The Democracy Debate: Analysing the 'Asian' Challenge

Tay Cheng Cheng

The vocabulary of politics is nowhere fixed ... The word 'democracy' has undergone as extensive a course of construction and reconstruction as any [political concept]. (Parry & Moran, 1994:1)

[W]hat may evolve in Asia is a democracy that is quite unlike liberal democracy. Democracy perhaps, but an Asian democracy. (Chan, 1992: 6)



Introduction: The Triumph of Liberal Democracy?
Rethinking Democracy as Discourse

Chapter 1: Deconstructing Democracy
Historisizing Democracy
Anglo-American Forms of Democracy

Chapter 2: An(Other) Interpretation of Democracy
The Discourse of Asian Democracy
A Postcolonial Critique of Orientalism
Problematising Asian Democratic Discourse

Chapter 3: Singapore & The Asian Democratic Discourse
The 'Cultural Logic' of Values and Ethics
The Politics of Nation-Building in Singapore
A Discursive Strategy of Political Legitimisation





In recent years, several prominent Asian leaders have sought to challenge liberal democracy by presenting another version of democracy which they term as 'Asian democracy'. The formulation of Asian democracy had generated an intense debate among many political leaders and political observers over what democracy means and cannot mean. This thesis engages in a critical analysis of how and why Asian democracy is being constructed. In the attempt to do so, it problematises the concept of democracy and illustrates how the meaning of democracy is always a discursive product of negotiation, struggle and contestation.

This dissertation is presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Communication Studies at Murdoch University, Western Australia, 1995

I declare that this dissertation is my own account of my research and contains as its main content work which has not previously been submitted for a degree at any tertiary educational institution. Tay Cheng Cheng

Copyright License/Restriction

Permission to copy all or parts of this dissertation for study and research purposes is hereby granted. Tay Cheng Cheng. 6 November 1995


I am very grateful to Dr. Mark T. Berger for being a supportive and approachable supervisor. His confidence in my ability not only encouraged me to undertake the honours programme in the first place, but also motivated me throughout the course of writing this thesis. For this, I certainly owe him a big 'Thank You!'. In addition, I would like to thank Dr. Jon Stratton and Maria DeGabriele for guiding me in the initial part of my work. My acknowledgement also goes to Dr. Ien Ang for her invaluable advice and patience. I would like to extend my gratitude to the librarians at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies for their kind assistance when I did part of my research there. I would like to give special thanks to my long-time friends from Singapore - Low King Siah, Koh Wee Min, Koh Puay Hoon and Tan Joo See for constantly encouraging me despite the distance apart. Their prayers and moral support will always be remembered. Chong Wee Lin has been a wonderful friend. I thank her for all the things she did for me when I was pressed for time. The many discussions I had with Selvaraj Velayatham over tea and coffee were indeed stimulating and I thank him for sharing his ideas with me. I have also benefited tremendously from the many conversations and discussions with my fellow honours mates: Vijayandran Devadas, Chan Keen Len and Petrina. I also truly appreciate the moral support from Belinda Tan, Jason Lim, Adrian Loo and Niam Chaur Shiuh. My deepest and most heartfelt thanks to Irvin Lim for his affections. He truly deserves much credit for inspiring me to strive for academic excellence and to find enjoyment in my studies. Finally, I thank God for blessing me with my family, especially my father Tay Lye Thong and my mother Koh Woon Khoon who have supported me in every sense of the word. Without them, my wish to pursue a higher education overseas would never have materialised.

New: 30 August, 1997 | Now: 28 April, 2015