September 29, 2009 · Posted in: General
The second day of the conference continued with Dr. Aileen SP Baviera, Dean, Asian Center, University of the Philippines, talking about media and democracy in East Asia. She began with a discussion of the dominant yardstick for determining democracy, from a liberal democratic perspective: free, fair, and competitive elections, checks and balances, and respect for civil individual rights.
Dr. Baviera then presented an assessment of the ASEAN. Post-Suharto Indonesia, she said, has the region’s most stable democracy. While the Philippines and Thailand have had longer democratic traditions, these have been challenged in recent years. Malaysia and Singapore have what could be called “quasi- or pseudo-democracies,” Brunei is a monarchy, Burma a military dictatorship, Cambodia is still struggling, and Vietnam and Laos are command economies. Looking at the greater East Asian region, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea are democratic, while China and North Korea are not. Looking further, Australia, New Zealand, and India are all democracies.
Presented next were arguments against democratic reforms, which follow:
Argument 1: “Democracy is incompatible with Asian values”
This argument has died a natural death with India and Indonesia being the world’s largest democracies. Furthermore, Dr. Baviera added, there is no such thing as ‘Asian values’ and neither is there a one size fits all formula for democracy and human rights.
Argument 2: “We need development first before democracy can follow”
The examples of Indonesia and the Philippines belie this argument, with authoritarian regimes being inimical to economic development, instead leading to corruption and social/political instability. Meanwhile, even though authoritarian rule may lead to growth, popular involvement is still needed to bring grassroots development.
Argument 3: “Democracy may endanger security and stability
Again, the experiences of the Philippines and Indonesia go against this argument, as authoritarian regime in both countries battled insurgencies, while post-dictatorship was more successful in bringing peace but not immediately. Military interventionism and resistance to democratic transition was also common to both countries. Some scholars argue, however, that the long democratic traditions in the Philippines were precisely what prevented various coups d’etat from succeeding. However, external imposition of democracy, as in the case of Cambodia, has not been proven to work.
Argument 4: “We need good governance and rule of law rather than formal democracy”
This is an argument that has been pushed forward as modeled after China, saying that good governance and rule of law are attainable even without democracy. Meanwhile, proponents of the opposite position argue that democratic institutions have better capacity in good governance.
Argument 5: “Democratic transition and democratic consolidation”
This is still an ongoing argument with deep democratic reform and consolidation can result in backlash from the elite. There are also questions about whether democracy can be sustained when the country performs poorly economically. There is also the question of how long a democracy should exist before being considered stable, with Thailand cited as an example after the coup.
After that, Dr. Baviera talked about the ASEAN. She highlighted its history as an organization whose primary concern originally had been with regime survival, and its track record of absence of war between members since 1967, something that has been achieved without liberal democracy. As integration takes place, Dr. Baviera said, there is a need to find shared values as basis. A new inter-governmental commission on human rights, she said, is a good first step.
In the question and answer session, Dr. Baviera highlighted some key aspects that the regional media can explore for common projects for the ASEAN. “The issues for human rights cooperation, I imagine, will be very modest at first,” she said. Instead, governments might be more amenable to discuss issues affecting women and children, health, education, labor, social welfare, environment, migration, and crossborder issues like drug trafficking. Dr. Baviera added that the involvement of each country in the ASEAN framework would be very uneven, with some countries being involved more than others.