Youth Participation to Youth Policy

September 14, 2002
Singapore Democrats

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IFLRY Seminar 2002 (May 18-23, Finland)

Asia is home to one half of the worlds population, but many Asian countries are forced to concentrate on issues of subsistence rather than political rights. Furthermore, Asia is rooted in a tradition that is paternalistic in nature, meaning that the great respect afforded to elders results in a political environment less conducive to youths participation in decision-making processes.

There are both official and unofficial channels of youth participation in Asia. Many Asian countries have youth ministries and youth councils; however, these organizations are primarily oriented towards sports and volunteer work instead of politics. Unofficial channels of youth participation include liberal-minded youth organizations and youth wings of opposition political parties (the latter of which Mr Perry Tong is a member).

Regionally, stated Mr Tong, we are seeing the emergence of political youth organizations pushing for the implementation of true democracy. There are also a variety of student and trade unions at the national level in countries such as Japan and South Korea. However, there exists no contact between youth organizations throughout Asia. Within governmental structures, youth are not included or consulted in decision-making processes.

With regard to the future of youth participation in Asia, Mr Tong views the Internet as an important forum of youth participation and discussion. However, there is a lack of access to different forms of media, including the Internet, in much of Asia.

Mr Tong also cited the potential of education citizens as to their universal civic responsibilities, and predicted the slow demise of authoritarian regimes unless outside pressure is applied to quicken the process.

Mr Tong next used Singapore as a case study in order to illustrate the obstacles to youth participation in Asia. Singapore, a so-called democracy, is home to only one political party. For Mr Tong, who is involved in opposition politics, voicing his political opinions (incongruent to those of the government) is a dangerous activity. Bankruptcy from libel suits and detention without trial are real threats to citizens who choose to speak out.

Mr Tong stated, Do I feel safe? No. Do I care? No. Opposition politics in Singapore is a game of survival, yet a game that Mr Tong is willing to play in order to put forth his ideals.