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Jakarta Post

Choose inclusion to protect democracy

  • Peter MacArthur

    -

Nusa Dua, Bali   /   Thu, December 6, 2018   /   01:08 pm
Choose inclusion to protect democracy Pride of nations: Workers prepare on Wednesday to hoist the flag of a country participating in the 2018 Bali Democracy Forum. Representatives of Asia-Pacific countries will attend the event, which will be held in Nusa Dua, Bali, from Thursday to Friday. They will discuss, share experience and strengthen cooperation in democratic practices. (Antara/Nyoman Budhiana)

Indonesia’s 20 years of democracy is something to celebrate — both in the wake of successful regional elections earlier this year, and ahead of the April 2019 general election that will see 190 million people go to the polls. 

While a country’s diversity is a fact, inclusion is a choice. This is something Indonesians understand well. 

Your national motto of “unity in diversity” recognizes the need to include everyone, while respecting their diversity.

For Canadians, diversity is a source of creativity, resilience and strength, but only when we choose to be inclusive of all our people. 

For Canada, inclusion means that everyone can fully participate and make a unique contribution. This makes our society more stable, more peaceful and more democratic. It has also driven economic growth, and helped us to strengthen our middle class.

In Canada, we want to make sure that every Canadian has an equal chance at success and that no one is excluded because of who they are. We must all commit to building economies that leave no one behind. 

That means economies that benefit more than just the wealthiest 1 percent. 

Inclusion is the bedrock of our democracies, especially in an era like now when our communities are struggling like never before in the face of complex challenges. 

This includes disinformation campaigns and “fake news”, the slow erosion of traditional media, and digital technology and the emergence of online “echo chambers”. 

It also includes foreign interference campaigns, as well as public distrust of institutions, including distrust of government. 

The democratic model is stressed — and we find ourselves living in a time where, globally, it is facing unprecedented challenges. But we can combat these challenges through an informed public. 

But our citizens need access to a variety of information sources and a strong and independent media. 

There also needs to be a broader willingness — a determination — to protect our democratic institutions.

A healthy, robust democracy depends on an engaged and informed electorate. Citizens need to understand the threats we face. Citizens need to understand why our institutions are important. Crucially, citizens also need to understand why their participation is paramount.

Democracy is based on trust. Citizens must trust their institutions, and the institutions must trust the citizens. When citizens feel they are part of a society, they are more likely to contribute.

It thus falls to us — to governments — to ensure that all citizens are able to participate in our democracy, which brings me back to the transformative power of inclusion.

Inclusion is social; it is cultural; it is economic; it is political.

It is social — because it means people can participate without fear or shame. It is cultural — because it means people of different languages, religions and ethnic backgrounds can live together in harmony. 

It is economic — because everyone deserves the dignity of work and a fair share of prosperity. If you are worried about putting food on the table, voting is not exactly a top priority. 

And it is political — because when people see themselves reflected in their political parties and elected leaders, they see a role for themselves in the democratic process. Political leaders, with their great influence, have a great responsibility to be champions of inclusion

If you remember anything, let it be this: Democracy is about people, and it’s about political accountability. It can only be as strong as its citizens. 

When all citizens are included, their great potential is unlocked to power your economies, invigorate your communities and to grow your middle class. 

Choose inclusion to protect and strengthen your democracies.

***

The writer is Canadian ambassador to Indonesia and Timor-Leste. The above is based on his address to the 11th Bali Democracy Forum held in Nusa Dua, Bali on Dec. 6-7.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.