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Indonesia is brightest hope for democracy in

Asean say parliamentarians, experts

Villagers wave the national flag during celebrations for the 72nd anniversary of
the Indonesia military, in Cilegon, Indonesia Banten province, October 5, 2017.
Source: Reuters/Beawiharta

By Max Walden | 12th December 2017


THE OUTLOOK for democracy and human rights in Southeast Asia is bleak with
the worlds largest Muslim-majority country Indonesia offering the best hope for
democratic progress in the region, parliamentarians, academics and rights
activists from across the region have warned.
Convening at an event gloomily titled Our Race to the Bottom? hosted by the
Jakarta-based TIFA Foundation last Friday, panelists lined up to lament the rapid
decline of democratic values and institutions across member states of the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) bloc.
Cambodias Mu Sochua Vice-President of the opposition Cambodian National
Rescue Party (CNRP) which was dissolved by the government in November
declared that the Kingdoms democracy had died because Prime Minister Hun
Sen wants to hold on to his power for 10 more years.

Mu Sochua, Vice-President of the now-defunct Cambodian National Rescue Party


speaks during an event in Jakarta, Indonesia on 8 December 2017. Source:
Supplied/ TIFA Foundation
SEE ALSO: Asean at 50: Region marches towards peace and development, away
from human rights
Mu Sochua described having to desperately pack her belongings and leave
Cambodia within 24 hours of the Cambodian Supreme Courts decision to disband
the CNRP on November 16 under orders from Hun Sen, who has ruled the country
for more than three decades.
Wearing the colours of the CNRP would see citizens branded as members of a
colour revolution or a servant of the US by the government according to Mu
Sochua, who said escaping Cambodia was the only option to avoid a similar fate
to the partys imprisoned leader Kem Sokha.

A man rides a motorcycle past the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP)
headquarters in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, November 17, 2017. Source:
Reuters/Samrang Pring
While some 200 local members of the CNRP had fled to Thailand, this was no
longer a safe place under the Thai military junta which ousted a democratically
elected government in 2014, she said.
These same problems associated with rising authoritarianism could be observed
across the region, argued Dr Khoo Ying Hooi from the University of Malaya,
pointing to censored and restricted internet and governments accusing non-
profits of being foreign agents.
SEE ALSO: Religious freedom another casualty of Southeast Asias regressive turn
Indeed, all 10 member states of Asean are classified as not free or only partly
free by US-based democracy watchdog Freedom House.
The politicisation of religion and rising fundamentalism could also be witnessed in
many cases whether in Indonesia during the Jakarta election or in Burma
(Myanmar) under the National League for Democracy (NLD), said Director of
Bangkok-based SEA Junction Dr Rosalia Sciortino.
Growing economic disparities at a national, regional and global level is providing
fertile ground for populist movements, she said, as has been witnessed in the
most extreme form with the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Buddhist-
majority Burma.
Rohingya refugees jostle as they line up for a blanket distribution under heavy
rainfall at the Balukhali camp near Coxs Bazar, Bangladesh December 11, 2017.
Source: Reuters/Alkis Konstantinidis
Indonesia the democratic behemoth
Only Indonesia gives the light that democracy can be achieved by a developing
country, said Kasit Piromya, a Democrat Party politician and a former Yellow
Shirts activist from Thailand.
Panellists broadly agreed that Southeast Asias most populous country and the
third largest democracy on the planet, Indonesia, was its best hope for ongoing
democratic progress and the preservation of civil and political freedoms.
Piromya praised and gave congratulations and my profound respect to
Indonesias military establishment for surrendering its political power
during Reformasi a period of democratisation after military-backed dictator
Suharto stepped down in 1998.

Indonesias President Joko Widodo (R) talks with military Chief Gatot Nurmantyo
as they walk past fighter jets and weapons during a military exercise on Natuna
Island, Riau Islands province, Indonesia October 6, 2016. Source:
Reuters/Beawiharta
SEE ALSO: Radical groups hold Indonesian democracy hostage Islamic scholar
The worlds largest Muslim-majority nation has since been referred to by
Professor Edward Aspinall of the ANU as the surprising democratic behemoth of
Asia.
Nevertheless, observed Amnesty Indonesias Director Usman Hamid, Indonesias
government under Joko Jokowi Widodo had put aside ending impunity for
past human rights abuses including the 1965 mass killings of an estimated
500,000 to a million alleged communists.
Moreover, the rights of minorities such as the LGBT community or Ahmadis and
Shia Muslims were under siege in Indonesia, said Usman.
The future of Asean
Lets not always kid ourselves that things are always going to get better, said Dr
Nicholas Farrelly Associate Dean of ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.
The role of China in fostering authoritarianism and propping up undemocratic
regimes was also raised by many speakers. Its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative is
seen to be driving not only the economic but also political influence of the
Chinese Communist Party in the region.
Cambodian PM Hun Sen and the head of Burmas military have both been
welcomed in Beijing in recent weeks.
(L-R): Malaysias Prime Minister Najib Razak, Myanmars State Counsellor and
Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi, Thailands Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha,
Vietnams Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang,
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, Singapores Prime Minister Lee Hsien
Loong, Bruneis Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Cambodias Prime Minister Hun Sen,
Indonesias President Joko Widodo and Laos Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith
pose for a family photo during the 20th ASEAN-China Summit in metro Manila,
Philippines November 13, 2017. Source: Reuters/Romeo Ranoco
SEE ALSO: Genocide against Rohingya may be present in Rakhine, says UN rights
chief
Aung San Suu Kyi had made three visits to China within less than two years of
holding office, said Rosalinn Zahau from Open Society Myanmar. In the heat of
global criticism, Myanmar is getting closer to China, she added.
Suu Kyi had criticised Aseans strong non-interference principle when an
embattled democracy advocate under house arrest, said Zahau, but now in power
she had consistently supported it.
Mu Sochua said despite Aseans culture of non-interference, however, when
there is a tragedy the Cambodian opposition would continue to partner with
those whod supported democracy there, which was why I am in Indonesia.
We refuse to say we accept the race to the bottom.
Posted by Thavam