Democratic discussion: Afghan President Hamid Karzai (left) and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan confer as they prepare for a group photo during the Bali Democracy Forum in Nusa Dua, Bali, on Thursday. (AP/Dita Alangkara)
Democracy should be maintained in the context of several aspects in communities, leaders of the Asia-Pacific region told the fifth Bali Democracy Forum (BDF) on Thursday.
Brunei Darussalam Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah said in applying the principles of democracy, “We must ensure that they do not become points of division that affect the cohesiveness of our communities.”
Considering that the forum’s theme “Advancing Democratic Principles at the Global Setting” was in line with the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), he told the forum that “what we need to achieve is an equitable balance between the various interests, concern, and our responsibility within our respective communities”.
Bolkiah, who is also Brunei Darussalam’s Prime Minister, added that the challenge depended on ensuring the global nature of these principles so that they make sense in people’s day to day lives.
Bolkiah has attended the BDF since its inception in 2008.
Afghanistan Hamid Karzai admitted that democracy was not only a manifestation of the quest for freedom, equality and self-determination, but also a result of the emergence of a globalized society, social activation and revolution in communication technologies.
“On the other hand, while the universal ideals of democracy are paramount, the question of democracy as a just and desirable system of government is far from settled,” he the forum’s first general debate.
Karzai maintained that the real test of the desirability of a democratic system is not only in bestowing individual freedoms, but actually to the degree in which it promotes inclusiveness, stability and progress.
“Democracy can be the most desirable mode of government as long as it is based on a balance between the realization of universal democratic ideals on the one hand, and the reality of indigenous conditions and circumstances,” he said.
Mirroring President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s call for the reform of the UN Security Council made at the opening session on Thursday, Karzai said that it was vital to restructure the relationships between the Security Council and the General Assembly for the UN to remain an effective and representative global institution.
The first Thai head of government attending the BDF, Yingluck Shinawatra said that people want their voices heard, their rights protected and positive changes brought to their lives. “Even though in each country or community there may be cultural, economic or political differences, common principles exist.”
“People demand freedom because they prosper in it. They want their rights protected and dignity respected. But, with freedom comes responsibility.”
There, she said, there is the need for the rule of law, a guarantee of human rights, and equal opportunity to aspire and achieve one’s dream.
Yingluck said that rule of law provides political space for dialogue, participation and for conflicts to be resolved within boundaries of civil society. “Rule of law also dictates how political leaders must respond to people’s needs and protect individuals’ rights and liberties.”
On protecting people’s rights, she said that the best way to preserve them is to empower the people to value and participate in the democratic process, which has made it possible for an election to occur.
“Mutual respect and understanding among peoples in society helps prevent disagreement and conflict. Non-discrimination helps all people feel that they are part of the whole society regardless of race, religion or income,” Yingluck stated.
Timor Leste Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao said that democracy cannot be imposed on a country, ignoring its entire historical, cultural and economic context.
“Instead, it is a process that must be nurtured continuously, and which must respect the timing and the idiosyncrasies of each society,” the former guerrilla leader told the forum.
The two-day forum is being attended by 11 heads of state.