Pluralism in a Democratic Southeast Asia
There have been several debates over issues on the relation between democracy and pluralism. First, debates on pluralism are linked to the issue of democracy and the fulfilment of basic human rights and people’s welfare through equal access to resources. Another debate focuses on the link between pluralism and democracy involving the role of secondary groups (e.g. opposition groups, minority groups) and cross-cutting affiliations between differing groups in inhibiting or supporting democracy. Newer forms of plural identities (e.g. LGBT), and the development of pluralism in various domains (economic pluralism, legal pluralism, religious pluralism, age-based pluralism etc.) is a topic that would be of interest to the conference, especially its relationship with changing Southeast Asian societies in the twenty-first century.
Based on the differing perspectives on pluralism and the development of various forms of pluralism in the present period, this panel seeks to answer questions such as: What links exist between pluralism and democracy? Is pluralism necessary to achieve democracy? What kinds of pluralisms (e.g. economic pluralism, gender pluralism, facilitate/inhibit the formation of a democratic nation? Through what mechanisms do these different kinds of pluralisms allow the formation of a democratic nation? How do pluralist policies advocate equality and citizenship rights to secondary groups? How does Southeast Asia provide a (historical, economic, political, social) context(s) which enables the possibility of pluralism and democracy existing together? How does it support the process of (re)building stronger and stable nation states?
Challenges to Democracy
Challenges to the implementation of democracy have always been significant to every state in Southeast Asia. The rise of national populism, communal conflicts, religious revivalism, terrorism and violent anti-liberal movement against multiculturalism and pluralism point to the fragile state of democracy in the region. Human rights violation, anti-plural movements, the rise of nationalist ideologies all pose challenge to the democratization process. These changes have resulted in a rethinking of the basic value of democracy within many ASEAN countries. As several examples may be drawn: Thailand with its revert back to military rule, the leadership of President Duterte in Philippines, rampant corruption in Indonesia and Malaysia.
Whether the project of liberal democracy and its accoutrements; the creation of vibrant, multicultural societies, the acceptance of new and plural identities (i.e. LGBT, etc.) and the increasing irrelevance of the national identity and its borders are something that is coming to fruition or in fact being undone in Southeast Asia, is a pressing question that needs to be discussed. With the variety of differing national contexts and its histories, the challenge of democracy is also varied and different from one society to the next. This panel is dedicated to draw the kind of democracy that Southeast Asia should develop and the kinds of values that may survive in ASEAN’s twenty-first century are the main questions of the theme.
Welfare and Poverty in an Unequal Society
The Asian Financial Crisis of 1997-1998 brought Southeast Asia to seek for alternative models to promote sustainable and equitable economic growth. Then, the idea of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) was introduced. The assumption was that the region would achieve economies of scale and increased competitiveness through integration that would benefit everyone in the region. However, the AEC dream is easier said than done, showing that aside from the physical infrastructure, domestic policy reforms in trade, investment climate and labor markets are difficult because national political goals are often at odds.
This specific panel is aimed to gather thoughts on how to overcome those challenges. Specifically, it is expected to contextualize and bring up the various issues related to the region’s economic integration, its difficult implementation in the various states and whether such measures would result in decreasing the widening wealth gap.
Equality and New Categories of Discrimination
The term equality is mostly related but not limited to the issue of gender, economic, racial, and age equality and its forms of discrimination. Yet there are numerous cases of inequality that are outside the legal framework touched upon. The Southeast Asian tendency to provide preferential treatment on seniority bounded with the idea of the wise elders, has resulted in ageism that discriminates against the younger generation. Economic inequality as shown in the rising Gini Coefficient number in all Southeast Asian countries shows greater wealth disparity between the rich and the poor. Along with problem regarding new forms of inequality, such as, new religious movements and identities that originally grew from within the region (i.e. Mama Eden in Indonesia) or outside of the region (i.e. Shiism), new sexual identities (i.e. LGBT), new economic forms of discrimination (i.e. contract labour), and so forth. Thus, the question of equality in Southeast Asia is not merely one of asking what should be done to create equitable conditions, but also what kinds of inequality that are categorically outside of the discussion on the topic. This panel is aimed to explore those categorical rethinking of discrimination and inequality in the context of twenty-first Southeast Asian societies.
Climate Change and its challenges
Despite the richness of environmental resources, South-East Asia countries have been facing a threat to the management of their environment, especially considering environmental degradation under the effect of climate change. In the last 20 years, there has been an acceleration of environmental degradation such as biodiversity loss, pollution, deforestation, extreme drought and flooding, coral reef destruction, urbanization, waste management, etc. due to massive un-sustainable development in this region. Countries in this region are vulnerable to effect of sea-level rise such as increasing heat extremes, tropical cyclones; ocean warming and acidification, as many are archipelagoes located within a tropical cyclone belt and have relatively high coastal population densities. An extreme climatic event such as long drought in Indonesia has brought consequences on the frequent occurrences of peat-fires which cause various health, economic, environmental as well as biodiversity problems. Extreme events will also endanger the livelihood of most people in this region, mainly farmers. Furthermore, countries in this region have been hampered by the fact that understanding the causal factors, effects, and process accelerating environmental degradation under the climate change are still uncertain due to the complexity of tropical ecology. The challenge of the management of environmental degradation under climate change does not only belong to a single country, but needs to be taken seriously together for effective environmental management. Therefore, it is urgently needed to distill the most prominent factors that contribute to environmental degradation under climate change and find effective solutions through various partnerships.
Food Security and the Future of Southeast Asia
Food security has continually emerged as one of the most prominent problems faced by the global community. Food security remains uncertain and unstable at various levels: the national, regional and global level. This has serious impacts, such as the widespread incidence of under nutrition, malnutrition, hunger and possible starvation. One of the causes of food insecurity in many developing countries (including Asian countries) is the conversion of massive amount of agricultural land to accommodate an increasing demand for industrial development, services, housing complexes, public facilities and other purposes. This calls for a strategy that ensures a healthy and productive agricultural sector, including economic and policy changes that support investment in agriculture. These investments include providing support for small-scale farmers to increase local food products and improving modern technologies on farms to improve sustainability – both socially and environmentally. There is also a need for appropriate funding to achieve sustainable agriculture, not only for the purpose of food production, but for income generating and to strengthen the livelihood of rural communities. Another issue that has come to the surface is climate change. Climate change will lead to higher frequency of extreme events such as drought, heat waves, flooding, severe storms and outreaks of plant diseases. Those impacts will in turn threaten food production and farming productivity on a global scale. Strategies of adaptation and mitigation on the impact of climate change is needed including increasing soil carbon sequestration through forestry and agro-forestry initiatives and tillage practices, improving efficiency of nutrient management and restoring degraded lands are among examples of these strategies. This panel seeks to discuss these issues in the Southeast Asian context, and generate ideas that will encourage strategies in achieving food security in Southeast Asia.
Challenges to Border Management
State border in contemporary Southeast Asia is basically a colonial construct in which the application of border maintenance frequently triggers conflict as well as delicate border security threat at border zones such as Abu Sayyaf activities and protracted unrest in Patani. One of the rooted causes is the existing trans-national social space that has been established far before the formation of modern nation-states following decolonization in the 1940s. For trans-national communities, it is the border that shifts around their mobility. On the one hand, state approaches to border security focuses on border maintenance which rely on the perspective of state territorial sovereignty and subjugate the idea of trans-national space. On the other, trans-nationalism has strengthened the construction of border itself. While regulation of state border at sea under the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is a modern invented concept since 1950s that overrule colonial construct, the logic of state to border maintenance proves to follow the colonial legacy. The state exercises the idea of territorialization of the sea to ensure their security at sea by taking threat perception in defining maritime security. In practice, compartment of state territorial sovereignty frequently generates conflict in trans-border (national) fishing. These issues will be addressed in this panel, seeking for possible strategies for the management of borders the midst of transnational flows of goods and people.