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Politics of Southeast Asia


Admission requirements

Students who have successfully completed State, Politics and Economy in Modern South and Southeast Asia (BA South and Southeast Asian Studies, Year 1) will be admitted automatically. If you do not meet this criterion but would still like to take the course, please send a mail both to lecturer Prof. David Henley and to study coordinator Dr Nicole van Os, explaining your interest in the politics of Southeast Asia and listing any relevant previous courses you have taken in Leiden or elsewhere. Students admitted to this course without having completed its prequel State, Politics and Economy in Modern South and Southeast Asia are advised to familiarize themselves before the start of the lectures with the course reference book: Richard Robison (editor), The Routledge handbook of Southeast Asian politics, (London: Routledge, 2012).


In the last fifty years, Southeast Asia has undergone a remarkable positive transformation: from a theatre of war and conflict to one of the most peaceful regions of the world; from fragmentation and hostility to increasingly effective regional cooperation under the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN); from poverty and backwardness to rapidly rising levels of prosperity and technological modernity; and from a region of authoritarian and semi-authoritarian states to one dominated by democracy and democratic values. At the same time, many serious problems and challenges remain: continuing vulnerability to ‘democratic regression’; intractably high levels of corruption in public administration, politics, and business; persistent religious and ethnic tensions; wholesale destruction of natural environments; rising levels of economic inequality; and a continuing failure of leading Southeast Asian nations to graduate from ‘middle income’ to fully developed status. This course offers an overview of the politics of the Southeast Asian region, now and in recent decades. The approach is thematic, based on a selection of the most important ideas, ideologies, and movements in Southeast Asian politics; examples include developmentalism, Islamism, populism, and communalism. Cross-country comparison is an integral part of the course. There is an emphasis too on human agency and experience, the main set reading each week being a biography or memoir of an influential political figure – for instance, Lee Kuan Yew, Suharto, and Aung San Suu Kyi.

Course objectives

  • To give students a good understanding of Southeast Asia’s political history in the last fifty years.

  • To give students an ability to discuss, in an informed way, major issues in the current politics of the region.

  • To give students instruction and experience in using, summarizing, and critically interpreting book-length secondary sources.

  • To improve students’ writing skills.



Mode of instruction

  • Lectures

Course Load

140 hours in total for 5 ECs, of which 24 hours of lectures and the remainder to be spent on reading (average of 4 hours per week), preparing one assignment and preparing for the final examination.

Assessment method

  • Written assignment: 40% (wp)

  • Final examination: 60% (we)

In order to pass the course, students must obtain an overall mark of 5.50 (=6) or higher. A resit of the final examination (60%) is possible.

The course is an integrated whole. The final examination and the assignments must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.


This course makes full use of Blackboard for making available course materials, readings, announcements and grades.

Students are requested to register on Blackboard for this course.

Reading list

Course reference book: Richard Robison (editor), The Routledge handbook of Southeast Asian politics (London: Routledge, 2012). Further readings to be announced.


Students are required to register through uSis. To avoid mistakes and problems, students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetable in the column under the heading “Act.nbr.”.

Not being registered, means no permission to attend this course. See also the ‘Registration procedures for classes and examinations’ for registration deadlines and more information on how to register.

Registration Contractonderwijs

(Studeren à la carte is not possible for this course.)


Prof.dr.David Henley


Students with disabilities

The university is committed to supporting and accommodating students with disabilities as stated in the university protocol (especially pages 3-5). Students should contact Fenestra Disability Centre at least four weeks before the start of their courses to ensure that all necessary academic accomodations can be made in time conform the abovementioned protocol.

Academic Integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. If you submit any work with your name affixed to it, it is assumed to be your own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations).