Southeast Asia’s Toxic Alliances

Issue Date July 2024
Volume 35
Issue 3
Page Numbers 115–130
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Political unity is a good thing — except when it is not. This essay argues that recent elections in Malaysia (2022), Thailand (2023), and Indonesia (2024) illustrate a growing trend towards toxic forms of unity. Toxic unity occurs when politicians who are supposed to be at opposite ends of the political spectrum join forces, citing the common good while in fact pursuing opportunistic goals. Features of toxic unity include improbable bedfellows, reputational whitewashing, clandestine deals, hidden brokerage, exclusionary agendas, discursive appeals, and voter alienation. Some toxic unity coalitions are proclaimed before polling day, while others are secret pacts. 

About the Authors

Duncan McCargo

Duncan McCargo is President’s Chair in Global Affairs and professor of English at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. His latest book (authored with Anyarat Chattharakul) is Future Forward: The Rise and Fall of a Thai Political Party (2020).

View all work by Duncan McCargo

Rendy Wadipalapa

Rendy Wadipalapa is a researcher at the Research Center of Domestic Governance, National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN), Indonesia.

View all work by Rendy Wadipalapa

Image Credit: State Dept. / Budi Sudarmo