Dr Chee Soon Juan will attend the third Ministerial Meeting of the Community of Democracies (CoD) to be held in Santiago, Chile from 28-30 April 2005. Dr Chee has been invited to represent the SDP as well as the Alliance for Reform and Democracy in Asia (ARDA) of which he is the chairman. The Singapore Democrats secretary-general will take part in the Non-Governmental Forum of the Meeting and will make representations for democracy in Asia and Singapore to the CoD.
The CoD is a coalition of democratic countries that was started in Warsaw, Poland in 2000 with the objective of promoting and strengthening democratic principles and values at the international and national levels. The ministerial meeting Warsaw included the participation of more than 100 countries, mostly at the level of foreign ministries. The second conference was held in November 2002 in Seoul, South Korea, during which the 95 participating governments agreed on a Plan of Action. For more information on the CoD, go to http://www.ccd21.org/.
The Singapore Government was not invited to the Warsaw conference. In 2002, it was invited only as an observer and not a full participant because the CoD was of the view that Singapore is not a democracy. This year, Singapore is again invited only as an observer for the conference in Santiago. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not given any indication that it will attend the meeting. It is interesting to note that Malaysia will attend the conference as a full participant.
The NGO Forum will make proposals to the CoD and will have meetings with government officials during the conference. Specifically on Singapore the NGO Forum will make the following proposal to the CoD governments:
We are deeply concerned about the continued suppression of democracy in Singapore and urge the Community of Democracies to actively work to ensure that the Singapore Government:
1. Respects Singaporeans rights to freedom of speech, assembly and association by removing laws and policies that ban peaceful protests and demonstrations,
2. Looks into the reform of election laws and regulations, including the setting up of an independent elections body, that will ensure that elections in Singapore are genuinely free and fair,
3. Reviews the Newspaper Printing and Presses Act to allow private ownership of newspaper and broadcasting companies, and renounce the monopoly of the domestic media in Singapore,
4. Upholds the independence of the judiciary especially in cases involving defamation suits taken by ruling party officials against opposition leaders,
5. Relinquishes its hold on the National Trades Union Congress and allows the formation of free and independent unions.
The NGO Forum will also make the following proposals to promote and support democracy and its development worldwide:
1. Allow and encourage political parties to undertake capacity and leadership training programmes internationally and locally, upon registration.
2. Recognize the important role of opposition parties for strengthening democracy, and therefore guarantee their freedom of expression.
3. Create the necessary environment for strengthening political parties, both those in power and those in the opposition through capacity building focused on agenda building.
4. Institutionalize regular multiparty elections and set fixed term limits for heads of state and those in political office.
5. Encourage election observation and utilize local and international election monitors. Governments should ensure that the recommendations issued by election monitoring teams are duly and promptly enforced.
6. Guarantee that Electoral Management Bodies (EMBs) are sufficiently resourced, broad based, independent and transparent. The management and administration of elections should be the sole mandate of EMBs.
7. Assure parties equal access to low cost media, especially television, one of the main sources of propaganda expenditure for electoral races.
8. Ensure the centralization and regularity of the national electoral calendar.
On promoting democracy
1. Build capacity for participation in public sphere through training sessions for citizens about elections, civil and political rights, dialogue and negotiation techniques, and peaceful conflict resolution.
2. Empower the media to uncover corruption and look for the truth.
3. In their engagement with less democratic countries, continuously strive to promote respect for basic human rights and democratic principles. Non-interference cannot be used by governments as a shield to prevent scrutiny of a States failure to uphold universally accepted norms, such as those enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
4. Together with donors, sponsor capacity-building programmes for exiled and refugee communities, above and beyond humanitarian assistance and protection, so that they will better equipped to develop democratic institutions when they return to their home countries.
On access to public information
1. Guarantee the permanent release of information which is relevant for civic participation and monitoring, such as: existing institutional channels for participation in public sphere or adequate ways that citizens can access public information.
2. Enact freedom of information laws, that meet international standards, which are a critical tool to enable civil society to play a constructive role in public affairs.
3. Institute and maintain transparency in the budgetary debates and implementation process.
On freedom of expression and media
1. Reform laws and practices to eliminate the abuse of sedition and defamation laws that stifle democratic debate.
2. Guarantee and protect the rights and freedoms of independent media, since it has a critical role in increasing public awareness about corruption.
3. Promote self-regulation of the media and, in particular, work with the media sector to enhance editorial independence, transparency of media ownership and journalists labor rights.
4. Assure universal access to public media irrespective of region or location, and make sure that public strategies of programming respect regional diversity.
On civil society
1. Ensure a favorable framework for the healthy development of civil society beyond fully realizing the right to freedom of association. In particular, the regulatory regime should encourage private philanthropy for promotion of democracy and abstain from interfering unnecessarily.
2. Guarantee rights of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.
3. Ensure that access to funding for NGOs remains unimpeded and the existing restrictions by governments on access to foreign funds are crafted in line with internationally recognized standards.
4. Promote, increase, and institutionalize citizens participation in the phases of public policy, specifically: definition, decision-making and implementation.
On democracy education
1. Promote increased participation of citizens in political and social affairs by incorporating education for democracy and social responsibility in the education system and by supporting NGOs public awareness-raising activities.
2. Incorporate the concepts of culture of democracy andhuman rights in school curricula.
3. Ensure that gender equality is part of governmental programmes and strategies.
4. Foster a culture of democracy and human rights and allow dialogues and cooperative relationships between actors such as parliamentarians, media personalities, local and international unions and religious organizations.
5. Recognize non-violent opposition activities as a legitimate part of political life.