Poverty and conflict in Southeast Asia

University dissertation from Stockholm : Economic Research Institute, Stockholm School of Economics (EFI)

Abstract:  This is a collection of papers on three Southeast Asian countries, Cambodia, Lao PDR and Thailand. All four studies rely on household survey data for analyzing topics related to poverty and conflicts.Trust and Conflict in Southern ThailandThe insurgency in Thailand’s southern border provinces has caused thousands of casualties since 2004. This paper investigates the impact of mistrust of the government on the violent conflict. I analyze how failure to address local grievances has led to a breakdown of trust and created conditions for an insurgency. Empirical tests are carried out using a survey of individual trust in government institutions conducted at the beginning of violent conflict. It is shown that sub-districts where the population displayed lower levels of pre-conflict trust experienced higher levels of lethal violence during the conflict. Factors influencing trust in government institutions are analyzed using ordinal logistic analysis. Economic and ethno-linguistic factors are identified as the main determinants of trust towards the government.Political polarization in ThailandThe article traces recent political polarization to earlier institutional reforms opening up the political system to increased electoral competition. The increased influence of the rural majority led new political entrepreneurs to introduce welfare policies. The new polices were opposed by urban tax payers, setting off a process of policy driven polarization that drew on underlying cleavages in Thai society. Empirical tests based on voting patterns in the most recent general election using a seemingly unrelated regression model provide support for the hypothesis of policy driven political polarization. The analysis highlights the vulnerability to increased polarization after introduction of institutional reforms that alter the balance of power between different parts of the electorate.Ethnic Minority Poverty in Lao PDREthnic minorities have a significantly higher poverty incidence than the majority in Lao PDR. Based on survey data the determinants of minority poverty are analyzed, the sources of inequality decomposed, and the expected impact of polices to address minority poverty estimated. When economic factors are controlled for, ethnicity does not have any significant effect on poverty. Decomposition shows that unequal access to resources and demographic variables largely explain the majority-minority poverty gap.Rural Poverty in CambodiaCambodia has been growing rapidly over the past few years, but remains one of the poorest countries in East Asia. This paper analyzes rural poverty in Cambodia to identify the factors that explain its occurrence and persistence. The reduction of rural poverty in Cambodia requires (1) improvements in agricultural productivity and (2) the establishment of other income earning opportunities for the rural population. An econometric analysis of the Cambodian Socio-Economic Survey shows that the main causes of poverty differ between landowners and the landless, and between different regions.