What explains democracy’s collapse or persistence in Southeast Asia today, a ‘recalcitrant’ region in which political development has been vexed (Emmerson 1995)? A range of contextual factors is typically used in explicating democracy’s fate – including historical legacies, social structures, developmental levels, transitional processes, and institutional designs. However, by themselves, they produce erroneous or incomplete accounts. To provide better answers, we must investigate their refraction through sets of elite-level relations and social coalitions.