Ni Komang Erviani and Hyginus Hardoyo , The Jakarta Post , Nusa Dua, Bali | Fri, 12/12/2008 10:47 AM | World
Participants at the Bali Democracy Forum from 32 Asian countries agreed Thursday to strengthen democratic systems in Asia by holding annual meetings at the ministerial level, Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda said.
“We will meet annually here in Bali. Besides the main conference, there will be seminars, workshops, roundtables and research presentations,” Hassan told a press conference at the end of the 2-day session of the Bali Democratic Forum at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Nusa Dua.
The forum was inaugurated by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Wednesday as an Indonesian initiative to foster democracy in the Asia Pacific region. Three other heads of state attended — Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei Darussalam and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao of Timor Leste — as well as 17 foreign ministers and representatives from the remaining countries.
Hassan said the forum constituted an historic moment because it was the first time representatives from Asian countries assembled to talk about democracy, a somewhat sensitive issue in the region.
“This is historic. This region has been left behind in efforts to promote democracy. Countries in the Asian region are timid and very cautious about raising democratic issues at intergovernmental dialogues,” he said.
Through such a forum Asian countries can discuss what they see as a dichotomy between economic growth and democratic political development.
“Challenges faced by Asian countries lie in the inability to balance economic growth and politics. In the end such a balance is badly needed to strengthen one while not shortchanging the other,” Hassan said.
Timor Leste’s Foreign Minister Zacarias Albano Da Costa responded positively to the planned forum, saying it would serve to help his country to learn about democracy.
“I think this is a very timely event which Timor Leste also supports because we can share experiences and best practices from different countries.
“We are a country in transition, a new country. We also need to learn from other countries’ experiences so we can work out what suits East Timor best,” he said.
Foreign Minister Rais Yatim of Malaysia agreed with Zacarias’ remarks, saying the forum is very important for Asian countries to learn more about democracy.
Rais said he hoped the forum would give the opportunity for Asian countries to bring more Asian cultural values to bear in nurturing democratic systems. He stressed this because Asian polities have thus far tended to apply only democratic values as shaped in the West.
“Our local values are important for us to consider, to fight for the unity of our community in the East and in Asia,” Rais said.
The minister further said in order to build strong democratic systems in Asia, there needs to be adequate infrastructure already developed. “A combination of the two is important,” he added.