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The first biennial World Forum for Democratization in Asia (WFDA), which took place in Taipei from 15 to 17 September this year, was an enriching experience for a young democrat like me. Organised by a group of pro-democracy Asian including the Alliance for Reform and Democracy in Asia of which Dr Chee Soon Juan is the chairman, the WFDA is a major regional initiative aimed at promoting and institutionalizing democracy in this part of the world.
I had the privilege of attending this landmark conference with 200 other participants, including five other Singaporeans activists. Apparently, representatives of the de facto Singapore embassy were present as well.
The discussion sessions and workshops and provided participants with the insights and updates on the political situation in the region; and allowed activists and politicians to network and create a sense of solidarity needed to promote democracy in Asia.
The US Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky sent a video message where she praised on-going efforts by pro-democracy forces in Asia to promote freedom and human rights in the region. She also re-dedicated America’s commitment to advancing democracy in Asia.
The programme included a Leaders Forum which saw four former state leaders from Mongolia, El Salvador, Taiwan and Dominican Republic discuss the positive effects of democracy in their own countries.
An engaging session was the one on “The Impact of the Rise of China on Asian Democratization.” Academics and activists from Burma, Germany, India, and Japan formed the panel of speakers which highlighted the growing threat that the Communist Chinese Government poses to democratization in the region. It was inevitable that the subject drew much attention and provoked many comments and questions.
Another highlight of the conference was the launch of the Asia Democracy Index (ADI). The ADI is an assessment of the state of democracy in the various Asian countries and societies. Locals were asked to rate their political systems based on six categories of questions: Civil Rights, Elections and Electoral Processes, Governance and Corruption, Media, Rule of Law, Participation and Representation. Out of 16 countries/territories Singapore ranked a dismal 16th, just one position above Burma.
The most fruitful part of the conference, however, was the “Taipei Declaration on Democracy in Asia” and the “Framework of Action”. The former is a statement on Asian activists shared values and broad strategies for democratization in Asia while the latter is a set of specific action plans for the various countries and what help the international community could render to achieve the goals set out in the Framework. For Singapore, the participants decided that it would be helpful if a high-level delegation of international lawmakers and human rights representatives could visit the Republic and demonstrate its concern for the continued suppression of democracy here.
As a young democrat in Singapore, I am glad that a path has been forged for our brothers and sisters in the region to continue our push for freedom and human rights. I look forward to similar future co-operation efforts.
The hospitality of our Taiwanese host and their years of struggles to achieve democracy touched me deeply. I am inspired by the countless personal experiences of activists within Asia who are continuing to face persecution by autocrats in their home countries. The papers presented and discussion sessions provided me with a greater insight into the state of politics as well as the obstacles and opportunities for democracy in the region.
WFDA is, in my opinion, a successful event as participants have now a formal declaration to commit themselves towards working towards the goals set by the Taipei Declaration and Framework of Action. This is an important and essential first step for Asian Democrats that has been long overdue.
Charles Tan is President of Young Democrats, youth wing of the SDP.