Introduction: What is Southeast Asian Democracy?

As Southeast Asians, we all agree that we should have rule of the people, but we disagree on whether it is actually occurring. Thus, what is in dispute is not whether we should be democracies but what democracy is, and how it should be defined and practised in Southeast Asia. What, then, is Southeast Asian democracy? What should it be?

This article is part of our Principles of Democracy series.

Democracy as a concept is over 2,500 years old. The term first appeared in the 5th century BCE and, translated literally, means “rule of the people”, in contrast to aristocracy, meaning “rule of an elite”. This reflects a problem as old as humanity itself: how to govern ourselves effectively while preventing those who have power from abusing it. Today, every single Southeast Asian government claims to act on behalf of, and for the benefit of, the people. All of them claim to be democracies, in the broadest sense. But do we, the people of Southeast Asia, feel that our governments govern for our benefit? Do our governments genuinely represent us, and are our voices heard or taken into account?

Even as they claim to govern for and on behalf of the people, and even as their genuine representatives, many Southeast Asian leaders will, in the same breath, dismiss democracy as being “foreign” or “Western”, or reject the universality of democracy. But they do not outright reject democracy. Instead, they argue that they practise a form of democracy unique to their local context. This is epitomised by the 1993 Bangkok Declaration, signed by every functioning Southeast Asian government at the time, which affirmed the universality, objectivity, and non-selectivity of human rights while simultaneously arguing for different priorities and applicabilities in individual contexts.

For Southeast Asia’s nationalist leaders, democracy appears to be a very flexible concept.  When Southeast Asian countries were colonies or immediately after independence, our anti-colonial activists, political leaders, and nationalists argued for democracy as universal, inalienable, and undeniable. In 1945, in the Vietnamese Proclamation of Independence, Ho Chi Minh quoted the American Declaration of Independence (1776) and the Declaration of the French Revolution on the Rights of Man and the Citizen (1791) and commented,

“All the peoples on the Earth are equal from birth, all the peoples have a right to live, to be happy and to be free… Those are undeniable truths.”

In 1955, as an opposition leader, a young Lee Kuan Yew declared,

“If you believe in democracy, you must believe in it unconditionally. If you believe that men should be free, then, they should have the right of free association, of free speech, of free publication. Then, no law should permit those democratic processes to be set at nought.”

The same year, Soekarno declared at the opening of the Asian-African Conference in Bandung,

“Let us remember that the highest purpose of man is the liberation of man from his bonds of fear, his bonds of human degradation, his bonds of poverty – the liberation of man from the physical, spiritual and intellectual bonds which have for too long stunted the development of humanity’s majority.”

Yet once these same leaders faced disagreement, they began silencing those who disagreed with them. Democratic rights began to be stripped away. As early as the very next year, 1956, Soekarno was backtracking and arguing for “guided democracy”, with political power centralised in the hands of a few key figures. Political dissent was suppressed, democratic institutions undermined, and corruption and authoritarianism spread. On becoming Prime Minister in 1959, Lee Kuan Yew proceeded to lock up his opponents, remove checks and balances on his power, and pass laws giving his government the ability to intervene intimately in people’s lives with no accountability. As President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, the government under Ho Chi Minh suppressed opposition, controlled the media, and restricted freedom of speech. In pursuit of land reform, political opponents were often jailed or executed, particularly during the land reform campaign of the 1950s, where accusations of being a “landlord” could result in the confiscation of property, public humiliation, or even execution.

Artwork by Karin Josephine.

But even so, all three Southeast Asian leaders and their regional counterparts continued to do these things in the name of the people. They silenced their citizens, took away their rights, and terrorised them… all for, they claimed, the benefit of the people. They monopolised power and removed accountability, checks, and balances… all because, they claimed, they (and no others) represented the people. The principle that the Southeast Asian government is for the people, by the people, and of the people, then, is widely accepted. Whether the government is an absolute monarchy (Brunei), controlled by a single party (Vietnam, Singapore), controlled by the military (Thailand, Myanmar), or is passed between oligarchic elites (Philippines), all claim to represent the “the people”. The argument made by elites is not that Southeast Asian countries do not need democracy, but that they already are democracies. Thus, Southeast Asian leaders do not deny democracy but instead argue they practise a local form of democracy, sensitive and appropriate to the local context of Southeast Asia.

But definitions of democracy are deeply contested across Southeast Asia. Across the region, politicians, activists, civil society, lawyers, academics, and many other people from very different walks of life have very different conceptions of what Southeast Asian democracy is and what it should be. Judging by recent elections alone, voters are making discontent clear. In Malaysia, voters voted in a reformist government in 2018, watched it lose power through political manoeuvring in 2020, and promptly voted it back in again in 2022. In Thailand, despite a decade of military rule, reformist political parties trounced pro-military parties in the March 2023 General Election. Protests against Presidents Duterte and Marcos Jr. in the Philippines have drawn up to a million people. Across Southeast Asia, many voices routinely and vociferously disagree with authoritarian elites. These voices are frequently silenced and marginalised, but the persistence of their existence suggests that the disagreement is widespread and deep-rooted.

This series thus starts from this premise: As Southeast Asians, we all agree that we should have rule of the people, but we disagree on whether it is actually occurring.

Thus, what is in dispute is not whether we should be democracies but what democracy is, and how it should be defined and practised in Southeast Asia.

What, then, is Southeast Asian democracy? What should it be?  

Often, the fact that elections occur is held as sufficient proof that democracy exists. But, as the history of Southeast Asia shows, democracy is far more than mere elections. Elections occurred when we were colonies of European empires, but we were not democracies then. Those elections excluded many people and produced unrepresentative and unaccountable governments. Many elections today are neither free nor fair nor produce representative governments. So what else is needed to make a democracy? 

This series takes a problem-solving approach: given our local context and challenges, what principles should define Southeast Asian democracy? We start by proposing four main challenges and 12 principles to address them. But we also argue that it is insufficient to have these 12 principles. We believe that how you act also determines the quality of your democracy. We argue that democracy is a living process and a set of norms and values, not a destination to be arrived at or a set of rules or institutions. Democracy is complicated, constantly evolving, and collectively negotiated. It involves trade-offs and difficult choices, and thus requires all of us to participate and play a role. Democracy is not merely a matter of demanding clean and fair elections but is part and parcel of everyday life. To go from subjects or slaves to free people, we must collectively create the Southeast Asia we want. 

Accordingly, this series is not a statement or a manifesto, but a collective discussion. We aim to build a working definition of what Southeast Asian democracy is and how to practise it through discussion, consultation, and iteration. We hope that all Southeast Asians will join us in collectively building a working and living definition of Southeast Asia, together.

Artwork by Karin Josephine.

Why Democracy?

Whenever two or more people get together, decisions inevitably need to be made about how scarce resources should be used. Within a family, such questions may include how to spend your money or time (“What house do we buy/rent?”, “Where should we eat dinner?”, “What should we do for fun this weekend?”). To satisfy everyone, we make decisions in a way that ensures everyone’s needs are met, everyone’s opinions are respected, and everyone’s interests are addressed. Not everyone may be happy with a decision, but we can accept that the decisions we make have been discussed in a fair manner and all views have been considered.

Countries have far more complicated and complex issues to consider, but the fundamental problem is the same. There are scarce resources, such as land, money, and time. How do we use these resources? To best use them, we need to think collectively, not selfishly. But no matter what we decide, trade-offs have to be made. Some people will not like the decision and be unhappy. Some people will benefit more than others from the decision. But for people to accept the decisions, they have to understand why the decision is made, accept that the process through which the decisions are made is fair, and trust that all people have had the opportunity for their views to be heard. 

Governments exist, at their most basic level, to enable us to pool our resources and give power to a body dedicated to solving collective problems which affect all of us. While there is no perfect system for making and implementing decisions, democracy has been shown—throughout all of human history and among all systems of governance—to be the most successful way for governments to make and implement collective decisions and achieve the best outcomes. The benefits of being part of a democracy often depend on various factors beyond the control of governance, such as geography, natural resources, and cultural factors. But in general, researchers have found that the benefits of being part of a democracy include:

  1. Greater Economic Growth: Studies have shown that democracies tend to have better economic performance over the long term. This is due, in part, to transparency, accountability, and stability, which are attractive to investors and businesses.
  2. Better Public Services: Democracies tend to have better public services, including education and healthcare. Elected representatives have an incentive to improve public services to satisfy their constituents and secure their re-election.
  3. Greater Equality: Democracies often exhibit lower levels of income inequality compared to authoritarian regimes, as policies tend to be more balanced towards the needs of the general population, not just a privileged elite.
  4. Better Health and Higher Life Expectancy: Democratic countries tend to have better health outcomes and higher life expectancies. This is likely due to better public health services and policies aimed at improving living conditions for all citizens.
  5. Better Protection of Individual Rights and Freedoms: Democracies typically protect individual rights and freedoms, leading to a higher level of personal satisfaction, happiness, and quality of life. These freedoms can also foster creativity and innovation.
  6. Peace and Stability: Democracies are less likely to go to war with each other, leading to greater regional and global stability. Within their borders, democracies also tend to be more peaceful as they provide outlets for political dissent and conflict resolution through non-violent means.
  7. Higher Levels of Education: Democratic societies often emphasise the importance of education and invest in their educational systems, leading to higher literacy rates and greater opportunities for social mobility.
  8. Cleaner Environments: Democracies, particularly those with high levels of public participation, tend to have stronger environmental protections and are more likely to take action on environmental issues.

In general, democracies are better run, more developed, more equitable, and happier places. These are general trends, not hard and fast rules, and there are always exceptions. There are also authoritarian states with good outcomes, although there are always issues. Singapore, for example, is cited as an authoritarian state with high levels of economic development, efficient bureaucracy and public services, and good quality education, but it also has high levels of poverty and inequality, poor social mobility, institutionalised racial and gender discrimination, high levels of mental health issues, and a government that turns a blind eye to the massive environmental impact of its development and economic activity.

Artwork by Karin Josephine.

What is Democracy?

The definition of democracy is deeply contested in Southeast Asia, but perhaps one way of approaching a working definition of democracy is to consider the challenges that democracy is meant to address. Accordingly, we should then design our system of governance to address the biggest obstacles towards making and implementing fair decisions, based in particular on the local challenges and conflicts of our region. We suggest four major governance challenges that Southeast Asian societies need to address: (1) ensure that decisions made represent all people, (2) incentivise good governance, (3) meet the needs of the people, including food, safety, and freedom from fear and hunger, and (4) be sensitive to the local context. The principles we propose accordingly address each of these challenges.

Representation of All People

A government has to genuinely represent all the people within its borders: otherwise it is not a government of the people but a colonial government. This is particularly difficult in Southeast Asia, perhaps the most diverse region in the world in terms of languages, ethnicities, and religions. It experiences extreme wealth inequality, and is geographically diverse, and thus has people living in extremely different circumstances. Nor is any of this static or mutually exclusive. Southeast Asia is also characterised by movement: it is a region sitting astride crossroads, shaped by migration and trade. In the pre-colonial era, the sea made travel easy and many people from maritime Southeast Asia saw the entire region as ‘home’, moving with the monsoons, rather than conceiving of a fixed abode. Today, even though many Southeast Asians have diverse ancestries, practise hybridised cultures, and speak multiple languages, notions of belonging and indigeneity are contested and deeply politicised.

In addition, the region remains defined by Western colonialism, which divided communities using arbitrary borders and created groups of winners and losers. Even as political independence liberated some groups, it preserved the oppression of others or created new oppressed groups. Central to any democratic approach should be an attempt to liberate all people from colonisation in all its forms.

In such a diverse region, how do we create a governing process that genuinely represents the voices of all people? The diversity of Southeast Asia means that specific goals cannot be hard-coded into the system: what people want, what they think, and what they need are very different across the region, and can also change drastically over time or in response to events. Any attempt to group people falls apart in the face of Southeast Asia’s diversity. Instead, the only way to address this administrative problem is by acknowledging that we are all different, and thus the only way to represent all people is by representation on the individual level—as opposed to by religion, ethnicity, or other identity markers. In any event, democracy is universal: it applies to everyone equally, whether citizen or refugee, whether indigene or migrant. 

The first goal of a government should thus be to achieve self-determination: all people have the right to determine their own lives, or to put it another way, the right to not be a slave and live your own life – but this also includes considering more prosaic elements such as food, shelter, and safety. In concrete terms, this means that people must be free to make choices which affect their own lives, but not to the extent that it interferes with someone else’s life or hurts another person. People must be able to spend time with those whom one chooses, to express one’s views and to develop one’s beliefs as one chooses. At the same time, for a government to function, we must also agree to give up a bit of our own freedom to the government so that it can act for all people. Therefore each of us must consent to be governed when giving up some of our freedom to the government, and have the opportunity to withdraw that consent. If we do not consent or cannot withdraw that consent, then we remain in a state of colonialism, governed by force, not by choice.

How do we decide who is part of a government? Who do we choose to run day-to-day governance and make the decisions? Countries are often too big for all citizens to gather together to decide questions of state and the public good. Indonesia comprises 17,000 islands and 280 million people; Vietnam is over 3,000km from north to south and covers 100 million people; the Philippines is 7,641 islands and 117 million people strong. Instead, a common way of solving this problem is through elected representation. We choose people, our representatives, to make decisions for us. These elections also form a way of giving and withdrawing consent. We ensure that our governments rest on the consent of the governed by routinely holding free, fair, and regular elections. Elections are also an opportunity for all people to debate and determine the future direction of their country as voters, to choose between different platforms. These elections must be run in a way which seeks to ensure that every person can vote freely, without fear or intimidation, and that each person’s vote counts equally.

Finally, how do these elected governments make decisions that represent the people? A commonly accepted method is majority rule, which ensures that when decisions are made, more people are in favour than against. But for a government to work for the collective good, it must still represent all the people within its borders. It must work to hear the voices of all the people, no matter how faint, weak, or even absent those voices are; and no matter how inconvenient it is to seek those voices out. In every decision it makes, no matter how many people positively benefit, someone will likely lose out. It has a duty, therefore, to carefully weigh up the costs and benefits and justify its decisions. It also has a responsibility to protect: even in areas where the government is not involved, it has a responsibility to protect minorities from the tyranny of larger groups. Equal to majority rule, then, is the protection of minority rights. This is particularly crucial as a bulwark against those who would use populism or xenophobic nationalism to advance their political agendas.

One idea that is often bandied about is for difficult trade-offs to be decided by disinterested technocratic experts, or even algorithms or artificial intelligence, but as history has shown, humans and algorithms all have inherent biases and gaps in their knowledge that can produce fatally flawed decisions. The only reliable way to ensure that the voices of all people are represented in the decision-making process is for all people, via their chosen representatives, to have equal seats at the decision-making table.

Good Governance

Southeast Asia is a region notorious for corruption, inefficiency, and self-serving elites, who abuse their power to silence their critics. Nearly all of Southeast Asia’s countries score extremely poorly in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index; All Southeast Asian countries are abysmal in their The Economist’s Crony Capitalism Index score; The World Bank’s Governance Indicators suggest widespread problems with governance and accountability across Southeast Asian countries. New Naratif’s own Citizens’ Agenda surveys repeatedly show that people are deeply concerned with a lack of transparency and accountability and corruption in Singapore and Malaysia—with a look at Indonesia to come. How do we ensure that governments are run fairly, justly, and efficiently for the collective good?

First, we need transparency about what our representatives have done. Only if we know what they have done, can we hold them to account for their actions. Governments must be held to a higher level of scrutiny than anyone else, because we grant them power over our lives: to make laws, spend our taxes, look after our security, and punish those of us who commit crimes, among other things. With great power comes great accountability.

Making it possible for people to have agency over their own lives, both privately and in public through politics, is not merely a matter of listing some important rights that we hold up as ideals. We also have to build mechanisms that work to protect those rights, divide power between various institutions which are independent of each other, and ensure checks and balances so that no one part of a government is too powerful. Some of the key mechanisms that countries use include written constitutions that identify the powers of government and how these should be wielded as well as limited; dividing the power of government into different branches, such as the executive, legislative, and judicial branches; as well as independent publicly funded organisations that scrutinise how power is used and wielded, like corruption watchdogs, the media, and financial authorities.

Democracy is about, among other things, protecting and advancing the collective good—but what is the collective good? “Development” is usually a shorthand for this idea that governments improve our lives. One oft-made argument is that economic needs are more important than mental, spiritual, or social needs, where the latter three should be sacrificed for the former. Raising physical living standards is important, but to argue that any one form of development—whether economic, social, cultural, spiritual, or political—can only come at the cost of other human needs is a false dichotomy. They are not mutually exclusive. Even if trade-offs happen, they must be sufficiently debated, scrutinised, and consented to by the people, in particular those affected. Equally, doing nothing can also be a valid choice. Finally, it is tempting to prioritise the short-term and immediate benefits of development over the long-term consequences, such as climate change. Representatives may have vested interests, or be incentivised to prefer certain forms of development over others or to act even when doing nothing is the best choice. Hence, to advance the collective good, development must be sustainable and equitable

Equity must also take place before the law. Justice, in its broadest sense, is the principle that people receive that which they deserve, regardless of social class, standing, or background. Governments endeavour to achieve this through independent courts, commissions on fairness, and also by trying to bake this ethos into every level of policy and decision-making. However, those with greater influence, means, or status are often more able to influence the system to their advantage. Those who write the rules or create the institutions often write and create these from their perspective and thus advantage themselves, whether consciously or unconsciously. Bias is inherent in any system which is created by humans, and we can only combat this by constantly broadening the range of voices to be represented in the system and scrutinising ourselves and the systems we create. Justice is therefore related to but is a separate issue from the rule of law, which is that laws are respected, obeyed, and enforced. Both are necessary: unjust laws undermine faith in the system, while justice without laws means that justice is not systematic and predictable.

Artwork by Karin Josephine.

Meeting the People’s Needs

All humans deserve to live lives of freedom, dignity, and mutual respect, as codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In Southeast Asia, countries have reaffirmed this commitment to upholding human rights in the abovementioned 1993 Bangkok Declaration. Some countries also later reaffirmed their commitment that “all human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated and must be treated globally in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing, and with the same emphasis” in The Cairo Declaration of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation on Human Rights in 2020 (which included Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia). 

These rights are universal, not merely limited to citizens or voters. This is an important distinction because governments often, in making decisions, prioritise those who can vote, or those who are citizens, over those who are not. For a country to be a democracy, it must take into account the basic rights of all those within its borders, not merely citizens alone, and treat them fairly, with respect and dignity.

Due to Southeast Asia’s most urgent challenges of authoritarianism and poverty, we choose to emphasise freedom from fear and hunger in particular. For a society to function, people need to be able and empowered to participate and act. They cannot be afraid that they will be punished for disagreeing with the government. They need to have the physical and mental time and space to participate in civic society. People need the freedom to speak, act, and associate with each other. 

Articulating and agreeing upon a broad set of fundamental rights and freedoms that all people will enjoy allows us to address these challenges, thus allowing people to pursue their dreams and most fulfilling lives free of government interference. These may be summarised as freedom of association, freedom of expression, and freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. These freedoms—to speak one’s mind, to be together with those whom one chooses, to control one’s own beliefs—are necessary if one is going to participate politically and to have a democratic government. These freedoms give us the chance to control our private lives, but they are also necessary tools of political participation.

Historical Awareness

If we are to contextualise democracy, we need to recognise that it does not exist in a vacuum. Democracy is universal, but it must be implemented with sensitivity to local contexts—while also being cognisant of how this line of reasoning has been misappropriated by the authorities. Every democracy describes its overarching goal slightly differently; it establishes its own priorities among the rights, especially when they come into conflict; and it arranges its institutions in ways that make sense to its people. For a democracy to be suitable and effective, it has to be grounded in local contexts. For that, we must understand that any system of governance does not start from a tabula rasa, but arises from local circumstances and historical causality. The past continues to shape the present in fundamental ways. There is a lot of historical baggage that makes democracy difficult, including the ongoing process of political, sociocultural, and spiritual decolonisation that is still underway in Southeast Asia. We need to have historical awareness of the context in which we operate.

In Southeast Asia, in particular, history is complex and continues to have an impact on how we live, act, think, behave, and govern today. For us to be able to have democratic governance, we must be able to be open and honest about our pasts and be aware of its impact on the present. We need to cast off destructive legacies, have open and honest conversations about the past, and strike a balance between truth, reconciliation, and justice. 

History also shows that democracy is never static. It constantly evolves and grows. It changes as people change. It expands as our capability to govern ourselves expands (e.g. with new technology). In the past, democracies routinely excluded certain groups, such as women, non-property-owners, or people not of certain races. Today, we see those views as archaic and erroneous. Likewise, in the past, democracy advocates in Southeast Asia would have focused more on economic freedom, due both to restrictions on economic freedom and a lack of awareness about how unrestrained capitalism is destructive towards the physical environment and human society. Today, we understand that development has to be sustainable and equitable.

Along those lines, history shows us that it is impossible to make an ironclad set of rules that apply to every situation. As people change, as technology changes, as the world changes, new situations arise. People also seek and exploit loopholes for selfish gain. Therefore, instead of putting forth a singular definition, we stress that democracy is a set of values and norms that must be constantly reinforced and renewed in a participatory fashion. It is not a set of rules or institutions which can be simply set once and then never tinkered with. It requires trust and faith that people are acting in the collective good, which is why an excessive rules-based and legalistic approach undermines trust and faith in the system and alienates people.

Artwork by Karin Josephine.

Summary: The 12 Principles of Southeast Asian Democracy

To meet the four major governance challenges of (1) ensure that decisions made represent all people, (2) incentivise good governance, (3) meet the needs of the people, including food, safety, and freedom from fear and hunger, and (4) be sensitive to the local context, we have outlined 12 principles of democracy in Southeast Asia. We need to create governments so that we can collectively solve the problems that our societies and countries face. We proposed these principles upon which such a government can be based in order to address the greatest challenges to good governance. 

  1. Self-Determination and Consent of the Governed
  2. Majority Rule, Minority Rights
  3. Free, Fair, and Regular Elections
  4. Transparency and Accountability
  5. Checks and Balances
  6. Sustainable and Equitable Development
  7. Justice and Rule of Law
  8. Human Rights and Freedom from Fear and Hunger
  9. Freedom of Expression
  10. Freedom of Association
  11. Freedom of Thought, Conscience, and Religion
  12. Historical Awareness

Democracy is the fruit of the struggle of oppressed groups for their rights and freedoms; for citizens seeking better, more accountable, more responsible government; for people wanting to be free. Democracy is striving towards fulfilling the above principles while accepting that they can never be truly achieved; that we can always be better but never perfect. 

How to Practise Democracy 

Perhaps the most important factor in engaging with democracy as a process is that people must be able to trust that others are acting in good faith, because democracy requires constant negotiations, trade-offs, and reevaluations. We all exist in a society, and for us all to collectively move forward, a constant give-and-take is key. Arguments are only provisionally settled and are revisited as necessary. All too often, democracy is treated as a zero-sum game: that for one “side” to win, the other “side” must lose. Selfish behaviour and an unwillingness to compromise alienates people, drives people away from engaging in democracy, and undermines faith in the system. All too often, fear and a lack of trust are sowed and exploited by unscrupulous actors who then abuse the rules to advance their agendas. 

Thus, how you practise democracy is as important as what, who, and why. To practise democracy, we need to be able to act in ways which produce trust and good faith. We propose 12 practices of democracy below, which can in turn be grouped into three general sets of instructions: (1) educate yourself; (2) join with others to take action; and (3) grow together—in short, to educate, engage, and empower.

— Learn —

The first step to changing the world is educating yourself about the state of the world and the people you share this world with.

Empathy. Southeast Asia is diverse and we can only ever experience our own point of view. You need to be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.Active Listening. To find solutions together, we must actively listen and ask questions. We need to take an interest in what, why, and how other people think. 
Curiosity. Seek out information and improve yourself through knowledge. Curiosity also helps us innovate or do things differently.Have an opinion. Use all the information to form an opinion. There are many possible paths forward. You must know what you stand for and why.

— Act —

The next step is to join others in taking action, becoming part of a community for change.

Imagine. A better future can only be created if we can imagine it. What is your better future, and why?Speak up. You can only be heard if you are willing to speak up and participate in a debate.
Act. If you want to achieve something, do it!Mobilise. But also, remember that change cannot be made alone. You need to engage others in causes that are important to you. You must be able to speak from your heart to other people’s hearts.

— Grow —

Democracy is a process, and we must grow and evolve ourselves and our views, particularly as the world changes around us.

Disagree. Disagreement is inevitable. Engage in disagreement without fear, anger, or causing harm.Compromise. We will never come up with a perfect solution that everyone agrees with. Choose your battles.
Adapt. The world is constantly changing, and as we learn new things, we need to take them into account and change to incorporate new ideas, new perspectives, and new circumstances.Iterate. Once you have done all the above once, and successfully built trust, you do them again and again and again, building a basis on which you can collectively build a better world.
Artwork by Karin Josephine.

Conclusion: 12 Principles and 12 Practices for Building Southeast Asian Democracy

In trying to address the complexity and diversity of Southeast Asia, together with our most pressing problems, we have proposed 12 principles and 12 practices for building democracy that address the main challenges to good government in the Southeast Asian context.

If democracy is a living process, then so too is this series. New Naratif aims to build a working definition of Southeast Asian democracy in the following stages:

First, by proposing a series of principles of what democracy should be in the Southeast Asian context.

Second, by holding a series of workshops, discussions, and events relating to each principle with people from across the region to reflect on these principles and what they mean to us.

Third, by reporting on these discussions, and evolving the principles based on what people are saying, to arrive at a working definition of Southeast Asian democracy.

Fourth, by repeating and reiterating this process to build a living and evolving record of the meaning and practise of Southeast Asian democracy as defined and practised by Southeast Asians.

We invite you to participate in our building of a living definition of Southeast Asian democracy.

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