Voting Behaviour: Literature Reviews
Starting from the Bangkok Declaration signed by Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand in 1967, ASEAN enlarged its size by adding Brunei Darussalam in 1984, and Vietnam in 1995, Laos PDR and Myanmar in 1997, and Cambodia in 1999, covering the whole South East Asia region, except a small young state, Timor-Leste which became sovereign state in 2002. As group of states with different sizes of area and population, diverse culture, various ethnic composition, mixed socio-cultural heritage and identity, ASEAN has achieved to be one of the successful regional organizations in economic and diplomatic spheres as well as in regional security, especially for the lack of armed confrontation among the member states over the five decades (Nischalk, 2000, Ruland, 2020) and being credited as a nascent security community based on “norms”(Acharya , 2001: P-208). Acharya (2003) asserted that the driving force for the establishment of ASEAN was not destined to a shared commitment to liberal democracy but reinforced by the common desire of its members to ensure the survival of regimes which had by then retreated significantly from their postcolonial experiments in liberal democracy. The basic norms of ASEAN are inspired by global organizations and other regional organization as well as the local, social, cultural and political environment (Acharya, 2000: 47). The security and political norms of ASEAN, like non-interference, non-intervention and pacific settlement of disputes are derived from the fundamental concepts of the Westphalian internal system and the primary principles of the UN Charter and the social-cultural norms of “ASEAN Way” is uniquely originated from the local tradition which based on informality and friendliness (Acharya, 2000: 63).
As a non-Western organization of over five decades old, previous literature on ASEAN have been largely dealing with ASEAN’s capacity in shaping the regional order from realist point of view, ASEAN’s role for managing intra-mural conflicts and maintaining a stable regional order from the liberal institutionalist and neo-liberal institutionalist perspectives, its emergence and function as a regional security and economic regime and the role of ASEAN as a policy-coordinating body in economic cooperation and rarely on the role of ASEAN’s norms in the management of regional order and their effect in the development of collective interests and identities (Acharya, 2000: P 6-8). Constructivists see ASEAN as an ‘imagined community’ which secure the national interests of Southeast Asian states and the shared norms, values and practices lead the ASEAN’s members into a collective regional identity, in contrary of realist perspective, ASEAN is seen as a group for protecting the narrow, self-interested goals of its members (Narine, 2002).
While ASEAN is originated as regional group based on “ideational variables such as ideas, norms, and identity rather than the materialist variables such as relative gains and balance of power” (Acharya and Layug, 2012:1), there is no officially agreed guidelines for foreign policy yet, though policy related agendas are discussed at the biannual Summits and other various- level meetings. Therefore, the question of how far ASEAN member states coordinate their foreign policy directions for the sake of a community, regardless of their national interests, is often neglected in ASEAN studies. To fill the gap of ASEAN studies on foreign policy behaviour in international politics, this research aims to explain the foreign policy behaviour of ASEAN from their voting records at the main committees of UNGA. It will explore to what extent ASEAN member states demonstrate convergence and divergence in foreign policy orientation towards international affairs and the specifically spotlight on their different directions by analysing which factors impede the common stance of ASEAN member states.
The recent studies on the voting behaviour of ASEAN member States at the UNGA basically agreed on the highly cohesive manner among the member States(Ferdinand, 2013, Burmester and Jankowski , 2014, Jang and Chen, 2019). Peter Ferdinand (2013) used two indexes – the Agreement Index (AI) and the Index of Voting Cohesion (IVC) – so as to measure the extent of cohesion in voting and proved the significant high level of voting cohesion over the 41 year of 1970-2011, and ASEAN cohesion rate is 5-6% higher than G77 States and Non-Aligned States in terms of Agreement Index Scores. And the study demonstrated that ASEAN states vote almost identically with China and ASEAN and China shared a very similar pattern of differences with the three Western members of UNSC, the US, the UK and France. Again, Ferdinand (2014a) reaffirmed the high cohesion of ASEAN by asserting that ASEAN has been leading to the converging voting pattern in the Region at the UNGA in the study of Foreign Policy convergence in a broader scope of Asia Pacific regional context. He proved that different indexes – the Agreement Index (AI) and the Cohesion Index (CI) by taking the votes of all the states in a predetermined group on an issue-by-issue basis and then averaging their score over the period and the Index of Voting Cohesion (IVC) first by in voting records of all the states in a group on a pair-by-pair basis – show a high degree of convergence in the voting records of states in Pacific Asia, particularly in ASEAN.
Nicolas Burmester and Michael Jankowski critiqued this study, by arguing that there is no connection between the integration process of the five ASEAN founding and their voting cohesion members in Asia Pacific Region as the voting cohesion increased even before ASEAN was founded and claimed that the voting cohesion in Southeast Asia is hugely influenced by “a centre-periphery cleavage within the region” (Burmester and Jankowski (2014:688). Their interpretation is that ASEAN’s voting cohesion is affected by regional processes rather than its own integration process (Burmester and Jankowski, 2014:685).
Ferdinand (2014b: 690) responded to this critique, by reiterating his finding of high degree of voting convergence by all the states in the region and by reasserting his explanation of the growing integration of the ASEAN nations could primarily be the reason for high voting cohesion in the region since ASEAN constitutes the majority of states in the region, but he confessed this explanation was rather a hypothesis than a conclusion. However he agreed that more studies and explanations are needed to understand the voting behaviour of ASEAN member states. Nguitragool and Ruland (2015) also agreed ASEAN as a reasonably cohesive grouping. However, their analysis reveals that voting behaviour reflected the normative divisions within ASEAN, revealing high cohesion in military and diplomatic affairs, but opposite in disarmament and non-proliferation. ASEAN’s cohesion as fluctuated as it acted as “a quasi-bloc” in their interest related specific topic, and it only existed as a “caucus” most of the time (Nguitragool and Ruland, 2015).
As a more recent contribution to ASEAN members voting patterns, Jang and Chen (2019) added a more comprehensive empirical analysis on six areas, comprising Middle East, nuclear, disarmament, human rights, colonialism and economic development, on the voting similarity among ten ASEAN member states in the post-Cold War period, provided a clear explanation of the varying levels of voting cohesion across these international issues. Though they also accepted the highly cohesive voting patterns, they argued that the voting patterns depend on the ideas and interests of member states across different foreign policy contexts, and observed that ASEAN member states voted largely collectively on economically related subjects and disagreements were found in their intra-ASEAN disputes and human rights issues.
While high level of cohesion in the voting behaviour of the member states at the UNGA could probably be interpreted as the foundation for increasing policy cooperation and the high possibility of collective Foreign Policy direction (Ferdinand, 2013), the assumption is that the pragmatic understanding of their deviation patterns and their areas of divergence would explain how complicated to get a collective policy orientation. The practice of a collective FP direction will largely depend on the degree of flexibility of these divergence among the states.
The United Nation General Assembly is the ideal platform to study the foreign policy behaviour of either a State or a group as diverse subjects and topics are discussed and debated in one place. The six Main Committees of the General Assembly are allocated with specific topics and areas. The first committee deals with disarmament and international security, the second committee with economic and financial matters, the third committee with social, humanitarian and cultural matters, including human rights, the fourth committee of special political and decolonization matters, including peacekeeping, the fifth committee with administrative and budgetary matters and the sixth committee with administrative and budgetary matters. All member states of the United Nations represent in these committees of the General Assembly and each state has one vote. UNGA resolutions reflect the views of the Member States, and with the exception of decisions regarding payments to the regular and peacekeeping budgets of the UN, GA resolutions/ decisions are not binding for Member States. The implementation of the policy recommendations contained in resolutions/ decisions is the responsibility of each Member State. The credibility of non legal binding nature, but responsibility at the same time, GA resolution are the best testing for the studies of the foreign policy of the States.