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Statement of Mr. Reaz Rahman, State Minister for Foreign Affairs in Round Table-
II: Regional Cooperation to promote Democracy at the Second Ministerial conference of the Community of Democracy: Seoul, Republic of Korea 10-12 November 2002.


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Distinguished Co-Chairs,

I am honored to represent Bangladesh in this Second Ministerial Conference of the Community of Democracy in Seoul. The success of democracy in South Korea and its remarkable economic growth eminently qualifies this capital as the venue for holding this Conference.

The overall theme of the conference “ Investing for Peace and Prosperity” is particularly apt and forward-looking. It underscores the fact that democracy like development is a process. It must be sustained over time. It is not a static but dynamic state that must be constantly renewed and revitalized.

I take this opportunity to thank the co-chairs (Mexico and South Africa) for their excellent discussion paper that focus the basis for deliberations of Round Table-II: Regional Cooperation to Promote Democracy. They have posed 4 fundamental questions to focus our attention viz:

(i) What are the objectives for promoting democracy through regional cooperation agreements.

(ii) Can this succeed through creation and development of regional cooperation Agreements.

(iii) What policies can be adopted to counter regional threats to democracy and would a collective action mechanism serve this purpose?

(iv) Should the Seoul Plan of Action include for further discussion and adoption, regional agreements for cooperating in this promotion of democracy.

It is now well-recognized that some regions especially Europe, the Americas and Africa have forged ahead successfully in promoting democracy through regional cooperation. Asia, fro well-known reasons is still searching for political system

that is appropriate to their nations particular needs while moving towards adjustment to western style, liberal democracy.

At the core of the regional experience in the EU, the Americas and Africa are 3 critical trends:-

· Support for basic principle in foundation documents i.e. to promote, protect, improve democracy and the key elements of development, human rights and legality in both internal and external relations. These principles are considered pre-requisite for membership in the organization.

· Internally, these regions have incorporated some form of punitive clauses including suspension. It was considered that breach of democratic order in member countries was an “insurmountable obstacle for participation of a member State.”

· These regions have fostered democracy through specific cooperation agreements that encourage open dialogue and have established specific regional cooperation mechanisms for its promotion.

Distinguished Co-Chairs,

It is in the light of the above that turn to examine our own experience in the South Asian context.

We fully agree with the basic concepts outlined in the discussion paper and the analysis that the starting point for regional cooperation in promoting democracy is a minimum consensus on these concepts. A key factor to be underscored is a duty to promote democracy individually and collectively. This has important bearing on the rationale for regional cooperation.

In Bangladesh we believe that democracy embraces certain core elements-people-centered participation, peaceful succession of governments, political legitimacy, accountability and transparency. There is a growing perception that problems of democracy call for more democracy. Two factors are paramount. We believe that the essence of democracy is peaceful change. Democracy does not always choose the best government. It’s strength lies in the fact that it can remove a bad government peacefully. Dictators can only be removed violently. A crucial concomitant is legitimacy, which vests in the people. A responsible government must carry out the mandate of the people.

The second key element is that without democracy a people’s potential for socio-economic growth cannot flower. The fight against poverty and steps to unlock growth is our foremost challenge. Our experience has exploded the myth for us, that only an authoritarian government could ensure efficiency and take decisive steps. Without mass participation, responsibility, accountability and transparency, which democracy stands for, economic and core values of society cannot be realized. Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia succinctly put it when she said and I quote:

“Democracy is not merely a system of governance. Democracy is a social system-a social life style. The measure of democracy is the measure of the freedom of its humblest citizen. For strengthening the base of democracy there is no alternative to the ameliorisation of the conditions of the common man. People are the main driving force of development.”

Distinguished Co-Chairs,

I turn now to the second issue-promoting democracy through creation and development of regional cooperation agreements. The discussion paper has laid down a useful road map. However, I would like to reorder the priorities as follows:

1. Review the state of democracy in different regions.

2. Identify features and traits common to our region.

3. Initiate inter-regional dialogue on democratic principles and practices.

4. Identify what is distinctive of a given regions situation or democratic institutions.

5. Seek institutionalization of regional cooperation to promote democracy-mechanisms and instruments for this purpose.

6. Identify best democratic practices-innovative problem-solving to strengthen promotion of democratic institutions.

7. Increase public awareness at regional level of what standard of performance people should expect from government.

8. Support democratically elected governments in consolidation of their democratic process.

9. Find ways to avoid & resolve obstacles and threats to democracy on a regular basis.

In South Asia the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation emerged in 1985 as a harmonizing force. The promotion of democracy was not especially mentioned as a charter objective. However, the key motif force of its socio-economic mandate was improving visibly the quality of life of the common people of South Asia in an environment of peace. This was the guiding vision of SAARC’s founding father, late President Ziaur Rahman of Bangladesh.

Since its inception, important forward movement has taken place. Institutional structures have been established. Regional identity and a sense of cooperation has grown. The communication and information gap has been closed. The Integrated Programme of Action (IPA) has led to a web of inter-action over 18 areas of cooperation. Many Conventions, Treaties and Agreements have been reached. Meanwhile, the annual summits have focused on key issues and forged cooperation and understanding on such matters as poverty alleviation, promotion of trade, eradication of diseases, empowerment of women, spread of literacy, the fight against terrorism.

More relevant, in the context of this conference, was the network of contacts established between people to people and the policy makers and civil society. They were able to share experiences “ on best practices” and to form a regional pool of knowledge. The Association of SAARC Speakers and Parliamentarians held three meetings and forged close understanding. Mean while, as the Representative of Nepal has highlighted there were six meetings between South Asian Chief Justices and nine meetings of SARRC Law. All these constitute fertile ground for enhancing democracy. Good prospects thus exist for specifically discussing institutionalization of democracy and developing regional cooperative agreements.

Distinguished Chairpersons,

On the third issue of countering regional threats to democracy and creation of a collective action mechanism, suffice it to say that in South Asia two factors continue to have great influence:

· Tolerance for differing political, economic and social systems. This was a mainstay of NAM.

· Our belief that democracy cannot be imposed. It is only promoted through example and persuasion.

However, it is to be noted that five of seven countries of South Asia belong to the Commonwealth, which has the mechanism of the CMAG (Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group) that monitors and seeks to preserve democracy and its practices and principles and is armed with punitive powers of suspension. Currently the Foreign Ministers of both Bangladesh and India are part of the 8 member Action Group.

In conclusion, and as the fourth point, Bangladesh is in emphatic agreement that the Seoul Action Plan should include further discussion and adoption of regional agreements for cooperation in the promotion of democracy.

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