A broader democratic effort

Indonesia is firmly in the vanguard of Asia’s democratic development. Establishing the Bali Democracy Forum five years ago was a bold decision.


Not only has Indonesia successfully managed its own transition to democracy. Far from exclusively focusing on internal issues, Indonesia has chosen a broader effort, aiming at putting the stability and prosperity of the entire region on firmer footing. This is true international leadership.

Norway has been Indonesia’s proud partner in this venture from the outset. Over the past decade, Norway and Indonesia have met annually — at the political level — to discuss a broad range of issues, including human rights and the democratic institutions needed to create a just and prosperous society.

Arriving in Bali I have just attended, as the first Norwegian foreign minister ever, the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Vientiane, Laos. There, too, human rights were on the agenda.

While some of our positions in human rights questions may differ, there is agreement that robust institutions are needed to promote broad participation, free speech and the rule of law. The vigor of the ASEAN Human Rights Commission and the push to finalize the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration depend in no small part on Indonesian efforts.

A human-rights based democracy is not only morally right, it also pays off. Having just visited Myanmar, a country undergoing an important and political transition, it is worth noting the Speaker of the Myanmar National Assembly, Thura U Shwe Mann’s statement to the BBC last month. His message was simply: Myanmar chose to move towards democratic government because “we saw that democracies were more successful”.

The promotion of women’s rights is a good example of this. In Norway today, the net value of the economic participation of women is estimated to be more important for our current standard of living than all our significant oil and gas revenues combined. In other words, women’s rights are not just important for women; they are in everybody’s interest.

In the face of an active citizenry, gaining a voice through a free and vibrant press, a government will respond to the popular will or find itself out of power. A strong and effective government becomes even better when interacting with a strong civil society.

Yet democracy must be more than majority rule. The real test of democracy is a society’s ability to protect and respect its minorities. This test is relevant for all countries, Norway and Indonesia included.

Democracy requires a constant effort to include all groups in society. Its strength can be measured by the opportunity for equal participation in politics by all individuals in a society, regardless of ethnic origin, religion or belief, gender, sexual orientation or political adherence.

At the outset of this year’s Bali Democracy Forum, I am glad to note that the expanding relationship between Indonesia and Norway is based on a shared belief that a democracy firmly founded on human rights is the best guarantee for social stability and economic prosperity in the long run.

 

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