decentralization, secession, Indonesia, Philippines, Southeast Asia, Devolution, Aceh


This paper examines the roles of identity-based conflict and secessionist sentiment in motivating and affecting political decentralization in middle-income democracies. The literature on decentralization largely assumes a link between the process and increased political accountability and service delivery effectiveness; however, these theories do not take into account cases in which national crisis and regional instability are the primary motives to decentralize. This paper hypothesizes that when decentralization occurs in direct response to threats of secession, the quality of its political accountability and service delivery mechanisms will be lower than would otherwise be predicted. Two cases are considered: the Philippines, whose decentralization occurred under a stable and well-institutionalized democratic regime, and Indonesia, which radically and rapidly decentralized in the face of high-intensity conflicts in Aceh, Maluku, and Papua. Ultimately, the careful construction and implementation of a moderate devolution program in the Philippines led to success in the areas of political accountability and service delivery, while the more extreme Indonesian program faced long-term challenges and shortcomings in those same areas. Neither country, however, can be said to have successfully eliminated regional separatism or otherwise incorporated discontented groups into their devolved systems, suggesting that this process represents a particular challenge to newly decentralized regimes.


University of Puget Sound

Faculty Advisor

Patrick O'Neil

Publication Date

Fall 2015






Politics & Government


Comparative Politics

Subject Area

Comparative Politics | South and Southeast Asian Languages and Societies