracy in the country. Starting from around this same time, as a constitutional monarchy, the Thai government has experienced several waves of political turmoil. Just over the past few months of 2020, the Thai Youth movement has demonstrated the efforts that Thailand’s younger generation has invested in the country’s democratic progress. A single-party socialist regime, Vietnam is often cited as a communist state with high-profile authoritarianism. Although the country has observed relatively political stability, the Law on Demonstration, for instance, remains pending since 2016/2017. Yet, contrary to some criticism of transparency, this government has apparently been able to mitigate the on-going Covid-19 crisis. Against this background, this virtual roundtable examines the localization of democracy in Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.

We are specifically interested in the following questions:

  • What does popular understanding of democracy look like in Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam?
  •  What are the main structural impediments to democratic norms and practices?
  • What recent trends or dynamics have been most concerning?
  • By contrast, what local movements or political shifts do we see as most promising for near-term democratic development?
  • To what extent have major foreign partners such as China, Japan and the United States affected domestic dynamics in Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam?

About the speakers

Wai Wai Nu is a former political prisoner and the founder and Executive Director of the Women Peace Network in Myanmar. She spent seven years as a political prisoner in Burma. Since her release from prison in 2012, Nu has dedicated herself to working for democracy and human rights, particularly on behalf of marginalised women and members of her ethnic group, the Rohingya. 

Through the Women Peace Network, Nu works to build peace and mutual understanding between Myanmar’s ethnic communities and to empower and advocate for the rights of marginalised women throughout Myanmar, and particularly in Rakhine State. Her work also aims to reduce discrimination and hatred among Buddhist and Muslim communities and to improve the human rights of the Rohingya people through documentation, convenings and policy advocacy among key leaders in Myanmar and high-level international fora. 

To engage youth in the peacebuilding process, Nu founded the Yangon Youth Center – a space where young people from diverse backgrounds can come together to learn, share, and explore their ideas and promote leadership in social, political, and peace-building. Nu organised the My Friend Campaign with youth from different communities to promote tolerance and to reduce discrimination among diverse groups. Through her work, she has been recognised as a Champion of Prevention by the United Nation’s Office of the Prevention of Genocide and Responsibility to Protect.  In 2014, Nu Co-Founded Justice for Women in Yangon, a legal and advocacy organization that works with victims of gender-based violence and provides pro-bono legal consultation. 

Nu is the recipient of N-Peace Awards (2014),; Democracy Courage Tributes, World Movement for Democracy(2015); Hillary Rodham Clinton award in (2018),; Impact Hero (2019).

Nu was named as a Young Global Leader by World Economic Forum; among "100 Top Women", BBC (2014),; among 100 inspiring women, Salt Magazine (2016),; among 100 World Thinkers, Foreign Policy Magazine (2015),; Next Generation Leader, Time Magazine (2017).;  Women of the Year, Financial Times (2018); One of the 16 Women Fighting For Fairness in Asia, Tatler (2020). 

Nu received her bachelor’s degree in law from the University of Yangon in Myanmar and her master’s degree in law from the University of Berkeley. She previously served as a visiting scholar with the Human Rights Centre at the University of Berkeley and the University of Michigan’s Center for the Education of Women and as an Obama Foundation Scholar at Columbia University of New York. Nu was also a Scholar at the Bush Institute, Liberty and Leadership Forum and Draper Hills Summer Fellow at Stanford University’s CDDRL. Currently, Nu is serving as a fellow at the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun is associate professor at Kyoto University's Center for Southeast Asian Studies. Earning his PhD from SOAS, University of London, Pavin is the author of "A Plastic Nation: The Curse of Thainess in Thai-Burmese Relations" and "Reinventing Thailand: Thaksin and His Foreign Policy". He is also the chief editor of the online journal "Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia", in which all articles are translated from English into Japanese, Thai, Bahasa Indonesia, Filipino and Vietnamese <www.kyotoreview.org>. 

Bui Hai Thiem is a research manager at the Institute for Legislative Studies, National
Assembly Standing Committee of Vietnam. He is also a member and secretary of the Research Council on Philosophy, Political Science, and Sociology at the National Foundation for Science and Technology Development (NAFOSTED), Vietnam Ministry of Science and Technology, which review and approve national research grants.

He holds a PhD in political science at the University of Queensland (UQ), Australia, an MA in International Studies from SOAS, University of London, and a BA in International Relations from Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam. He was the 2004 Chevening scholar, the 2011 Australian Award Leadership Scholar, a visiting researcher at the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, University of Oslo in 2012, the 2014 Asia Foundation Development Fellow, the 2015 YSEALI Professional Fellow. He teaches Vietnamese development studies (University of Oslo-Akershus), international relations (UQ), and public policy (VJU), Comparative Constitutional Law (HLU).

His research focuses on civil society, constitutional politics, human rights, and electoral
governance in Vietnam and has been published on a number of prestigious scholarly peer-
reviewed journals (ISI &amp; SCOPUS indexed) like Asian Studies Review, Asian Journal of Social Science, Asian Journal of Comparative Law, Contemporary Southeast Asia, Journal of
Vietnamese Studies, and Global Change, Peace and Security and numerous Vietnamese journals.

Moderated by: Hieu Phung, Lecturer, Southeast Asian Studies and John D. Ciorciari, Associate Professor of Public Policy; Director, International Policy Center

This event is co-sponsored by the Center for Southeast Asian Studies.