06 Dessember 2007
Democracy vital to ASEAN

Taufiqurrahman De Kdb, Illinois The logic behind the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community, which more than five decades later evolved into the European Union, was that it was conceived first to prevent Germany from using the two materials to build up its arsenal and start another conflagration
Another objective, one no less profound, was to safeguard capitalism and democracy in Western Europe.Europe's road to economic union was built on a foundation that had been cleared of undemocratic elements, fascism being the chief enemy.

And now one of the chief prerequisites for candidate countries to join the club (aside from having a sound macroeconomic situation) is that they should be democratic and respect human rights.

It may be safe for us to say that Turkey had problems joining the club, not because it is not regarded as part of Europe culturally, but simply because the Muslim country still has a strong extraconstitutional force that holds sway over its politics.

The logic is that you ought to have democracy first before you can start integrating your economies, not the other way around.

So supporters of democracy and free markets probably scratched their heads in bewilderment when country members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed to aim for a single market for the region.
The ASEAN Charter, signed by member country leaders in Singapore,

states that the grouping aims to create a single market and production base that is stable, prosperous, highly competitive and economically integrated.

The charter also foresees a future where there is a free flow of goods, service and investment; facilitated movement of business persons, professionals, talents and labor; and freer flow of capital.
After more than four decades, ASEAN's members have finally signed up to something that seems meaningful and concrete.

But if we hold the assumption that democracy is the foundation for a workable economic grouping, the current ASEAN project of economic integration will likely be a cumbersome one, if not difficult to achieve.

ASEAN suffers fromborrowing a term commonly used in the study of international economic organizations a "democratic deficit".

With the exception of Indonesia and the Philippines, none of ASEAN's members could be said to be democratic based even on the minimum requirements of a formal democracy, such as a competitive election.

ASEAN has a variety of regime types, ranging from oneparty states, a military junta, semi and pseudo democracies to a totally hermit kingdom that has shut itself off from the outside world.

In these countries, the management of economies is conducted not based on their adherence to democratic and marketbased principles. If anything, the type of capitalism that these Southeast Asian countries are based depends on the strong role of the state, through its intermediaries,
bureaucracy and party apparatus, which in itself contradicts the basic principles of marketled development.
The public, just like the market, have been left out of the process altogether.

In the Southeast Asian context there is a close connection between political elites and insulated domestic cartels, which runs deeper than the clientelism of the Northeast Asian development state. Indonesia, in spite of its democratic political arrangements these days, is no exception to this typology.

To give some examples, in Malaysia this type of capitalism was the result of enterprises controlled by bureaucrats who have close ties with the United Malay National Organization (UMNO).

In neighboring Singapore, the government used key holding companies such as Temasek, Singapore Technology and Health Corporation holdings to retain control over some of biggest corporate entities in Singapore.

Indonesia itself has a long history of state enterprises being used as means by which political leaders distribute resources to their clients.

This generalization also applies to other countries like the Philippines and Thailand. And predictably, the public is always completely left out in decisions concerning the distribution of resources. Hence, the term "democratic deficit"
without democracy, regimes are not accountable to any decision made involving the use and distribution of resources.

The absence of democracy has enabled the elite to run their countries' economies as they wish as long as it does not endanger their unholy economic alliances.
Would this elite let go of their privileges if the ASEAN market was integrated?

But should the elite of the ASEAN countries press on pursuing an open regionalism, its future would be as dismal as that of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), a regional economic grouping that lost its relevance years ago.

APEC was at its zenith when nondemocratic regimes in Southeast Asia were at the peak of their power (Indonesia's Soeharto, Malaysia's Mahathir Mohamad, Singapore's Lee Kwan Yew) and they saw that an open regionalism was one of ways to further their rentseeking activities at home.

But as the 1997 East Asian financial crises put into question the basic argument of the elitist development strategy, APEC seemed to be on the retreat and lost its early dynamism.

APEC is still in existence today but it seems to be plodding along with no destination to reach, with powerful members such as the United States standing on the sidelines, busy pursuing their own bilateral trade agendas.

As for ASEAN, we have to be realistic that China prefers to trade on a bilateral basis with individual country members. The challenge is all the more profound as China is bereft of any democratic credentials.

So if with democracy it took the EU more than 50 years to integrate itself, the process for ASEAN will take much longer if it happens at all.
The writer is a journalist at The Jakarta Post.

Source : The Jakarta Post, Page : 6 

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