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Hunter Marston -- Southeast Asia's authoritarian drift could weaken its main act

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Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc greets Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi during the ASEAN summit in Vientiane on Sept. 8. Also pictured is Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha.   © Reuters

What is the state of democracy in Southeast Asia? The recent East Asia Summit in Laos between the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and partners such as the U.S., China, Japan and India, highlighted divergent political and strategic trends in the region. While some countries appear to be heading for more democratic governance, others are seen as backsliding toward authoritarianism or entrenching themselves as semi-democratic, one-party states.

Military-ruled Thailand is turning increasingly inward, while reformist Myanmar is reaching out to the world. Indonesia and the Philippines are re-examining their traditional foreign policy approaches, while undergoing significant domestic changes. Malaysia is distracted politically by a bitter struggle between Prime Minister Najib Razak and opponents who accuse him of corruption, although economic changes continue apace.

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