The year 2018 will mark the start of a period in which outright authoritarianism and illiberal quasi-democracy are likely to be Southeast Asia's prevailing norms. With few exceptions, liberal values and fundamental freedoms and rights will be manipulated and curtailed, even where elections continue to take place. Where authoritarianism holds sway, rights and freedoms will be suppressed altogether.
The specter of galloping authoritarianism is crucially underpinned by China's successful system of centralized control combined with economic dynamism. Unless domestic forces that stand for rights and freedoms are nurtured, mobilized and galvanized, the struggle for democracy could be lost to a narrative of history that ends not with democracy and free markets but with omnipotent central authority and state-led capitalism.