“The path to democracy is rocky for Southeast Asia. It is dangerous when the new generations emerging to take power are not instilled with democratic values”.
The 30th ASEAN Summit in Manila shows that, while ASEAN has made remarkable achievements over five decades, there are doubts on the future of this regional organization and the region. Southeast Asia is diverse: a fragmented state of democratic development, and different political values. Since the 2007 Charter, ASEAN has pursued political and democratic reforms, albeit at a slow pace, under the umbrella of the ASEAN Community. Some principles of the Charter have not been implemented and are neglected by some member states: human rights, democracy, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. Now, as it celebrates its 50th anniversary, there is concern over the stagnant or regressive process of democratization in the region. In the Philippines, the host country, Duterte’s war on illegal drugs is a major assault on human rights. Doubts grow over democracy in the Philippines. Human rights groups speak of “crimes” against humanity. Indonesia is tested by the growing role of religion as a political tool. Ahok, the popular Chinese Christian Governor of Jakarta lost his re-election bid due to blasphemy accusations, signaling the uncertain future of secular democracy. In 2014, Jokowi’s presidential victory was seen as a healthy sign for democratic institutions; but the growing influence of Islamist groups is destabilizing Indonesia’s democracy. In Malaysia, suppression of dissent has reached an alarming rate in the midst of the massive 1MDB corruption scandal. The military coups in Thailand destroy democracy. Myanmar started a positive trajectory, with leader Aung San Suu Kyi ending half-a-century of military control. But Suu Kyi is criticized for not speaking out against violence targeting Rohingya Muslims.