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Asean's Democratic Deficit
In a recent debate forum held in Jakarta, there was a perception that Indonesian political parties contesting the 2014 elections, pay no heed to the country?s readiness to face ASEAN Community 2015 as an important campaign issue.
In fact, however, the ASEAN Community 2015 is a topic of the public?s interest for both the legislative and presidential election next year for two reasons: (i) the impact of implementation of ASEAN single market in 2015 and (ii) the accountability and accessibility of ASEAN community.
For ordinary people, the dynamics of ASEAN lacks relevance. ASEAN Community only exists in the ASEAN leaders? imagination.
In Indonesia, where half of the 60,000 villages are without electricity, 116 million people lack access to proper sanitation and only 47.71 percent of the population has access to drinking water sources, most people will care more about their day-to-day survival than care to give room for thought on something as grand as ASEAN Community.
The reality is that ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), one of the three pillars of ASEAN Community 2015, is a potential economic monster. AEC comprises of five core elements: (i) free flow of goods; (ii) free flow of services; (iii) free flow of investment; (iv) free flow of capital and (v) free flow of skilled labor.
AEC is a very ambitious project and is becoming a two-edge sword: it can either bring prosperity for Indonesians or big failure. The removal of import duties will reduce state incomes and threaten local products. More factories are being moved to other ASEAN countries due to its cheap labor and making more Indonesians unemployed. Job competition is becoming fierce as many foreign workers are free to access the Indonesian labor market. The arrival of ASEAN giant industries will be considered a threat for our small and medium companies.
The interesting point of the impact of AEC is that ASEAN member states will prefer collective agreements with external actors. We knew about ASEAN-China Free Trade Area and ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Area. Later ASEAN countries will implement ASEAN-Korea Free Trade Area and negotiate ASEAN-EU Comprehensive Economic Partnership. Despite these agreements that have provoked intense debate on the advantage and the disadvantage; in the future there will be more agreement between ASEAN member states and their counterparts using ASEAN framework.
ASEAN Economic Community 2015 promises to make ASEAN a single market and production base. For external actors like China and Korea, this has a huge potential economic benefit to reap and for ASEAN member states, collective agreement in ASEAN framework will give them time and financial savings, bigger bargaining power and a bigger chance for win-win solutions. It is also in line with AEC blueprint that ASEAN shall work towards maintaining ?ASEAN centrality? in its external economic relations.
If ASEAN is getting bigger and bigger, who controls ASEAN? Who will be held responsible if ASEAN?s decisions create economic disaster to the whole region? The problem of accountability is even worse if we know that most of the Indonesian people are not aware of the presence of ASEAN.
Research conducted by Abdullah and Benny (2011) show that only 42 percent of Indonesian respondents claim to have heard of, or read about the ASEAN Community. Even in Jakarta, 71 percent of the respondents say they have not heard or read about the regional agenda. The number of respondents who claim to have read or heard about the Bali Concord II is even lower at only 16 percent. Meanwhile, the majority of respondents say they have not yet heard about the ASEAN Charter.
This is a democratic deficit; a situation refers to a perceived lack of accessibility to the ordinary citizens, representation of the ordinary citizens and accountability of certain institution. In the ASEAN case, people know nothing about ASEAN Community 2015 but sooner or later they will be affected by it. However, this problem is not unique to ASEAN. The notion of democratic deficit is firstly popularized by the European social scientists in regard to the idea of the European Union (EU). Having multi-layered, multi-centered, division-of-power governance, as the EU has right now, is a big puzzle for the ordinary Europeans on the accountability of the EU?s policies.
In Sweden, national politicians sometimes see how decisions come in through the back door. European politicians don?t talk about what?s being decided and the consequences. In France, leaders at the national level denied the significance of the EU institutions in national political economy and they named it an ?offensive denial?.
The problem of ASEAN?s democratic deficit needs to be addressed through three quick solutions to marketing ASEAN to its citizens. First, there should be an ASEAN corner in many public places where computers, leaflets, posters, booklets and reports are available. From a screen, citizens can access real-time information on all current ASEAN legislations and know and understand them by having attractive and simple leaflets, posters or booklets.
Second, ASEAN can invite college students, local non-governmental organizations (NGOs), or politicians to visit ASEAN institutions. Such a trip will allow them to feel the presence of ASEAN.
Lastly, candidates contesting the legislative and presidential election in 2014 should gain the momentum of the political events to market ASEAN Community 2015. There should be many forums, seminars and campaign toolkits about the plan of ASEAN Community 2015. These tools will help their constituents understand the impact and opportunities of ASEAN Community.
The writer is a lecturer in international relations at the Christian University of Indonesia (UKI) and researcher at the UKI?s Institute of ASEAN Studies (IAS) and Marthinus Academy.
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