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Public governance in Asia and the limits of electoral democracy : [book review] Rock, Michael T. Jun 30, 2011

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 25 Electronic Book Review: Asia General PUBLIC GOVERNANCE IN ASIA AND THE LIMITS OF ELECTORAL DEMOCRACY. Edited by Brian Bridges, Lok Sang Ho. Cheltenham, UK; Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar, 2009. xi, 297 pp. US$140.00, cloth. ISBN 978-1-84844-628-1. What are the limits of electoral democracy in East Asia? This book attempts to answer this question in two theoretical chapters and a series of country case studies. The two theoretical chapters adopt a substantive rather than a procedural definition of democracy and they view electoral democracy in instrumental rather than intrinsic terms. Both authors find electoral democracy wanting, particularly that version of it characterized by the fray among multiple and competing interest groups. Because the authors simply can’t envision how interest group politics in procedural democracies promote the public interest, they tend to view one-party autocracies committed to the public interest as preferable on democratic grounds because “they further the representative individual’s interest.” Few are likely to be convinced by this argument, particularly since even the most developmentally oriented one- party governments of East Asia have been unwilling to permit untrammeled freedom of the press and assembly or legislative or judicial independence. The authors also fail to take advantage of a large and rich theoretical and empirical literature on democracy and democratization in East Asia and its effects on developmental outcomes. While the authors recognize that the institutions of democracy matter, they never draw on the insights of Ben Reilly’s masterful book (Democracy and Diversity: Political Engineering in the Asia Pacific), or the equally important insights of Stephan Haggard and Robert Kaufman (The Political Economy of Democratic Transitions) or Torsten Persson and Guido Tabellini (The Economic Effects of Constitutions). The theoretical chapters are followed by 10 country case studies, 9 of which are in East Asia. After the theory chapters one expected the case studies to provide empirical support for or against the theoretical chapters or at least place country experiences with democracy, autocracy, democratization and de-democratization within the large and growing literature in this field. Unfortunately there is little relationship between the case studies and the theory chapters and even less between the case studies and the literature on the proximate causes of democratization or on what causes democracy to become consolidated or fall to autocracy. For the most part, the case studies do little more than describe the evolution of democratic and autocratic development and tendencies. As a result, one gains few, if any, insights from this book into the limits of electoral democracy. Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, USA Michael T. Rock


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