ASEAN lauds PH elections; extols leadership in 50th anniversary set for Manila next year

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By Daniel Llanto | FilAm Star Correspondent

The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) recently complimented the Philippines for successfully conducting its May 9 presidential elections, saying it is a shining light for some deplorable members who don’t have similar democratic exercises.

Lawmakers belonging to the ASEAN Parliamentarians on Human Rights (APHR) signed a joint statement giving the Philippines a pat on the back while in Jakarta doing the groundwork for the 50th anniversary of ASEAN next year. The Philippines will chair the regional bloc for this important event which is expected to be held in Manila.

In the statement, the ASEAN lawmakers expressed solidarity with the people of the Philippines, celebrating their ability to freely exercise their right to vote, a privilege only a minority of ASEAN countries enjoys, noting the recent elections in Myanmar and Indonesia.

APHR Chairman Charles Santiago said the Philippines’ election was generally “peaceful and fair, free from fraud and controversy, and served to strengthen the pillars of democracy and rule of law.” He urged the Philippines when it chairs the ASEAN in 2017 to “use its chairmanship to begin efforts to overhaul the grouping and its insistence to hold steadfast to its non-sensical ‘non-interference’ principle.”

The APHR said former regional leaders, such as Thailand and Malaysia, have slid into disarray, and laggards, such as Laos and Vietnam, have made little attempt to hide their distaste for democratic values.

Eva Kusuma Sundari, a member of the Indonesian House of Representatives, said: “The fact that the people of the Philippines were able to go to the polls last May 9 and voted for their representatives is particularly significant given the context of democracy’s failure to take proper root across our region.”

“How many of the 10 ASEAN member states can we truly call moderately successful democracies?” asked Sundari, also a board member of the ASEAN Parliamentarians on Human Rights (APHR).

Parliamentarians from across Southeast Asia warned that democracy is under threat across the region.

The ASEAN lawmakers warned of increasingly shameless attacks on opposition parliamentarians and activists in Cambodia and Malaysia, as well as the undermining of fundamental state institutions that support democratic systems in those countries.

“Increasingly we have seen the consolidation of authoritarian regimes, like those in Laos and Thailand, and the rise of pseudo-democracies where an autocratic leadership works systematically to undermine the basic functions of democratic government, like we’ve been witnessing again in Cambodia and increasingly in Malaysia today,” Sundari said.

Santiago said the current ASEAN chairmanship of Laos threatens to undermine the regional bloc’s ability to support human rights and democracy in its member countries.

In December 2012, Laos citizen and prominent member of civil society Sombath Somphone went missing after successfully co-organizing the Asia-Europe People’s Forum October that year, where big ticket government infrastructure projects were questioned. The disappearance of Sombath, a Ramon Magsaysay Awardee on community development, is widely blamed on the Laos government.

“We hope the next democratically elected government of the Philippines, one of Asia’s oldest democracies, will use the country’s chairmanship of ASEAN to focus on strengthening democratic accountability and the grouping’s capacity to hold member states accountable for human rights violations,” Santiago said.

“Supporting democratic institutions and challenging autocracy are critical if we hope to tackle the fundamental issues our region faces and successfully combat poverty, corruption, climate change, and human rights abuses,” he added.

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