Chee calls on Asian gov’ts to support democracy

Dr Chee Soon Juan called on Asian governments participating in the 3rd Ministerial Meeting of the Community of Democracies, or CD, to boldly push for democratic reforms in the region. Addressing foreign ministers and their representatives at panel for Asian countries, Dr Chee said that democratic governments in Asia must demonstrate leadership and provide the vision to entrench democracy in the region.

The 4-day conference is being held in Santiago, Chile from 28-30 April 2005 and is attended by government officials and civil society leaders from about 100 countries. Singapore was invited only as an observer because the CD is of the view that the PAP Government remains an undemocratic regime. The CD is an intergovernmental organization set up in 2000 by democratic countries to promote democratic change around the world.

Citing the anti-democracy countries such as China and Singapore, the SDP leader said that democratic governments in Asia must support the CDs efforts to bolster efforts to democratise the region. One way to do this is to establish a democracy institute that could initiate and coordinate democracy programmes in Asian countries. Dr Chee also pointed out that other regions in the world such as Latin America, Central Europe, and Africa have regional bodies that advocate democracy and human rights. Asia does not. In this regard, Dr Chee said that Asia does not honour the sacrifices made by its pioneers who sacrificed life and limb to bring freedom and democracy to their countries.

At the opening ceremony attended by nearly 500 people, US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice called on democracy advocates to persevere in their efforts, Democratization is not an event; it is a process. It takes many decades to realize the full promise of democratic reform. For nearly a century after the founding of the United States, millions of black Americans like me were still condemned to the status below that of full citizenship. When the founding fathers of America said, ‘we the people’, they did not mean me…

Chilean President Ricardo Lagos added: Only democracy can bring true progress. There are no dictatorships that have brought progress to their people.

Dr Chee told the audience that many dictatorships in Asia were trying to emulate Singapore by trying to encouraging economic growth while suppressing political development. However, the SDP secretary-general warned that this was experimented upon by Indonesia under Suharto with disastrous results. Dr Chee added that the appearance of Singapore being a rich country was troubling because the wealth was amassed by the elite few. Without a voice ordinary Singaporeans continued to face economic hardship.

Dr Chee was also invited to attend the Second Ministerial Meeting of the CD but could not go because he was in prison for attempting to hold a May Day rally for workers in Singapore. Dr Chee is scheduled to return to Singapore on 2 May 2005.

Below are excerpts of Dr Chee speech at the CD conference.

Mr Chairman, Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Rather than go into the litany of grievances against autocrats in the various Asian countries, I would like to be constructive and forward looking. On behalf of the Asian nongovernmental organizations that are represented here at this conference I would like to formally table three proposals for the CD to consider.

I had attended an earlier session where opportunities and problems faced by regional organizations promoting democracy were discussed. It became painfully clear that while other regions such as Latin America, Central Europe and Africa had such bodies, Asia could not boast the same. Even the Middle East is beginning to take steps to establish a regional body for democracy. In this regard, Asia sticks out like a sore thumb. It does not honour the sacrifice made by its pioneers who sacrificed life and limb to bring freedom and democracy to their countries.

To address this problem, Asian CD governments should, one, establish democracy funds or democracy assistance foundations to promote democratic development at the national and regional levels. They should following the example set by the Taiwanese who have established the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy and, through it, is presently engaged actively in promoting democracy and human rights across the region.

Two, Asia needs a body that would initiate, implement, and coordinate democracy assistance programs such as

– facilitating free and fair elections,
– helping countries to develop an independent judiciary and accountable government institutions,
– strengthening political parties, the free press, and civil society groups,
– and establishing a democratic political culture.

All these initiatives that we have suggested are those already agreed upon in the Seoul Plan of Action adopted by the CD in its 2nd Ministerial Meeting in South Korea in 2002.

Three, Asian democracy organizations will be organizing the inaugural World Forum for Democratization in Asia, or WFDA, in Taipei in August 2005. This will be a landmark event for democracy in the region. It is undertaken by various regional networks in Asia, including the Alliance for Reform and Democracy in Asia, of which I chair. On behalf of the organizing committee of WFDA, I would like to extend an invitation to Asian governments to attend the conference. I urge your governments to send representatives to what will be an historic occasion to engage civil society in a constructive dialogue to promote democracy and human rights in the region.

We call upon democratic Asian governments present here to demonstrate leadership and provide the vision necessary for the development of democracy in our part of the world. To this end we believe that we have come to the right place.

Thank you.

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