0112. Democracy at a Crossroads : ประชาธิปไตย ณ ทางแยก
Democracy at a Crossroads
March 2, 2007
Prepared for delivery
Thank you for your kind introduction. I truly treasure this occasion to speak before this august institution and the opportunity to contribute in my very small way to the tasks and mission of the International Institute of Strategic Studies.
Thank you very much for inviting me this afternoon to talk about democracy in the land where the world-renowned Westminster model of parliamentary democracy has become a blue-print for many new democracies over the world;
where democratic values have, for centuries, formed the natural parts of the peoples everyday life and seem to be running in their blood;
where people seem to breathe, eat and sleep in democracy;
where the political culture is synonymous to democratic culture; and
where it would be impossible to imagine a way of life in the absence of democracy.
I am no longer a politician.
Nor do Ihave any intention to return to politics ever again.
But with years of observations and my own personal experiences in various positions in government, I became convinced that history has proved that, of all the systems of government, democracy has been more successful in bringing genuine economic and social development and better living standard to all people.
I believe in democracy because it can offer the dignity, the freedoms and the rights befitting the human race.
I believe in democracy because it is a system of government that can deliver peace and prosperity with the people and the electorate at its centre. And I believe in democracy because it can provide us with the most effective means to bring about social justice.
A democratically elected government can remain a government only if it serves the interests of its electorate.
Therefore, a democratic government must be committed to and capable of delivering happiness, prosperity, and well-being to their respective citizens.
How successfully, however, varies with and depends on a number of conditions.
Only when a government derives its authority through a democratically elected process and is subject to re-seeking the electorates mandate, does it earn legitimacy and benefit from the perspective that comes from that humility.
But when a government, on the other hand, derives its authority from other means, it may be tempted to apply all means to sustain its power and can often be under the delusion that only what is best for themselves is best for the country. Indeed, power can easily be found too attractive to let go.
The last two centuries, and more particular the last century saw democracy flourished in number.
But we saw no single pattern of democratic government to offer as the democratic form of government. Instead, democracy has been developed in each political environment in accordance with its respective historical and cultural context.
However, there must seem to exist certain criteria and requirements that must be inherent in a democratic process.
These are, for instance, effective participation; voting equality; free, fair and frequent elections; freedom of expression, access to different and alternative sources of information, freedom of association, etc.
The post war years since 1945 saw the biggest surge in the number of new democracies, many of which were the legacy of decolonization and the influence of western democracies that the colonial powers left behind.
Throughout those 60 years after the war, the world witnessed a great number of successes in the adoption of democracy and, equally, a great number of failures and collapses of democracy in various parts of the world.
While the century became the most flourishing period for democracy in human history, as Professor Robert Dahl suggested in his book On Democracy, there were more than seventy instances of democratic breakdown that gave way to an authoritarian regime.
Democracy, whatever advantages one can argue in its favour, has experienced its ups and downs in countries in all corners of the world. So democracy may be said to be constantly at a crossroads. In non-democratic countries, the advantages and disadvantages of democracy never find conclusion.
In newly democratized countries, democratic institutions may be strengthened or undermined as the case may be so that democracy is firmly established in one and thrown out in the other.
In old democracies, questions are often asked if there is the need to deepen democracy and if democracy begins to be too much taken for granted.
There always a question of where do we go further in our steps of democratic development; which route to take at a crossroads.
As the newly democratized countries are greater in number, especially since the collapse of former Eastern European bloc in the late 80s and early 90s, we can learn to improve the prospect of stable democracy by encouraging a democratic political culture in such countries.
We can help promote democracy in newly democratized countries by pointing out the relation between prosperity and democracy and how a representative democracy can bring a more hospitable environment to the countries market economies.
In other words, we must help them take the proper turn if they are struck at the crossroads.
On my part, I truly believe that real economic prosperity cannot be sustained over the long term without democracy.
In both a democracy and a market economy, in order to succeed, freedoms must be protected. Where freedoms are protected, there is transparency, accountability and predictability.
These are all the elements for both economic and democratic stability.
I firmly believe that economic development is tied to a countrys sustained democratic governance.
As democracy grooms economic conditions for market economy to prosper, in the long-run such an economic growth will also turn favorable to strengthen democracy.
Growth will reduce poverty, improve living standards, and reduce social and political conflicts.
Growth will provide more resources to share and to utilize in education and welfare, which in turn will help strengthen democracy.
Across the globe, we see countries with vast natural resources and untapped intellectual opportunity, yet the populations live in poverty.
When leaders are not accountable to the people when they are not reliant on the acceptance of their decisions by a majority of the population those nations remain immobilized and stagnant.
Democracy breeds creativity. The exchange of ideas that comes from free speech and free expression creates an economic engine from within the people.
And this linkage between democracy and economic development impacts the very development of civilization.
If we look back at centuries of old democracies which exist predominantly in Europe, we may find that in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, militarization preoccupied the system and mechanism of government.
Prestige became the objective.
The nineteenth century saw the arrival of industrialization where wealth creation surpassed prestige.
But today the western world is leading the new era of informationization where the creation of knowledge has become the source of wealth and prestige.
Countries in Asia, Africa and South America that have not attained their democratic development to benefit from the new era of informationization will find it hard to do well economically and risk jeopardizing their democratic stability. Western Democracies, on the other hand, are already engaged in setting up a strategy to optimize the era of informationization.
Such strategy will create a better chance for citizens of these countries with freedom of expression to accumulate information and build an information strategy for their economic benefits.
It is therefore important that the European Union which has championed successes in strengthening democracy in their member countries can offer help and assistance to many of these newly democratized countries from the vast pool of EU experiences.
The success of the European countries in building both democracy and prosperous economies on the ashes of the Second World War stands as one of the singular achievement of the last century.
And to have built on that by forging a political and economic union represents a victory of hope and dreams over history and tragedy.
This is the example of how robust democracies can bring economic prosperity.
There are many places around the world where Europe can offer the lessons it has learned, nowhere more so than for those countries that are at a crossroads in their democratic development.
They need assistance to ensure that they do not set off in the wrong direction or are led astray.
For Asia, in my view, Europe should continue to engage Asian nations with sensitivity, respect and vision and to reinforce its support of democracy.
Your engagements will ensure that our shared visions and goals stand a greater chance of success. Asia and Europe can enhance and accelerate the synergy between economic development and democratic government in Asia.
We can certainly do more to promote good governance for both economic and democratic advancement.
In Southeast Asia in particular, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN is taking an important step to reaffirm our commitment to democracy and economic freedom.
After 40 years since its inception, ASEAN is working on the drafting of the first ASEAN Charter. The Eminent Persons Group representing all the 10 member countries of ASEAN to draft the Charter has recommended a provision in the new Charter stipulating that peace and stability of Southeast Asia depends on, and I quote, the active strengthening of democratic values, good governance, rejection of unconstitutional and undemocratic changes of government, the rule of law including international humanitarian law, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
While some of us in Southeast Asia are not open democracies to date, they understand this is the way forward.
More time may be needed for democratic values to be ingrained in our region as they are in Europe today, but the future direction for us is clear.
Just as further political and economic integration in our region is a certainty, so too is increased adherence to democratic values.
Democracy is no longer a luxury for our region, but a necessity. WE need democracy to give us confidence that when crises happen as they always will - our individual economic and political institutions will be strong enough to be able to work together as a whole to find stable solutions.
After all, it makes little sense to seek closer economic cooperation whether through treaties or simply through individuals working together in the free market if all that can be placed in jeopardy by even a single country that lags behind in fostering a democratic and stable government.
And now if I may, let me say a few words about Thailand.
Above all, I want you to know that I remain strongly optimistic and hopeful about my countrys future. Let me tell you in brief why I feel this way.
Thailand first established our democratic institutions in 1932.
Since then through 17 constitutions and various political disturbances the roots of democracy have held firm amongst the Thai people.
Across the country, people still want to see the direct accountability that comes from elections.
They began to understand the close linkage between economic development and democracy.
When I took office as Prime Minister in 2001, 12.5 million people in Thailand were living below the poverty line.
By last September, that number had dropped to 7.5 million still far too many but we were heading in the right direction.
Despite one of the most devastating natural disasters in recent history the 2004 tsunami the GDP of Thailand has increased almost 50 percent in the last five years and we are now a creditor country.
After suffering the effects of the Asian financial collapse of 1997, we managed against all odds to repay our IMF debt two-years ahead of schedule.
We took care to ensure that the rural poor had access to capital so that the funding of local projects and the pride that comes with managing ones own income within the local community was within the reach of all Thais.
By strengthening the Thai economy from the bottom up, we strengthened our overall domestic economy which in turn increased foreign investment.
So perhaps you can understand why I remain optimistic about my countrys future.
I am certain that the resilience of the Thai people will serve to restore and continue economic prosperity once democracy is returned to Thailand.
And I believe very strongly that the good heartedness that characterizes the Thai people will enable Thailand to undertake soon a period of national reconciliation. But most important of all is the benevolent leadership and wisdom of our most beloved King. I know all Thais are grateful for His Majestys 60 years of hard work toward the wellbeing of the country.
Nothing can express that gratitude more deeply than making sure that our nation and its people are reconciled and are determined to work together for further collective well-being.
The restoration of democracy sooner rather than later will facilitate that progress.
And to all of you, as our friends, I note that when we were struck by the 1997 crisis you stood with us and were patient with us on our road to recovery.
You have seen our resilience and our determination to return to business as usual.
And we did.
We even have done it better than many had expected.
I am very certain that at this new crossroads we will again take the best turn for Thailand.
Thank you for your attention. I would be pleased to take any questions.
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