China introduced the nationwide unemployment insurance system (UIS) in 1986. The UIS is aimed at addressing the inevitable and growing unemployment problem resulting from market mechanisms under the reform and opening-up policy. However, it did not function properly to tackle unemployment problem as the central government had planned, with the unemployment and laid-off problem reached its peak in the late 1990s, while the UIS itself experienced several system changes.
How was the UIS conceived and constructed among central and local actors during the transition from a planned economy to a market economy? To explore the existing literature, which mainly focused on the late 1990s, this paper covers the initial period of the UIS and attempts to scrutinize the interactions between central and local-level actors. By comparing the two representative cases of Liaoning and Shanghai, this paper extracts the features and mechanism of the UIS construction process as well as the social security system in China.
The UIS, designed by the central government as a safety net to cover the fluid labor market under construction, was transformed into an enterprise-centered system during its implementation at the local level, as the local actors, including the local government, enterprises, and labor, failed to reach a consensus on the intention of the system design. Regarding the mechanism of this process, this paper argues that, firstly, the relationship and policy preference of local actors involved was still bound by the conventions of the planned economy period, such as the dependence of workers on the state-owned enterprises for livelihood security, and the allocation of labor and resources by the local government instead of the labor market. Secondly, the interest structure in the new UIS further strengthened those relationships and eventually led to an enterprise-centered system, which caused the inefficacy of both the security and market functions of the UIS. Thirdly, the interests regarding the new insurance system not only triggered conflicts between central departments but also led to a fragmented system at the local level, which was opposed to the central government’s intention of integrating social security system in this new policy area.
These political dynamics identified in both Liaoning and Shanghai suggest that, the interests relationship and interactions of local actors should be considered as essential factors that defined the restructuring of the social security system during the transition to a market economy in China.
This article seeks to assess the descriptive adequacy of that hackneyed phrase—‘the world’s biggest democracy’—often used to describe India. The phrase is used not only to describe but also to praise, for the term democracy is universally valorised. It is also however deeply contested, and people often mean very different things by it. That is one reason why it often comes with an adjectival qualifier—liberal democracy, people’s democracy, socialist democracy, direct democracy, and so on. The adjectives specify additional content to what would otherwise be a mostly empty or formal term, one signifying that elections are held but without specifying who can participate, the terms under which they can do so, the powers held by the governments “the people” elect, and so on. After briefly surveying the making of India’s constitution after Independence, the article draws a distinction between a formal or political democracy, and a substantive democracy, one in which political and legal equality becomes the basis for effecting greater social equality. I argue that while for much of its history independent India has been a political democracy, it has failed in according its citizens a roughly equal measure of social and economic wellbeing, and dignity. But even with this very important caveat, there has been much to admire in what was once widely regarded as a promising experiment—of how a large, diverse and impoverished nation, only just emerged from colonial rule, developed institutions and practices that allowed the people to govern themselves, under conditions of political (though never economic) equality and freedom. The article then asks whether today’s India, governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party, can even be considered a political or formal democracy? It concludes that there are many signs that it cannot, especially because the status of Indian Muslims as part of “the people” or demos has been called into question. The article concludes that India is in danger of becoming the world’s largest failed democracy.
The post-Cold War had appeared to Frances Fukayama as an age for ascendency of liberal democracy. Indeed, one could observe a change of mood around the world marked by lesser tolerance for military authoritarianism which is why military regimes were seen on a decline. In Pakistan, known for a politically powerful military, it took the generals a bit more than a decade after the end of the Cold War to realize that direct intervention was not welcomed. October 1999 was the last that a general took charge of the state. General Pervez Musharraf’s rule ended in 2008 dovetailing into return of democracy the same year. The change was far more significant—Pakistan’s electoral democracy got anchored as governments were removed through elections rather than use of non-Parliamentary methods. This shift cannot be termed as a transformation but a variation since non-Parliamentary institutional methods were used to not allow prime ministers from completing their terms. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani was removed from office by the higher judiciary in June 2012 followed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in July 2017, and later Prime Minister Imran Khan in March 2022.
The army, which in 1997 lost its power to sack governments through constitutional means in the form of article 58(2)(b) of the 1973 Constitution that was revoked by the then civilian government, used the higher judiciary to keep governments unstable. It was not that after 2008 the army had learned a lesson and was willing to surrender power but that it found a new way to maximize control of state power and resources without undertaking direct intervention. The military shifted from control of government to managing governance. Stability in electoral democracy is a new benchmark. The status-quo will remain and political players will not gain more ground until and unless they build institutional capacity. So, while Fukayama could imagine that all players in Pakistan have accepted liberal democracy as a norm, such acceptance is primarily superficial. The military remains dominant in power politics and civilian forces still subservient. Pakistan, in fact, offers a model of hybrid military rule in which political governments provide cover to military’s de facto control of the state.
The Hong Kong democracy movement began with the Sino-UK Joint Declaration of 1984 on the future of the city after 1997. Among other things, the declaration defined for Hong Kong citizens a limited democracy to be put in place at some unspecified point in the post-1997 period. The scheme promised one-person-one-vote to elect all legislators and the chief executive, which sounded fine until one read the fine print. Described in broad terms with lots of discretionary power for Beijing to maneuver, the scheme reserved the privilege to introduce bills for the chief executive only. Elections for the latter would involve only a small number of candidates hand-picked by Beijing, rubber-stamped by a small electoral committee whose membership system was structured in strong favor of the government. Yet moving towards even this limited democracy proved to be a total failure. For all the 25 years after 1997, the government gave not one inch, even though the movement had impressive records of regularly turning out gigantic crowds—up to some 20% of the city’s population for a four-to-six-hour protest event, drawing from a 60% pro-democracy majority among the Hong Kong people. A major problem of this failure lay in the movement itself, which almost since its inception had adopted and held fast to the strategy of pressure politics, while basically remaining within the system as “loyal opposition”. That strategy involved garnering public opinion based on sheer supporter turnout in strictly peaceful, open and legal protests to force the government to grant concessions. That was a strategy that may well work in already democratic countries or even in non-democratic ones which had weak ruling classes. But in the case of the post-1997 Hong Kong, for the government—a highly capable one now backed by a strong, totalitarian government in Beijing, such pressure politics backed by public opinion no matter how strong could simply be ignored if the government still practiced some restraint. And when it had no more patience for those restraints, the whole movement could be wiped out in a short time, as actually happened after the proclamation of the National Security Law in 2020. The movement developed alternative strategies and approaches after the Umbrella Movement of 2014, but even though it gained incredible strength in the run-up to the explosive events of 2019, it was already too late.
Indonesia has witnessed two major, and very different, periods in its COVID-19 management. The first period, from early 2020 to mid-2021, was marked by the initial denial of the pandemic’s existence in Indonesia; the reluctance of the government to impose stringent public health measures; and the systematic ignoring of warnings by epidemiologists and economists that the government’s prioritization of the economy harmed both the public and the economy. After a massive spike of the Delta variant in mid-2021, which cost hundreds of thousands of people their lives, Indonesia’s leadership changed course. Obviously shocked by the carnage, the government tightened regulations, and it accelerated the acquisition of vaccines. As a result of natural protection caused by the mid-2021 wave and the new government measures (including a successful vaccination drive), COVID-19 fatality numbers remained relatively low for the last quarter of 2021 and much of 2022. However, despite these fluctuations in the government’s handling of COVID-19 and the corresponding outcomes, the public expressed consistent satisfaction with its leadership. This was true even at times when the statistics pointed to a devastating record in Indonesia—as they did for much of 2020 and 2021.
This article aims to explain, therefore, how President Joko Widodo (or “Jokowi”) managed to sustain his popularity in the first period of the COVID-19 crisis, when the government’s pandemic record was evidently poor. It argues that a large part of the answer to this puzzle lies in the pandemic narrative successfully pushed by the government in an increasingly pro-incumbent media landscape. It also lies, in equal measure, in the disincentives the government has created against both the elite and the public expressing dissent with government policies. Importantly, the trends that allowed Jokowi to control the pandemic narrative and the polity as a whole further consolidated during the outbreak. In order to develop these arguments, the article looks, first, at the media landscape prior to the pandemic. Second, it describes Jokowi’s pandemic narrative and, third, how it was successfully protected. Fourth, the discussion demonstrates why few political elites too challenged the president’s pandemic narrative, Finally, the article provides a brief overview of policy measures that Jokowi advanced during the pandemic to further consolidate his power. Overall, then, the pandemic has been both a reflection of Indonesia’s deepening democratic crisis and an opportunity to further centralize power in the ruling elites.