Pan-Asian Alliance Needed to Strengthen Democracy in Asia

Translator

Najla Nur Fauziyah

Editor

Laila Afifa

Jumat, 10 Mei 2024 18:31 WIB

By: Dr. James Gomez, Regional Director of the Asia Centre and Celito Arlegue, Executive Director of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats.

As democratic values face escalating challenges globally, civil society organisations (CSOs), diaspora communities and political parties with shared values must unite in a Pan-Asian alliance to defend and uphold fundamental democratic principles. The imperative for such collaboration has never been more apparent, given the alarming trend of shrinking democratic spaces across the region.

Cambodia and Singapore serve as cautionary tales, highlighting how some governments intervene to depoliticise civic spaces and build-in legal measures to induce self-restrictions over collaborations between civic and political actors.

In Cambodia, CSOs face significant challenges and fears in partnering with opposition parties due to stringent regulations and limited civic space. The 2015 Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO) mandates 'political neutrality,' constraining CSOs from engaging in any politically perceived activities which can lead to government crackdowns and harassment of independent organisations. Instances of verbal threats and physical violence against those who challenge the ruling party are not uncommon in Cambodia. These actions unnaturally drive a wedge between the diaspora and Cambodia-based civil society and opposition parties.

In Singapore, CSOs require approval from the Registrar of Societies for registration as those deemed “political” gazetted are political associations effectively de-politicising the civic space. In the city-state, it is not unusual for CSO representatives and self-acclaimed academic activists to articulate neutrality and actively not engage with opposition parties. Financial support and linkages from abroad are also kept in check via the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act 2021 which aims to shield the current state of politics from external influence measures.

Amidst these challenges, there are positive examples of civic-political cooperation in the efforts to initiate democratic change, as demonstrated in Thailand and Malaysia.

Ahead of the 2023 elections, CSOs in Thailand closely collaborated with the Move Forward Party (MFP) to point out policy lapses and supported the amendment of existing laws or legislating new ones. This showcases one instance of political parties' partnership with independent CSOs in advancing structural reforms in key areas such as human rights, land reform, and labour rights. In the Thai case, politicians from the MFP have also leveraged their political influence and parliamentary positions to lend voice to the reforms advocated by CSOs.

In 2018, Malaysia witnessed a significant political transformation driven by the Reformasi and BERSIH movements. CSOs and opposition parties came together to challenge the dominance of the six-decade-long ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional (BN). By mobilising mass protests and campaigns for free and fair elections, the coalition demonstrated the power of grassroots activism and collective action in driving political change. It resulted in the electoral victory of the opposition coalition, Pakatan Harapan (PH).

Presently in Asia, there are several state-led democratic initiatives. Japan’s 2023 Development Cooperation Charter pledges support for freedom and the rule of law as part of its foreign aid in the Asia Pacific region. South Korea has committed $100 million to support democratic development abroad and hosted the Summit for Democracy in 2024, signalling its dedication to democratic ideals. The incoming Lai Ching-te administration in Taiwan has promised to support democracies in the region and “to showcase Taiwan as a force for good around the world.

In Southeast Asia, gatherings like the Bali Democracy Forum (BDF) showcased Indonesia’s initial post-reformation commitment to fostering collaboration and advocating for democratic reforms in Asia and the Pacific. However, its ‘inclusive’ approach of including undemocratic regimes such as China, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam raised concerns about its effectiveness in observing core democratic principles. There has also been a perceived difference in the use of the BDF as a foreign policy instrument to promote or project democracy abroad between the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Joko Widodo (Jokowi) administration. It remains to be seen how Prabowo's new administration will respond to the BDF.

Nevertheless, democracy's challenges in Asia require a broader and collective effort that goes beyond States and transcends national boundaries. It also has to go beyond current siloed political party and civil society groupings.

The Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD) is one of the longstanding players in the region in connecting liberal political parties and individuals to exchange ideas and their unique struggles to foster cross-border support and collaborations, while the Asia Democracy Network (ADN) aims to gather civil organisations and likeminded advocates in a platform to promote regional dialogue and collaboration as well as building capacities of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in advancing democratic values.

However, there is an increasing gap between political parties and CSOs in joint efforts despite sharing a similar agenda in pursuing the civic freedoms of their nations. In many cases, diaspora communities from Cambodia, Hong Kong, Lao, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam who are interested but are often excluded.

A key factor hindering such collaboration is the fear-mongering directed towards any form of democratic coalition building. The aim is to diminish trust between political parties, civic society organisations, and diaspora communities as they try to find common ground on specific policy issues. The fear of backlash from the authorities contributes to the aversion towards collaboration on highly important policy issues or reform initiatives which prevents a broad-based democratic coalition from forming.

While these factors may lead to antagonism, competition and hostility among civic-political parties, addressing these challenges requires building trust, finding common ground, fostering dialogue, and recognising the mutual benefits of collaboration.

During the sidelines of the 3rd Summit of Democracy in South Korea in March 2024, Asia Centre and CALD, members of the Global Coalition for Democracy, led several discussions around how to revitalise democracy in Asia. A suggestion was to establish a Pan-Asian alliance of CSOs, diaspora communities and political parties with shared values around democracy to drive this revitalisation. Such an alliance must be based on democratic principles, collaborative and innovative in its approach, and forward-looking in its strategies. It must be spearheaded by stakeholders from the region and must cater to the unique democratic challenges in Asia, but open to collaboration and knowledge-sharing with the rest of the world.

By providing a platform to facilitate the exchange of ideas and strategies, the Pan-Asian Alliance can enable its members and partners to come together for a common cause. Leveraging on the collective influence and respective strengths, the coalition can encourage respect for democratic principles and uphold human rights values while increasing their engagements with regional and international stakeholders to strengthen democratic institutions within their countries.

In conclusion, the rising need to establish a Pan-Asian Alliance of CSOs, diaspora communities and political parties to champion democratic values has never been more apparent. In the face of growing authoritarianism and the erosion of democratic freedoms, the peoples of Asia and beyond must come together to defend the principles of democracy. By learning from the challenges and successes of each other, we can forge a path towards a more democratic and inclusive future for Asia.

*) DISCLAIMER

Articles published in the “Your Views & Stories” section of en.tempo.co website are personal opinions written by third parties, and cannot be related or attributed to en.tempo.co’s official stance.

Related News

Singapore To Seek Compensation From Ship Owner For Oil Spill, Media Reports Say

20 jam lalu

Singapore To Seek Compensation From Ship Owner For Oil Spill, Media Reports Say

Singapore will seek compensation for the costs incurred in an oil spill last week from the owners of the stationary vessel that discharged the oil

Read More

Singapore Highlights Banks as Posing Highest Money Laundering Risk

23 jam lalu

Singapore Highlights Banks as Posing Highest Money Laundering Risk

Singapore's banking sector poses the highest money laundering risk in the city-state, a money laundering risk assessment report said.

Read More

Indonesia's Istiqlal Mosque to Welcome Pope Francis' Visit

2 hari lalu

Indonesia's Istiqlal Mosque to Welcome Pope Francis' Visit

Grand Imam of the Istiqlal Mosque, Nasaruddin Umar, disclosed that Pope Francis is set to visit Indonesia in early September 2024.

Read More

Indonesia, Singapore Listed Among Asia's Biggest Spenders on Overseas Trips

2 hari lalu

Indonesia, Singapore Listed Among Asia's Biggest Spenders on Overseas Trips

Tourists from Singapore, Indonesia, and Thailand are among the 10 biggest spenders in Asia while traveling abroad, according to Merchant Machine.

Read More

Australia, Singapore Keen to Join the UN Peacekeeping MIssion in Gaza, Indonesia's Military Commander Says

5 hari lalu

Australia, Singapore Keen to Join the UN Peacekeeping MIssion in Gaza, Indonesia's Military Commander Says

Indonesian Armed Forces Commander says that Australia and Singapore expressed their keenness to join in the UN peacekeeping mission in Gaza.

Read More

Singapore Oil Slick Closes Beaches on Resort Island

5 hari lalu

Singapore Oil Slick Closes Beaches on Resort Island

Beaches on Singapore's Sentosa island were closed on Saturday, June 15, after an oil spill spread from a nearby shipping terminal.

Read More

Today's Top 3 News: 12 Countries with the Most Expensive Cost of Living, Singapore Takes 7th Position

6 hari lalu

Today's Top 3 News: 12 Countries with the Most Expensive Cost of Living, Singapore Takes 7th Position

Here is the list of the top 3 news on Tempo English today, June 14, 2024.

Read More

Today's Top 3 News: AirAsia Indonesia Posts 27% Revenue Hike to Rp1.74tn in Q1/2024

7 hari lalu

Today's Top 3 News: AirAsia Indonesia Posts 27% Revenue Hike to Rp1.74tn in Q1/2024

Here is the list of the top 3 news on Tempo English today.

Read More

Malaysia Named Asia's Most Loved Destination, Ahead of Singapore, Japan

7 hari lalu

Malaysia Named Asia's Most Loved Destination, Ahead of Singapore, Japan

Malaysia has been declared the most loved country in Asia, according to a new survey by American financial site, Insider Monkey.

Read More

Today's Top 3 News: 10 Richest Countries in the World by GDP per Capita, Singapore Ranked 3rd

8 hari lalu

Today's Top 3 News: 10 Richest Countries in the World by GDP per Capita, Singapore Ranked 3rd

Here is the list of the top 3 news on Tempo English today.

Read More