by AFP - As revolution inflamed the Middle East in 2011
, people power won its own small triumphs in Asia, with Myanmar startling observers by taking steps towards openness after decades of isolation.
In Southeast Asia, a surge in online activism galvanised citizens to make demands of their governments, while China and other authoritarian regimes watched their backs for any signs of Arab Spring-style revolts. ''There's a trend of people standing up to power,'' said Bridget Welsh, a political analyst from Singapore Management University. ''It's not about opposition parties but about people's empowerment.''
Ernest Bower of the Center for Strategic and International Studies labelled 2011 ''the year of the voter in the region'', writing in a report that ''governments... are scrambling to retain power by pursuing reform''.
These are not the seismic shifts of the Middle East, but analysts say smaller democratic gains are still worthy of note in countries where formidable power structures have held sway for decades. Among them is Singapore, long a model for states looking to mix wealth with muscular rule, where the ruling party vowed to undergo ''soul-searching'' after its share of the vote plunged to a record low of 60 percent in watershed polls.
The results were the worst in the party's 52 years of government as, despite odds stacked in its favor, voters' mood for change found an outlet on the web which bloomed with satire, polemic and unfettered campaigning.
In Malaysia, likewise ruled by a single party since independence, discontent which erupted in 2008 elections has seen unprecedented street rallies including one in July in which protesters faced mass arrests and tear gas. A public outcry over the heavy-handed tactics, and the prospect of fresh polls expected for next year, pushed Prime Minister Najib Razak into electoral reforms including several demanded by the rally's leaders.