The role of the Asean members of Parliament in community building is increasingly vital, particularly in connecting Asean with the people and empowering them in transforming this regional organisation into a truly people-centered regional community.
Mr Chuan Leekpai, President of the National Assembly of Thailand and President of the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA) this year, called for a stronger parliamentary partnership within Asean to realise a sustainable, inclusive and resilient Asean. He also emphasized the important role of parliament in consolidation of democracy across the region.
Ms Khuon Sudary, Second Vice-President of the National Assembly of Cambodia and head of the Cambodian delegation, said that “as members of parliament, representing the people of Asean, we are committed to building a people-oriented and people-centred Asean through the promotion of multi-stakeholder dialogue and practical cooperation on people-centred development”.
She added that Asean is at a critical juncture. It must constantly reform and adapt to new changes in order to thrive and stay relevant amidst rising geopolitical uncertainty and unpredictability. Moreover, it is of utmost importance for Asean to maintain its centrality in shaping regional architecture and it is imperative for Asean to strengthen an open, inclusive, sustainable and resilient society in Southeast Asia.
The message of the President of AIPA at the AIPA-ASEAN Interface at the 34th Asean Summit on 22nd June, stresses that the AIPA Secretariat and the Asean Secretariat should work closer together to promote people’s participation in Asean.
“A truly people-centred and people-oriented Asean must be based on the efforts by all to promote social justice and rule of law”, reads the message.
The key issues raised by the Asean Parliamentarians are climate change and safeguard of the environment, narrowing the development gaps between and within Asean member states, women empowerment and gender equality, terrorism and violent extremism, the impacts of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on the economy and society, the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea and maritime security, water-food-energy security nexus within the region especially in the Greater Mekong Subregion, drugs and human trafficking, and strengthening regional cooperation in cultural heritage management and protection with grassroots participation.
The key challenges facing AIPA are the lack of financial resources, institutional capacity and leadership at the AIPA Secretariat. Moreover, the parliamentarians from Asean are not keen to promote Asean at their constituencies and integrate Asean into their political platform. Therefore, political parties across Southeast Asia need to pay more attention to Asean, otherwise the efforts to realize a truly people-centered Asean cannot be achieved.
To strengthen parliamentary role and partnership within Asean, we need to enhance the institutional capacity of AIPA and raise awareness among the political leaders in the region about the importance of Asean and how to harmonize national interest with regional interest. We should also explore the possibility of creating of a regional network of political parties in order to socialize Asean norms and vision and build synergies between and among political parties.
The members of parliament play a critical role in bringing the messages and concerns from the people of Asean to the AIPA Secretariat, the Asean Secretariat, and the national and local governments. Action-oriented cooperation should be promoted to deliver concrete results for the people.
It is high time for Asean political leaders and parliamentarians to be more adaptive and transformative to geopolitical, social and economic changes in the region and develop innovative solutions to address emerging challenges. Staying united alone is not enough. Asean must take more concrete actions to serve the interest of the people.
Building a people-centred and people-oriented Asean should not be a political slogan to make Asean look good but to take serious steps towards the empowerment of the people in the Asean community building and to “leave no one behind”.
Actions speak louder than words. Asean leaders, from both the executive and legislative branches, must be sincere and really put the interest of the people first. The parliamentarians must challenge the governments to ensure that the voices of the people are heard and integrated into the formulation of national and regional policy.