Asian leaders call for global democracy; S’poreans kept in the dark

Singapore Democrats

Yudhoyono (left) accompanied by Kim Campbell (former Candian prime minister) at the WMD opening ceremony

Indonesia President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has called for the world to embrace democracy. He was speaking at meeting of the world’s biggest gathering of democracy advocates and political parties taking place in Jakarta this week.

This was echoed by Malaysia’s former deputy prime minister Mr Anwar Ibrahim who is also attending the conference. He called on Indonesia, the world’s largest democracy, to spearhead the promotion of democracy in the region. The World Movement for Democracy (WMD) holds its general assembly once every two years.
The Indonesian capital was chosen to be the host city in 2010. The event brings together more than 500 democrats from all over the world.

The group objective is to promote global democracy. It has obviously met a willing partner in the Indonesian president, who said in his opening address:

Regardless of what political model you embrace, I have no doubt that in our time our future belongs to those who are willing to responsibly embrace pluralism, openness and freedom. Your choice is to act and survive, or to resist and crumble.

The WMD is trying to capitalise on the opportunity and work with the President Yudhoyono to take the lead in getting the Burmese junta to release Ms Aung San Suu Kyi and make the coming elections in the country free and fair.

In the meantime, Mr Anwar Ibrahim has lambasted the newly created ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission for Human Rights (AICHR) as “a mockery of the principle of human rights”.

Anwar Ibrahim addressing delegates

“Who constitutes the membership of AICHR?” the Malaysian Opposition Leader asked. “Except for Indonesia and one or two other countries, members are known to be people who don’t even respect basic human rights.”

Singapore’s presence

Singaporeans are also present at the conference. SDP Assistant Secretary-General John Tan is attending on behalf of Dr Chee Soon Juan whose application to leave the country to attend the meeting was rejected by the Official Assignee because of his bankruptcy.

Dr Chee was declared bankrupt in 2006 following the defamation suit that former prime ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong took against him. But unlike other insolvent persons who are allowed to go overseas, Dr Chee has been repeatedly denied permission to travel.

This is despite Dr Chee telling the OA that he does not incur any of his own expenses on such trips because he is an invited speaker and therefore the organisers pay for the expenses.

In 2006, when the SDP secretary-general applied to attend the WMD in Istanbul, Turkey the OA rejected his application two weeks after the conference was over and then prosecuted him for attempting to leave the country. He served a three-week prison term as a result.

Dr Chee uses such occasions to talk about the difficulties the opposition and civil society in Singapore face under the PAP rule, and to garner international support for democratic reform.

After Dr Chee was banned from traveling overseas, Ms Chee Siok Chin took over the role in spreading the message about the undemocratic system in Singapore.

The Attorney-General similarly made Ms Chee a bankrupt after she lost the case where she cited the Government for buying votes and intimidating voters at the last elections. The OA has similarly refused her travel overseas.

Activists Ms Jaslyn Go and Mr Seelan Palay are also in Jakarta to attend the meeting. They are returning today.

Singaporeans kept in the dark

The Singapore media has maintained a disciplined silence on the event. As a result Singaporeans do not know about the happenings at the world’s largest democracy gathering even as it takes place at their doorstep. So much for us becoming a global city.

To overcome the news blackout, organisers of the WMD will be in town at the invitation of Dr Chee to apprise Singaporeans of the developments in Jakarta.

Dr Larry Diamond, professor at Stanford University and board member of the US National Endowment for Democracy and Dr Marc Plattner, editor if the Journal of Democracy, will speak at a seminar tomorrow on the  importance of networking with pro-democracy forces around the world.

Last week, the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD) and Liberal International (LI) were on hand to conduct a roundtable discussion with opposition parties and activists enroute to Jakarta to attend the WMD. They were here on the invitation of the Singapore Democrats.       

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