Selected developments in human rights and democratisation during 2015: Asia-Pacific
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Informality is a characteristic central to the Asia-Pacific region. Nonetheless, the regional discourse around democratisation, which includes not only speech but also practice, tends to mention informal institutions only in passing. In the Asia-Pacific region, prominent informal institutions include local customs; clan politics; money politics; corruption; clientelism; patronage; informal mobilisation and resiliency networks; everyday resistance; vigilantism; shadow markets; and unconventional community-based organisations. This contribution posits that these informal institutions rarely receive adequate treatment as part of debates and discussions about democratisation and the shaping of the practice around it. It is argued that the tendency to ignore or reject informality compromises attempts to understand and support democratisation processes in the region. Each of the three case studies brought forth in this contribution illustrates different types of informal institutions and their impact on democratisation in different contexts and dynamics, namely, (i) the way in which informal institutions shape procedures ranging from everyday licensing to national elections in Indonesia; (ii) the way in which individuals and communities have been able to build resiliency action and networks by leveraging informal institutions in their pursuit of transitional change in Myanmar; and (iii) the threat posed by informal institutions to post-earthquake aid and recovery activities throughout Nepal. As the contribution illustrates, understanding the situation in 2015 requires locating developments in a more expansive and broadened historical perspective. Fortunately, recent experiences signpost that making informality more central in discourses around democratisation in the Asia-Pacific region could be a shift towards ensuring that informal institutions receive the due consideration their influence on politics merits.