Local Administration of ASEAN Member States

The local administration is a crucial role of governance in developing countries. ASEAN has focused on local administration and local government as a political development of decentralization. Historically, the wave of decentralization of governments throughout the world since the end of the Cold War has fostered decentralization in many developing countries. This movement has the power to dramatically change the relationships between the central and local institutions in such countries (Institute for International Cooperation, 2001). 

Decentralization reform continues to play a prominent role in Asia after being on the public policy agenda for two decades. As has happened in other countries around the world, the roles and expectations for subnational governments have increased substantially in most Asian countries since the 1990s. Currently subnational governments face a range of challenges, including the global financial and economic crisis, rapid urbanization and demographic changes, and environmental challenges and climate change, all of which increase the level of difficulty for effective service delivery (Martinez-Vazquez, 2011: 1). However, some countries still hold a concept of centralization because they do not believe in i efficiently and effectively of service delivery in the absence of strong administrative or technical capacity at local level, and afraid of local patronage and corruption.

Moreover, decentralization is a process, not an event, and stipulating a starting point in any country is a difficult and sometimes controversial exercise. But there is broad consensus that, for most countries in Asia, intergovernmental reform gained significant momentum in the 1990s. The evolution of intergovernmental reform has been distinctive for each country, but common dynamics can be identified. For the most part, long-run structural transformations—mainly economic and demographic—have created an environment conducive to decentralization, while powerful political imperatives have precipitated and shaped it (The World Bank, 2005: 6-7).

Decentralization becomes an essential issue as central governments have to look at the dynamics of their relationship with state and local governments, especially ASEAN member states. They have had the political centralization is strong as central governments tend to control their sub-national governments and the concept of local government have been emerged only two decades. This situation called “late decentralization” in ASEAN member states that central governments still be a central decision-making power of each country. However, decentralization and autonomy government is on the way. In the present, table 1 shows diversity of local government of ASEAN member states:
Table 1: Types of governments of five ASEAN member states
Country Type of Government Type of State Federated Units, Regions or Territories with Special Rights Regional/Provincial Level Local Government
Indonesia Republic, Presidential Government Unitary 2 Special Districts; Aceh, Papua 33 Provinces Single Tier: 450 Units
Malaysia Constitutional Monarchy Federal 13 States, 13 Federal Territories - 144 Local Government Units
Philippines Republic, Presidential Government Unitary Autonomous Region of Mindanao 83 Provinces 120 Cities; 1,501 Municipalities; and 41,982 Villages (Barangays)
Thailand Constitutional Monarchy Unitary - 76 Provinces and 1 Metropolitan Administration (Bangkok) 1,129 Municipalities; Pattaya City Council; and 6,744 Sub-District Administrative Organizations
Vietnam Communist Government Unitary - 59 Provinces, 5 Centrally Controlled Cities 10,776 Municipalities; 1,181 Wards, 583 District Towns, and 9,012 Communes

(Source: Compiled from: 59-60)

According to the World Bank (2005: 6), the fast starters (the Philippines and Indonesia) have rapidly introduced major structural, institutional, and fiscal reforms in response to a sudden and far-reaching political stimulus. Sweeping decentralization reforms were introduced in the late 1980s after the fall of Marcos in the Philippines, and through a “Big Bang” decentralization in the aftermath of Soeharto’s fall and the 1997 financial crisis in Indonesia. These fast starters introduced the basic elements of a decentralization framework, subnational democratic elections, and substantial resource sharing swiftly. Considerable follow-up policy and legislative work to create a fully coherent and functional system remains.

In Vietnam, decentralization policy has been formal, involving a sequence of specific legislative measures. But with the exception of a few bolder, asymmetric experiments in some of the major cities, decentralization in Vietnam has been limited and incremental. The decentralization has focused on administrative and fiscal reform, with modest political change and the retention of considerable central control over subnational governments (in law and policy if not always in practice) (The World Bank, 2005: 6).

Cautious movers (Cambodia and Thailand) have established significant elements of decentralization at the formal policy and legislative levels, but there has been limited progress with implementation. In Thailand, the ambitious decentralization framework developed in the wake of the 1997 Constitution has been only partly implemented. In Cambodia, elected commune councils have limited functions and receive only modest resources. The provincial system is stronger but heavily managed by national line ministries and centrally appointed governors. Only recently has the government undertaken further work on devolution policy. In both countries, the commitment to extensive decentralization appears to be limited (The World Bank, 2005: 6-7).

Consequently, a trend of ASEAN member states is the tendency for central governments to control their local governments. Some of ASEAN member states do not even have local political administrative organization. Although decentralization reform has been an evolving process, this process has not been linear development, and it has often been subject to moves toward “re”centralization. This is why decentralization and local government need to be developed in these countries.


Nickson, Andrew et.al (2016) Asia-Pacific: United Cities and Local Government, Available: http://www.cities-localgovernments.org/gold/Upload/gold_report/03_asiapacific_en.pdf, Accessed on June 28, 2016. 

Institute for International Cooperation (2001) “Government Decentralization Reform in Developing Counties”, Japan International Cooperation Agency Available: http://jica-ri.jica.go.jp/IFIC_and_JBICI-Studies/english/publications/reports/study/topical/decentralization/ pdf/gdr_e.pdf , Accessed on June 28, 2016.

Martinez-Vazquez, Jorge (2011) Fiscal Decentralization in Asia Challenges and Opportunities, Mandaluyong City, Philippines: Asian Development Bank.

The World Bank (2005) East Asia Decentralized: Making Local Government Work, The World Bank: Washington, D.C.