Liberal parties in power

Manila Bulletin

Florangel Rosario Braid talks about the important role liberal democrats, including the SDP, play in shaping politics in Asia

The “Liberal Parties in Power: Getting There, Remaining There.” This was the theme of the recent Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD) conference held in Manila June 27-July 1. The conference addressed the challenge of how to win elections and how to remain in power.

The papers and proceedings will be useful in helping us improve our understanding of opportunities and constraints in the present political environment; how to launch an electoral campaign (what are the ingredients for success); preparing for power and forming governments; and governing effectively, as well as addressing threats.

The sharing of experiences among political parties will be useful in providing lessons on how to get into power, and the more difficult challenge of remaining in power. Our own Liberal Party, which had dramatically ascended to power has its own lessons to share, in the same way that it can learn from parties that continue to stay in power.

In Europe, the Free Democratic Party of Germany had likewise made significant gains. In Denmark, the Liberal party leader was elected prime minister. The same trend was shown in Netherlands and the United Kingdom where the liberals had a strong showing in recent elections.

In Latin America, notably Chile and Costa Rica, the liberal presence had also grown. But Asia is singled out as the region that had outpaced the rest in terms of continuing growth of its political parties. The Democratic Progressive Party of Taiwan became the first ruling party and managed to stay in power for 8 years.

The Democrat Party in Thailand returned to power in 2006. Under Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudyohono, leader of the Partai Democrat, the party has gained the largest number of seats in the People’s Representative Council. In 2009, the Democratic Party of Japan came into power, also securing the largest number of seats in the parliament and the prime ministerial post for its leader, Yukio Hatoyama.

Liberal parties in Malaysia and Sri Lanka have also gained considerable power. The role played by the opposition liberal parties in Cambodia, Burma, and Singapore where human rights and democracy had been continually violated, deserves a place in the case studies of liberal democracies that have remained steadfast in their commitment to freedom and human rights.

The National Council for the Union of Burma was created after the military junta refused to recognize the results of the 1990 elections. Now, it is involved in the struggle to free Aung San Suu Kyi and to bring democracy to this military state.

Cambodia party followers of opposition leader Sam Rainsy, flew in to Manila saying it was the only opportunity to see and confer with their leader who is now in self-exile. Rainsy was tried, and sentenced in absentia to a prison term. He and his party mate, Mu Sochua, parliamentarian and renowned women’s rights advocate who were resource speakers at the conference recounted Cambodia’s struggle against government’s attempt to silence the opposition.

Sochua suffered a similar fate when she received a guilty verdict in a case brought against her by PM Hun Sen. A parallel between San Suu Kyi and Sochua is often drawn, in terms of their courage in standing up for people’s rights. Carrying the message, “No, we do not accept to live in fear,” she related her experience while walking the campaign trail, knocking from door to door in 150,000 villages.

While a higher level of awareness about human rights abuses in Burma and Cambodia may exist, this isn’t true about Singapore which is perceived as model of good governance for its economic success. Many may not be familiar with what the Singapore Democratic Party describes as repression and breaches in the rule of law.

US-educated John Tan relates how he was fined and thrown into prison for wearing a T-shirt showing a kangaroo in a courthouse. Thereafter, no university or business establishment would hire him. His party managed to survive despite debilitating court cases and convictions which almost pushed some of its members into bankruptcy.

The party calls the international community to speak up – monitor and report human rights abuses, including detention without trial, urge the government to sign and ratify the UN’s International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, establish a national human rights commission, and call on the Singapore government to implement processes to promote the independence of the judiciary.

Here, at home, President Aquino is aware that one of the challenges facing him is that of finding lasting solution to curbing impunity in the extrajudicial killings of journalists and political activists and similar human rights violations.

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