by Achara Ashayagachat in the Bangkok Post, 29 July 2014

Democracy in any country cannot be attained only through the electoral system, but requires strong belief in protecting the moral, civic, and environmental integrity of society, an international seminar was told yesterday.

The talks were on the subject of “The State of Democracy and Social Movements: A Comparative Look at Asia, Europe, and Latin America.”

They were co-organised by the Focus on the Global South, Chulalongkorn University Social Research Institute (CUSRI), the Masters Programme in International Development Studies, the Rotary Peace Centre, and the Institute of Security and International Studies.

Alejandro Bendana, from Nicaragua’s Centre for International Studies, said that, like Thailand, most countries in Latin America have adopted electoral democracy, but still face massive social and economic inequality.

He said true democracy must go beyond the veneer of elections to protect the framework of society. Otherwise, economic growth underpinned by democracy might erode civic and human rights, he said.

Christophe Aguiton of Attac France, an organisation that proposes global cooperation as an alternative to economic globalisation, said democracy can take on many forms.

The people, not the elites in society, should have the final say about which tools are employed to achieve their goals.

“Public debate has been enlarged by the rise of the internet. However, we need to consider the potential drawbacks of any alternative models for civic participation and governance that are are exercised,” said Mr Aguiton, referring to voting, balloting, consensus, nominations, and other mechanisms of democracy.

Peter Rosset of Mexico’s Land Action Research Network said people’s belief in democracy was in decline because they felt electoral democracy has given them less control over their lives, with businesses able to more easily dispossess people from their land.

“There is a triangle of factors that people in Latin America don’t trust — political parties of whatever ideology end up exploiting indigenous resources; media corporations represent the interests of the elites and businesses; and US imperialism tries to intervene against the penetration of China and Russia while American influence deteriorates,” said Mr Rosset.

He also referred to the dilemma of social movements in Latin America, such as in Paraguay and Honduras, where intransigence among elites and intellectuals crippled and polarised the parliamentary system.

Baramee Chaiyarat, of the Assembly of the Poor, said the political conflict over the past few years had caused Thai social movements to lose out.

Some Thai NGOs support the military and have not learned from their experience with the 2006 coup that the military never listens to their demands, he said.

“I don’t understand why many civil society groups still care about the coup makers or want to participate in the reform panel and the drafting of new legislation,” said a core AOP member.

He claimed AOP members are threatened by soldiers, communities evicted from forests and fishermen sidelined for trawlers.


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