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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 David Henley and to the programme study coordinator, 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 books: Richard Robison (editor), Routledge handbook of Southeast Asian politics (2011) and William Case (editor), Routledge Handbook of Southeast Asian democratization (2015).


In the last decades of the twentieth century and the first years of the twenty-first, Southeast Asia underwent 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 regional cooperation under the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN); from poverty and backwardness to growing prosperity and technological modernity; and from a region of authoritarian and semi-authoritarian states to one dominated by democracy and democratic values. The last ten years, however, have seen headwinds and regressions, with economies apparently stuck in 'middle income traps', democracies in retreat or under threat, and ASEAN in disarray. Older problems, meanwhile, have persisted or intensified: inequality, corruption, religious tensions, environmental destruction. 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 few decades.

  • 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.


The timetable is available on the website of the Timetable

Mode of instruction


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, of which 2 hours are the final examination.

Assessment method


Written assignment and final examination (essay questions).


  • 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.

Exam review

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • all normal purposes

Reading list

The main texts are: (1) Richard Robison (editor), Routledge handbook of Southeast Asian politics (2011); (2) William Case (editor), Routledge Handbook of Southeast Asian democratization (2015). Both are available electronically via the University Library.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Contractonderwijs


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).