Asian NGOs ‘concerned’ for Indonesian democracy

indonesia etcOn the eve of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s final Bali Democracy Forum, an international network of pro-democracy groups issued a statement criticizing setbacks in the country’s democracy, Handoko Nikodemus writes for the Rappler:

The Seoul-based Asian Democracy Network (ADN) said the controversial passage of the Regional Elections Law – which removes the right of Indonesians to directly elect their governors, mayors and district heads – “affects negatively the Indonesian reputation as a champion of democracy in Asia recent years”.

The statement is a blow to Yudhoyono, who initiated the annual forum in 2008 to showcase Indonesia’s successful transition to a democracy and provide a platform for dialogue and cooperation.

ADN said its statement was in solidarity with the 11 Indonesian civil society organizations that declined invitations to the first Bali Civil Society Forum, which took place Wednesday and Thursday, October 8-9, ahead of the 7th inter-governmental Bali Democracy Forum on Friday and Saturday….


Is ‘civil society’ imperialistic?

russia_civilsociety_HRW“Civil society imperialism” is a term bandied about by the world’s authoritarian regimes and illiberal democracies, analyst John Lloyd writes for Reuters.

Russia is the main suspect state here. Its 2012 Foreign Agents Law forces all NGOs that are registered or receive money from abroad to register as a foreign agent, a designation that carries overtones of espionage and treachery, he notes:

In a speech to actual – domestic – agents of the Federal Security Service in February 2013, Putin said that “any direct or indirect interference in our internal affairs, any form of pressure on Russia, our allies and partners is unacceptable.” The Russian president apparently believes that organizations that advocate for human and civil rights, campaign against ecological damage and support such causes as feminism and gay rights are foreign-funded attempts to weaken the Russian state.

China, whose leader Xi Jingping is said to be an admirer of Putin, is also bearing down hard on anything that smacks of civil society. Earlier this week, the Washington Post reported that the climate for civil-society bodies in China has become much more wintry, quoting one unnamed manager in the office of an international NGO as saying that, “there has been an increase in the number of meetings, and an increase in the number of departments who want to speak to you. The questions have become more pointed. ‘So what are you really doing?’ That’s the question you get all the time.”

But it’s not just the usual state suspects questioning the value of a civil society. India, which rejoices in the name of the world’s largest democracy, is suspicious of it, too. Earlier this year, Narendra Modi, the country’s new prime minister, took delivery of a report by a domestic security service that contended foreign NGOs were fronts for foreign interests and were responsible for a loss of 2 percent to 3 percent of economic growth.

“Civil society organizations can be big pains for the most open of governments,” Lloyd adds. “They can be unfair, shrill and mindlessly militant. But they are as fundamental to a real democracy as regular elections: to detach civility from elections is to court the loss of both.”


Indonesia: third-largest democracy votes to become less democratic


Credit: NDI

Credit: NDI

Lawmakers in the world’s third-largest democracy voted Friday to make their country less democratic, the Wall Street Journal’s Ben Otto reports:

Indonesia’s legislature passed a bill ending direct elections for regional leaders, dealing an early setback for incoming President Joko Widodo, who opposed the measure.

Lawmakers squared off for hours Thursday night and into Friday morning, finally voting 226-135 to end the direct election of hundreds of regional leaders such as governors and mayors in the Southeast Asian nation. The measure would empower elected regional councils to appoint them instead. Indonesia’s presidency would still be chosen in direct elections by voters every five years.

The bill will become law within 30 days, unless current President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono moved to bring it into effect more quickly.

The move by the House of Representatives at nearly 2 a.m. Friday, in the waning hours of its five-year term, was viewed by analysts as political payback after the recent presidential election victory of Joko Widodo, the popular governor of Jakarta and a two-time provincial mayor, the New York Times adds:

Guo Feixiong case a ‘dark verdict on China’s future’


guo feixiongDissident writer and human rights legal activist Guo Feixiong (left), was detained in August of 2013, formally arrested two months later for “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place,” and finally allowed access to legal representation in November of 2013. The New York Times reports that the activist’s trial is expected to begin on Friday, and that his lawyers and family are expecting conviction and imprisonment, China Digital Times reports:

The charges against Yang Maodong and Sun Deshang stem from their involvement in organizing support for Southern Weekly staff members who protested against censorship at the paper in early 2013. The upcoming trial will be the latest in the Xi administration’s ongoing drive to stifle China’s nascent civil society.

With the trials of Gu and other rights advocates, “the Chinese government has sent a clear signal to society: For citizens to demand their rights is a form of provocation, an attack, and the state will repress such behavior without restraint. There is a zero-sum relationship between the government’s repressive system and the people’s basic rights; there is no longer flexibility,” notes Xiao Shu, the pen name of Chen Min, a researcher at the Transition Institute in Beijing.

The government is afraid of a “color revolution” and has reportedly sent agents to Russia and Central Asia to study how to prevent such events, Chen writes for the Wall Street Journal:

Beijing’s newly established National Security Commission has apparently investigated foreign-funded nongovernmental organizations in China, and several well-known NGOs are now at risk. All of which exposes one thing: The Chinese authorities are fearful. The power of civil society in China is growing. The public’s rights consciousness is awakening. Yet our civil society is still extremely weak compared with the world’s strongest ruling state.

The Chinese authorities’ overconfidence in hard power and underconfidence in soft power has rendered them incapable of assessing the situation objectively. So officials are fearful and treat the slowly growing rights movement as a mortal enemy. They probably don’t realize that this extreme policy has antagonized people on all sides, stimulating powerful counterforces.

If the government gives no space to the people, it cannot expect the people to give it space in return. If the government gives no retreat route to civil society, it cannot expect civil society to offer a retreat route in return. The government’s imagined “hostile forces” and “color revolution” will turn into self-fulfilling prophecies. If the authorities don’t change direction, they will eventually reap what they sow.


Ukraine’s options: capitulate, fight or consolidate

ukrainesolidarnoscUkraine must choose between three options: capitulate, fight or consolidate, argues Taras Kuzio, a research associate at the Canadian Institute for Ukrainian Studies.

The first option entails acceptance of Putin’s de facto demand for Donbas “statehood” inside Ukraine. Such a state, which he has called New Russia using the Tsarist name for eastern and

southern …It would be political suicide for any Ukrainian president, including Petro Poroshenko, to agree to transform Ukraine into a second Belarus. He would come under intense pressure from Yulia Timoshenko, Euromaidan civil society and the nationalists who fill the ranks of the volunteer battalions.

A second option would be for Ukraine to regroup its forces and re-launch military and partisan attacks against Russian and separatist forces. No western government questions Ukraine’s right to use all methods available to regain control of its territory but such a strategy would be difficult to pursue without western military assistance, advice, training and intelligence….

A third option supported by some western Ukrainian intellectuals and outlined by Alexander J Motyl of Rutgers University calls for rebuilding Ukraine without the Donbas and ultimately Crimea. …

The choice today is not between a united Ukraine fully in the Western camp, or a Ukraine which has lost part of its territory to Russia, argues Anatol Lieven, a professor at Georgetown University and the author of “Ukraine and Russia: A Fraternal Rivalry.”

As recent military developments have demonstrated, the first outcome is simply not going to happen, he writes for the New York Times:

The choice is between a Ukraine with an autonomous Donbass region, along with a real chance of developing the country’s democracy and economy in a Western direction, or a Ukraine which will be mired in a half-frozen conflict that will undermine all hopes of progress. The way out of this disaster is obvious — if only Western governments have the statesmanship and courage to take it.

“Of our three options, the outcome of the first would be to transform Ukraine’s president into a

Russian suzerain,” Kuzio writes for the Financial Times.

“The second and third options are more palatable to Ukraine’s leaders but would require western military assistance,” he suggests. “Which of the three options Ukraine opts to pursue will have a profound impact on European security and the west’s relations with Russia.”