Table of Contents

As the case studies in this report illustrate, it would be impossible to understand the contemporary politics of South and Southeast Asia without significant attention to political polarization. In five of the six country cases considered here—India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand—long-standing sociopolitical divisions have become inflamed during the past two decades and clearly represent a threat to democratic governance and social cohesion. In numerous other countries throughout these regions—such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan—the power and dangers of deep sociopolitical and sociocultural divides are similarly evident.

This chapter synthesizes cross-cutting findings in the five focal areas that make up the organizing framework for this study: roots, trajectories, drivers, consequences, and remedial actions. Behind the profound diversity of the countries under study lie some illuminating commonalities in the dynamics of polarization, alongside some revealing particularities. Examining these patterns reveals how polarization in South and Southeast Asia compares to polarization in other regions. The final section offers some guidelines and recommendations for domestic and transnational actors seeking to counter polarization.


In Democracies Divided, we found that severe polarization is usually rooted in one or more of three main types of societal fissures: religious, ethnic, or ideological.1 Other divisions that might dominate national politics—such as caste, regional, or urban-rural divides—tend to be subsumed by or reinforce one of these overriding cleavages. The cases in this report provide strong evidence of this pattern for South and Southeast Asia.

Thomas Carothers
Thomas Carothers is a senior fellow and co-director of Carnegie’s Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program. He is a leading authority on international support for democracy, human rights, governance, the rule of law, and civil society.
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Religious and ethnic identity form the most common basis for polarization in these regions. In India and Indonesia, the main divide is religious and involves a clash between more majoritarian and more pluralist views of what role the country’s dominant religion should play in sociopolitical life. In Malaysia and Sri Lanka, the primary division is ethnic, although it largely aligns with a religious cleavage as well. Over time, Malaysia’s polarization between Malays on the one hand and non-Malay minority groups on the other has fused with a divide between Islamists and secularists and with a further cleavage over the issue of political reform. Sri Lanka’s schism between the Sinhalese and other ethnic groups is also connected to a divide between Buddhists and religious minorities, especially Hindus and Muslims.

However, the predominance of religious and ethnic divisions is neither natural nor inevitable. It is frequently the result of deliberate efforts by political actors to elevate these identities over other dividing lines, such as caste, class, or region. In India, for instance, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has stoked religious polarization to win over Hindu voters who might otherwise have supported caste-based parties. Similarly, in Sri Lanka, political leaders have pushed ethnic divisions to the forefront of politics and in so doing have subordinated other cleavages that exist within and cut across ethnic communities.

Although religious and ethnic divisions are most prominent across South and Southeast Asia, severe polarization can take root even in relatively homogeneous societies, such as Thailand, where the main divide is ideological.2 But this divide bears only partial resemblance to a European-style right-versus-left division. It entails a deep-seated and sustained disagreement over the appropriate role of royal nationalism in the country’s sociopolitical life. Whereas Thailand’s royal nationalist camp defends the enduring political power of the monarchy and a hierarchical social order, the opposing side demands a more democratic and egalitarian polity. This complex divide has important religious underpinnings, since the ideology of royal nationalism has drawn on an interpretation of Buddhist teachings to justify sociopolitical hierarchies. This cleavage has also taken on some socioeconomic left-right dimensions over its long course. During the past two decades, for instance, the rival camps have become increasingly split by social class and support for policies that enhance social mobility.

The Philippines stands out as a case with little to no political polarization, despite its significant ethnolinguistic diversity and high levels of socioeconomic inequality. However, the absence of a stable, overarching partisan division over the past forty years does not indicate that the Philippines has built a highly inclusive or harmonious democracy. Rather, this lack of partisan polarization derives from the dominance of personalistic leadership and powerful patronage networks, two features of the country’s political life that have rendered party labels and loyalties practically meaningless. In recent years, the immense popularity of President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs has tempered divisions, though at the cost of thousands of lives.3 Thus, the existence of societal fissures does not make polarization inevitable, but in the Philippines, the forces preventing entrenched political divisions have been decidedly undemocratic.

Finally, it is striking that in all the cases that display significant amounts of polarization, the roots of today’s divisions are deep, dating back at least to the first half of the twentieth century. These divides have their antecedents in fierce debates over the basis of national identity that emerged during anticolonial struggles in four of the country cases (and in Thailand’s case, during the 1932 revolution against the absolute monarchy). They are thus what Jennifer McCoy and Murat Somer call “formative rifts”: original cracks in the state as it was being established.4 This fact underlines how fundamental these divisions are and how hard they are to bridge.


Over the course of the twentieth century, polarization followed diverse trajectories in the case studies examined here. Although identity-based divides frequently date back to the formation of the modern nation-state, some countries managed to avoid severe polarization for many years after gaining independence. In India, three decades of rule by the Congress Party, with its secular and pluralist agenda, kept divisive Hindu nationalist forces on the sidelines of sociopolitical life, at least until the late 1970s. In Malaysia, an ethos of nation building helped limit racial and religious divisions for more than a decade after independence in 1957. By contrast, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand all experienced intense polarization during the mid-twentieth century, frequently fueled by Cold War divides between communists and anticommunists.

During the twenty-first century, however, several of these countries have seen intensifying polarization, consistent with the finding in Democracies Divided that severe polarization is a defining trend of contemporary political life in many democracies globally.5 In Thailand, the current wave of polarization began in 2001, when prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra rose to power and challenged the dominance of the royalist establishment. In India, although Hindu nationalist forces have been ascendant since the late 1980s, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s stunning success as the leader of the BJP in the 2014 and 2019 general elections has intensified societal divisions. In Indonesia, after a series of contentious elections starting in 2014, the political divide between Islamist and more pluralist forces has become starker than it has been in decades.

Andrew O’Donohue
Andrew O’Donohue was a nonresident research assistant in the Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program, where his research focuses on political polarization and challenges facing democratic governance.

In Malaysia and Sri Lanka, divisions have not necessarily deepened over the past two decades, but alternations in power and even some incidents of governmental instability have occurred. In Malaysia, coalitions led by the ethnonationalist United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) held power from independence in 1957 until 2018, yet since then, the country has seen two dramatic changes in government. The razor-thin majorities of coalition governments since 2018 have led to fierce power struggles among the parties in parliament, and UMNO and its allies have fanned the flames of polarization to win and maintain support. Sri Lanka has also seen control of government swing back and forth in recent years, with hardline Sinhala nationalist forces losing the presidency in 2015 and then regaining it in 2019. The current president’s push to consolidate power and mobilize majoritarian social forces amid the coronavirus pandemic has only raised the stakes surrounding Sri Lanka’s 2020 parliamentary elections.


The case studies point to political leadership as a frequent driver of polarization—a pattern our research has identified in democracies elsewhere.6 Crucially, several politicians have made the inflammation of a core political divide their basic governance strategy, including Modi in India, Thaksin in Thailand, and Gotabaya and Mahinda Rajapaksa in Sri Lanka. What is more, these leaders and others have aggravated divisions by governing in a majoritarian fashion and infringing on liberal democratic rights.

The strategies of opposition political forces are an important factor in determining whether polarization intensifies or de-escalates.

The strategies of opposition political forces are an important factor in determining whether polarization intensifies or de-escalates. In Indonesia, Eve Warburton highlights that the former opposition politician Prabowo Subianto has been critical in “pioneering a sectarian, populist campaign strategy.” In Thailand, as Janjira Sombatpoonsiri argues, both political blocs have aggravated divisions while in the opposition by weaponizing mass protests to pressure or oust the incumbent government. The royal nationalist camp, in particular, has resorted to polarizing, antidemocratic tactics by politicizing the judiciary and the military to remove its opponents from office. Conversely, some opposition strategies have eased polarization. As Bridget Welsh writes, the Malaysian opposition’s efforts to move toward the center and build a diverse electoral alliance around calls for reform helped it ease divisions and win a historic victory in 2018.

Important as political leadership may be, its impact should not be overstated. In the Philippines, Paul Kenny notes that the rise of Duterte, a populist president with illiberal tendencies, has not fueled polarization. And as seen in the discussion below, an about-face in the behavior of polarizing leaders often is not enough to reduce divisions, at least in the short term. Attention to deeper, structural forces is thus necessary to fully understand the rise of polarization.

Religious revivalism has been one critical factor driving polarization. As Welsh observes, increasing levels of religiosity in Malaysian society since the 1970s and the expansion of the state’s Islamic bureaucracy amplified the country’s Islamist-secular divide. In Indonesia, the steady Islamization of sociocultural life, according to Warburton, set the stage for today’s polarizing fights between conservative Islamists and more pluralist political figures. Religious revivalism has extended beyond Islam as well. In India, avid and ubiquitous religious practice, institutionalized through numerous forms of community activities, provided an important foundation for the rise of the Hindu right.7

The key driver of polarization appears not to be religiosity per se, but rather sociopolitical mobilization around the idea that religion should play a larger role in public life. The Philippines, for instance, also has high levels of religiosity, but potentially charged issues such as sex education have not stirred lasting divisions, as they have in other predominantly Catholic countries like Poland.8 One reason is that the Catholic Church has limited influence over how ordinary Filipinos vote, as evidenced most recently by its ineffectual opposition to Duterte.9 In comparative perspective, sociopolitical mobilization around religion seems to be a key variable explaining why some countries become polarized and others do not.

During the twenty-first century, the U.S.-led Global War on Terrorism and intense fears about Islamic radicalism have further fanned the flames of religious polarization. In Sri Lanka, as Ahilan Kadirgamar observes, Sinhala Buddhist nationalist forces have invoked the rhetoric of the war on terror to paint the country’s Muslim minority as an insidious enemy.10 Politicians have latched onto this discourse to promote a militarized mindset in dealing with key political challenges, including the coronavirus pandemic, tactics that are deeply alienating for minority groups. In India, the major political parties have demonized one another with the labels “jihadi terror” and “Hindu terror,” and at the societal level, the recent explosion of the Twitter hashtag “CoronaJihad” is just the latest example of how the rhetoric of terrorism has fed Islamophobia.11 Even in a Muslim-majority country like Indonesia, more pluralist politicians have leveraged polarizing narratives by accusing their opponents of trying to turn the country into an Islamic caliphate.

In several cases, economic transformation has also worsened political polarization. Observers frequently hope that economic growth will ease divisions, but in fact it often deepens them. In India, for example, Niranjan Sahoo argues that urbanization and the growth of the middle class since the 1990s have paradoxically exacerbated sociopolitical divisions, since “urban voters tend to be more rather than less supportive of Hindu nationalist narratives.” In Thailand, economic liberalization and growth since the 1990s have created new opportunities for the rural poor and thereby unsettled the country’s rigidly hierarchical social order. Thaksin channeled these aspirations for social mobility into what became a polarizing challenge to the political establishment. Finally, in Malaysia, Welsh finds that economic growth has created constituencies for reform that have ended up contesting the country’s long-standing economic and political order. At the same time, however, Malaysia’s growth has produced rising economic inequality and insecurity, which ethnonationalist parties have skillfully harnessed to their advantage.

Features of political system design are important as well in creating strengths or vulnerabilities with regard to polarization. First-past-the-post electoral rules have contributed to harsh binary divisions in India and Malaysia. In Sri Lanka, first-past-the-post elections set in motion patterns of ethnic political mobilization that persist to this day, even though the country switched to a proportional representation system after 1978. In Thailand, Sombatpoonsiri notes that the “winner-take-all electoral formula” adopted in the country’s 1997 constitution strengthened Thaksin’s control of parliament and fueled conflict between the pro- and anti-establishment blocs. Another key design feature is the degree of centralization of political power. In Sri Lanka, Kadirgamar argues, the establishment of a highly centralized unitary state has exacerbated polarization by allowing the Sinhala majority to monopolize control. By contrast, India’s federal system has helped keep at least some conflicts revolving around ethnicity, language, or divisive identity issues from rising up to threaten democracy at the national level.12

A final driver that has played a significant role in all the cases is a changing media landscape. One dimension of this change has been the rise of social media, with its well-known effects of magnifying extreme viewpoints and allowing opposing camps to inhabit separate informational spheres. In places such as India and Sri Lanka, social media has been a key platform for spreading hateful messages about minority groups, most recently during the coronavirus pandemic. Another and perhaps more significant transformation has been the commercialization of the media over the past several decades. This change has given new prominence to private media outlets that represent narrow partisan views and has reduced the weight of traditional gatekeeper outlets that play more to the political center. Sombatpoonsiri notes this effect in Thailand, as does Sahoo in India.


The experiences of South and Southeast Asian countries underscore the diverse and serious ways in which polarization degrades democratic institutions and governance. Polarized politics have led to attacks on the independence of the judiciary in India, have debilitated legislative efforts to address various governance challenges in Malaysia, and have prompted executive abuse of power against political opponents in Indonesia. In some countries, such as Sri Lanka and Thailand, fierce competition for power has resulted in the politicization of state bureaucracies and key institutions like the military. At the level of political parties, the success of one camp championing an exclusive vision of national identity has sometimes caused its opponents to adopt certain elements of that vision, allowing majoritarian ideas to gain broader acceptance across the political spectrum.

The negative consequences of polarization often are significant enough to cripple democracy. In some countries, the existing constitutional orders have proven unable to contain or resolve polarizing divisions, resulting in democratic breakdown or even civil war. Thailand’s hopes for democracy have been shattered by successive military coups that have grown out of a harsh sociopolitical divide. In Sri Lanka, a civil war born out of deeply rooted polarization endured for twenty-six years and claimed countless lives.

A brief glance elsewhere in South and Southeast Asia indicates that these dire negative outcomes unfortunately are not exceptional. In Bangladesh, as Naomi Hossain writes in Democracies Divided, acrimonious partisan competition, particularly in a context with weak institutional checks and balances, contributed to a military intervention in 2007–2008 and subsequently to the consolidation of de facto one-party rule.13 Nepal’s nascent democratic system of the early 1990s was not polarized in a binary fashion, but the radicalization of a faction of the left into an armed Maoist insurgency and the resultant civil war reflected an acute ideological divide. In Afghanistan, deep polarization over ethnicity and the role of religion in sociopolitical life is a major impediment to sustaining electoral politics and negotiating an end to the ongoing conflict.

In other cases, the overall political damage inflicted by polarization is not yet so serious, but the warning signs are worrisome. Sahoo, like many other observers, argues that democracy and pluralism in India are now in serious danger, as the Modi government has made religion a basis for granting citizenship and has provoked fears that Indian Muslims could be stripped of their citizenship rights.14 In Indonesia, polarizing political conflicts that emerged in 2014 have already eroded core democratic institutions and norms, with the current government now cracking down on political opponents in troubling ways. Festering divisions in Malaysia contributed to the collapse of the governing coalition that took office in 2018, scuttling what many observers viewed as a historic opportunity for the country to advance toward greater democracy and pluralism.

Intensifying societal divisions can even spark intercommunal violence.

These cases also highlight that political polarization is rarely just an elite game without wider societal consequences. Elite political entrepreneurs frequently foster powerful societal divisions, and remarkably, they can do so within just a few years, particularly when electoral competition is fused with mass mobilization. For instance, after large-scale Islamist mobilization in 2016–2017, the Indonesian public saw a “drastic increase in exclusivist political attitudes.”15 Surveys from before and after the mobilization revealed that in the span of just a year, the share of Muslims who objected to non-Muslims becoming mayor, governor, or vice president rose by eight percentage points.16 In the most serious cases, intensifying societal divisions can even spark intercommunal violence. In India, vigilante groups and majoritarian mobs have attacked minorities, especially Dalits and Muslims, often with impunity, and serious sectarian violence gripped New Delhi as recently as February 2020. In Sri Lanka, the costs of societal divisions and violence over the last several decades have been incalculable.

Remedial Actions and Guidelines

These various case studies underscore that severe political polarization does not heal on its own. It usually has deep roots and diverse drivers, meaning that it often lasts beyond the tenure of a particular polarizing leader. Rather than fading or burning out over time, it tends to become self-reinforcing, as divisive actions and reactions feed on each other in a negative spiral. And although the consequences of polarization are punishing, the political and societal actors with the most power to reduce the problem largely benefit from it and are rarely willing or able to bridge divides. Thus, polarization is akin to a disease that, if left untreated, will steadily worsen and spread infectiously throughout sociopolitical life.

The diverse experiences examined in this report suggest four overarching guidelines for domestic and transnational actors designing, implementing, or evaluating efforts to contain polarization. First, expectations for such initiatives should be kept modest and time frames long. Polarization tends to be rooted in long-standing divisions—aiming to overcome or end it altogether is a recipe for disillusionment. It is better to think in terms of trying to manage the problem and mitigate its harmful effects. Doing so will require sustained efforts that eschew high-profile, quick-win activities in favor of patient relationship building and iterative gains over extended periods of time.

Second, whoever seeks to engage against polarization should have an in-depth grasp of a country’s economic, political, and societal dynamics to understand what might be useful and what might be futile. Polarization exhibits common patterns across different places, but its roots and drivers vary so much by country that all remedial efforts need to be closely tailored to local contexts.

Deep-reaching change will require going beyond short-term bridging efforts to modify the underlying rules and structures of a given country’s political and economic systems, usually in the direction of greater inclusiveness.

Third, deep-reaching change will require going beyond short-term bridging efforts to modify the underlying rules and structures of a given country’s political and economic systems, usually in the direction of greater inclusiveness.17 Such modifications may range from the decentralization of power to reforms of electoral systems and political party systems to make them favor greater representation and power sharing. Reformers should anticipate and prepare for the fact that dominant groups will fight back against inclusionary efforts, often leading to increased polarization in the short run. But over the long term, given that polarizing political forces often arise out of grievances rooted in perceptions or realities of exclusion, inclusiveness is key to making the societal terrain less fertile for divisive political agendas.

Fourth, both domestic and transnational actors seeking to play depolarizing roles need to assume that achieving credibility on both sides of a polarized divide will require persistence, skill, and a strong commitment to higher principles. For domestic civic groups, sources of such credibility may include a proven track record of neutral political engagement, outreach to partners on both sides of a divide, transparency about objectives and methods, and a high degree of technical expertise on relevant reform areas.18 Transnational actors may feel that they have a reasonable chance of finding a point of entry above the fray by relying on a self-definition of being external mediators. Yet they should assume that the heat of polarized conflict will mean that contending camps may well doubt their good intentions and look for even the slightest sign of an agenda that tilts one way or the other.

Unfortunately, international actors are at risk of contributing to polarization even when they adhere to high standards of neutrality and advance laudable goals. In Sri Lanka, for instance, the Norwegian government’s various peace efforts between 1997 and 2009 helped broker tentative steps toward a federal solution, which might have eased polarization.19 But at the same time, international involvement in the peace process “provoked a nationalist backlash” that divisive political entrepreneurs skillfully exploited.20 More recently, the international push to achieve reconciliation by addressing wartime human rights abuses in Sri Lanka has further polarized the country.

Across the country cases studied herein, domestic and transnational actors have undertaken three main types of initiatives to address polarization. (A comprehensive list of remedial actions, drawn from the global case set in Democracies Divided, would also include efforts such as reforming political institutions and strengthening democratic guardrails.)21 Regrettably, the track record of attempted remedies thus far primarily highlights the limitations of existing approaches rather than any proven solutions. Understanding these initial shortcomings, however, highlights several policy-relevant insights and recommendations regarding each type of remedial action.

Political Leadership

One consequential yet elusive type of remedial action is change in the behavior of polarizing leaders. In India, Modi has toned down his divisive rhetoric during the coronavirus pandemic and emphasized that the virus “doesn’t see religion, language, or borders.”22 In Indonesia, President Joko Widodo’s former rival Prabowo joined the government as minister of defense in late 2019, although Warburton observes that this about-face was a sign of unproductive elite collusion rather than genuine bridge building. Unfortunately, both cases demonstrate that at least in the short term, political leaders cannot easily walk back the polarization that they themselves have helped instigate, especially at the societal level. India, for instance, has witnessed a spike of anti-Muslim hatred during the pandemic, despite the prime minister’s calls for unity and solidarity. Nonetheless, had Modi chosen to aggravate divisions amid the crisis, as Gotabaya Rajapaksa has done in Sri Lanka, polarization would undoubtedly pose a greater threat to India’s democracy and society.

Political opposition forces may also help de-escalate a political divide by forming broad coalitions that include a wide range of opposition voices. India’s opposition has recently shown a greater ability to form productive coalitions, particularly at the state level, to resist the hegemony of the Hindu right, although these opposition alliances suffered a major defeat in the 2019 general elections. In Malaysia, the perennial opposition’s gradual movement toward the center over the past two decades helped it achieve a historic victory in 2018. However, as that case illustrates, pluralist coalitions that win power frequently lack the cohesion necessary to govern effectively and survive politically. Malaysia’s coalition government, wracked by internal divisions, collapsed in 2020 after less than two years in power. In Sri Lanka as well, the diverse opposition alliance that won the presidency in 2015 could form only a fragile cohabitation government, presided over serious governance failures, and lost the next presidential election by more than a ten-point margin.23

Although it is difficult for domestic or international actors to influence political leadership if it has already embraced a governing strategy of divisiveness and confrontation, this analysis points to some areas of opportunity. As Carnegie scholars Ashley Quarcoo and Rachel Kleinfeld have argued, the economic and political shocks caused by the coronavirus have created a window for leaders to build solidarity and trust across partisan divides—and for civic organizations and average citizens to throw their support behind such unifying figures.24 The difficult global context for governance amid the pandemic also underscores the need for organizations that support political party reform to place greater emphasis on preparing opposition parties for the challenges of governing, particularly in coalition governments.25 Given that the pandemic may lead voters to eject incumbents in many places, funders could invest in rapid response funds that can support political openings that may be produced by this new form of pandemic-era politics, before such openings snap shut.

Media Reform

Initiatives to fight online extremism and political intimidation, flag misinformation, create nonpartisan news sources, and push for regulations on social media platforms are common across the case studies. In India, notably, Facebook and WhatsApp have sought to prevent the spread of incendiary misinformation by disabling bulk messaging and organized spamming. In Indonesia, fact-checking organizations, journalists’ associations, media companies, and international partners have collaborated to fight misinformation during election campaigns.26

Across these diverse efforts, a common thread is that civil society initiatives, such as fact-checking groups or organizations that support independent journalism, need to dramatically scale up their activities. Funders, in turn, should anticipate that these groups will need considerable resources to make their voices heard in noisy and competitive media landscapes. At the same time, funders should help independent media platforms become self-sufficient by pointing them toward innovative funding models.27 Research and democracy support organizations should also help and push social media companies to craft misinformation policies, particularly measures to prevent the spread of hate speech.

Dialogue and Bridging Efforts

Finally, everywhere that intense polarization has set in, at least some parts of civil society have worked to bridge these divides. In countries such as India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka, civic actors have organized interfaith or interethnic dialogues. The syncretic nature of many religious communities, whether Hindus in India or Muslims in Indonesia, has proven a valuable asset supporting dialogue initiatives. On the whole, however, most bridging efforts have struggled to gain traction, overwhelmed by the power of polarizing politicians with their ability to mobilize societal divisions. Furthermore, polarization is often so toxic that it undermines the very idea of an apolitical civil society. In Thailand, for instance, the Peace Witness Group formed as a third-party organization to de-escalate conflicts at protests, but both sides of the political divide viewed its claim to neutrality with suspicion.

Actors engaged in or supporting dialogue and bridging efforts should seek to better understand whether such programs have been effective—and if so, under what conditions and at what scale they make an impact. A meta-analysis of such efforts would be invaluable in guiding the activities of civil society organizations and donors.

The case studies examined in this report illustrate that although sharp sociopolitical divisions are not new in South and Southeast Asia, efforts to address polarization have only recently emerged in many countries as the problem has flared up across these regions. The fact that domestic and international actors have begun to generate some initial responses is encouraging, and the shortcomings of their preliminary efforts should not be cause for resignation. The vast majority of these initiatives have been small in scale, and the diverse actors working on this problem from different angles and in different contexts often have not coordinated or communicated with one another. Actors and organizations seeking to support democratic governance in South and Southeast Asia will need to learn from the limitations of previous efforts, develop expanded and collaborative initiatives, and think systematically about countering polarization if they are to come to grips with the gravity of the challenge it presents.


1 Thomas Carothers and Andrew O’Donohue eds., Democracies Divided: The Global Challenge of Political Polarization (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2019), 257–262.

2 In Thailand, as of 2015, 97.5 percent of the population was ethnically Thai, and 94.6 percent of the population was Buddhist. See the CIA World Factbook, “Thailand,”

3 Howard Johnson and Christopher Giles, “Philippines Drug War: Do We Know How Many Have Died?” BBC, November 12, 2019,

4 Jennifer McCoy and Murat Somer, “Toward a Theory of Pernicious Polarization and How It Harms Democracies: Comparative Evidence and Possible Remedies,” ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 681, no. 1 (2019): 237.

5 Carothers and O’Donohue, Democracies Divided, 1–4.

6 Carothers and O’Donohue, Democracies Divided, 263–265.

7 Sanjay Kumar and Pranav Gupta, “Why India’s Political Parties Are Embracing Hindu Rituals,” LiveMint, March 9, 2020,; and Pradeep K. Chhibber and Rahul Verma, Ideology and Identity: The Changing Party Systems of India (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), 162–163.

8 In fact, Anna Grzymała-Busse notes that the Philippines and Poland are comparable cases in that both populations display high levels of religiosity but also overwhelmingly reject church influence in politics. Notably, in the Philippines, 99 percent of poll respondents state that they believe in God and 80 percent say that they attend church frequently, but 76 percent oppose church influence on politics. See Anna Grzymała-Busse, Nations Under God: How Churches Use Moral Authority to Influence Policy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015), 6, 36.

9 Paterno Esmaquel II, “When the Catholic Church Flexes Political Muscles,” Rappler, March 17, 2019,

10 As Kadirgamar notes, at least two domestic factors—the end of the civil war in 2009 and the Easter bombings in 2019—have also driven anti-Muslim sentiment.

11 Billy Perrigo, “It Was Already Dangerous to Be Muslim in India. Then Came the Coronavirus,” Time, April 3, 2020,; Mohammed Iqbal, “Shinde Blasts BJP, RSS for ‘Inciting Hindu Terror,’” Hindu, January 20, 2013,; and T.A. Ameerudheen, “Will Highlighting ‘Jihadi Terror’ in Kerala During Its Roadshow Help BJP Storm the Left Bastion?” Scroll, September 30, 2017,

12 For a comparative analysis of how political institutions such as asymmetrical federalism have mitigated polarization in India but exacerbated it in Sri Lanka, see especially chapters 4 and 5 of Alfred Stepan, Juan J. Linz, and Yogendra Yadav, Crafting State-Nations: India and Other Multinational Democracies (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011).

13 Naomi Hossain, “Winner Takes All: Elite Power Struggles and Polarization in Bangladesh,” in Carothers and O’Donohue, Democracies Divided, 177–200.

14 Jayshree Bajoria, “CoronaJihad Is Only the Latest Manifestation: Islamophobia in India Has Been Years in the Making,” Human Rights Watch, May 1, 2020,

15 Marcus Mietzner, Burhanuddin Muhtadi, and Rizka Halida, “Entrepreneurs of Grievance: Drivers and Effects of Indonesia’s Islamist Mobilization,” Bijdragen Tot de Taal-, Land- En Volkenkunde / Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences of Southeast Asia 174, no. 2–3 (2018): 169.

16 Mietzner, Muhtadi, and Halida, “Entrepreneurs of Grievance,” 169.

17 For an in-depth analysis of how practitioners can design and evaluate programs that alter the rules of a sociopolitical system, see Rachel Kleinfeld, Improving Development Aid Design and Evaluation: Plan for Sailboats, Not Trains (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2015).

18 For a discussion of how civil society organizations can build and defend their legitimacy, particularly in polarized political contexts, see Saskia Brechenmacher and Thomas Carothers, “The Legitimacy Menu,” in Examining Civil Society Legitimacy, Saskia Brechenmacher and Thomas Carothers eds. (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, May 2018).

19 Notably, after the December 2002 Oslo talks, the parties agreed in a press statement to explore a federal solution. See Jonathan Goodhand, Bart Klem, and Gunnar Sørbø, Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian Peace Efforts in Sri Lanka, 1997–2009, commissioned by the Norad Evaluation Department, Report No. 5/2011, September 2011, 39–40.

20 Goodhand, Klem, and Sørbø, Pawns of Peace, 130.

21 Carothers and O’Donohue, Democracies Divided, 277–283.

22 For an analysis of how the pandemic has affected polarization in India, see Niranjan Sahoo, “India: Infections, Islamophobia, and Intensifying Societal Polarization,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, April 28, 2020,

23 Kat Lonsdorf, “Gotabaya Rajapaksa Wins Sri Lankan Presidential Elections,” NPR, November 17, 2019,

24 Ashley Quarcoo and Rachel Kleinfeld, “Can the Coronavirus Heal Polarization?” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, May 1, 2020,

25 For an analysis of specific areas in which the coronavirus pandemic will likely impact governance, see Frances Z. Brown, Saskia Brechenmacher, and Thomas Carothers, “How Will the Coronavirus Reshape Democracy and Governance Globally?” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, April 6, 2020,

26 Irene Jay Liu, “CekFakta: Collaborative Fact-Checking in Indonesia,” Google News Initiative, June 26, 2018,

27 For a discussion of funding models in the Eastern European media market, see Kornélia R. Kiss, “Can Innovative Funding Models Help East European Media Avoid State Capture?” European Journalism Observatory, March 25, 2019,