Asean Needs Political Trust and Social Capital

27 January 2015

PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) –Malaysia, the current Asean rotating chair, is under time pressure to speed up the Asean Community building process, which was to conclude at the end of this year. Malaysia also needs to develop the vision and concrete action plans for the post-2015 Asean community.
Progress has been made. Yet it is painstakingly slow and uneven. More attention and efforts have been given to the Asean Economic Community (AEC) compared to the other two pillars: the political security community and social cultural community. As a result, the region is facing political trust deficit and weak social capital.
Nationalism and protectionism, driven by certain political groups or parties in some countries, inhibit regional cooperation and integration. Domestic politics are stuck in power politics and narrowly calculated national interests. Political leadership is not attached to the Asean community spirit.
Asean needs to create platforms to promote dialogues in order to transform social and political dynamics at the regional, national, and local levels. An enabling environment must be provided to support the participation from the public and private sectors.
Political and business leaders need more information and institutional support in order to allow them to move beyond their national boundary and embrace collective regional political identity and share common regional development vision.
Asean needs new thinking and approaches in order to build regional social capital. It must work towards an inclusive and sustainable regional development. Social innovation and entrepreneurship are the means towards building a people-centred community. The promotion of social justice and welfare, the respect of human rights and dignity, and good governance need more attention and actions.
Concerning promotion of political trust, Asean should promote inclusive dialogues among political parties and groups in the region. Asean related information and understanding are fundamental to build a region-wide political consensus.
More investment is required to develop Asean oriented political leadership. If it is not possible for this generation, there must be such plans for the next generation of leadership. The Asean university network and think tanks should develop training programs to equip the young leaders with the Asean value and identity.
The people of Asean must be empowered to direct the regional community building towards their interests. The ultimate goals of Asean are to serve its people, assist them to realise their potentials, and supports them in adapting to changes.
Asean must deepen its institutional reform to meet the expectations from its people. It needs be more effective in solving regional issues and more assertive in protecting the interests of its member countries from the external threats. Unity and continuing reforms are the precondition for this regional institution to raise its regional and global role and image.
The Malaysian chair should create more venues for the people of Asean to exercise their roles and be part of the Asean community building process. The future of Asean is in the hands of its people. It is time for the regional leaders to work together towards a people-cantered Asean.
Asean is not perfect. But there are no other better regional institutions or mechanisms that can protect the interests of the Asean people. There is a need for genuine political commitment and leadership to make Asean more representative and responsive to the needs and aspirations to its people.

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