The 2014 ASEAN Civil Society Conference (ACSC) in Yangon, Myanmar, saw a record attendance and provided a surprisingly open space for civil society. But the opposing trends of democratic developments and authoritarian backlash in the member states have also had significant repercussions at the regional level.
In a time where civil liberties and human rights seem to be on the decline in the region (e.g. Brunei’s introduction of sharia law, the shooting of demonstrating textile workers in Cambodia, Thailand’s coup d’état), ASEAN civil society is presenting itself as organized as rarely before. But government crackdowns are on the rise, and nation states are denying civil society representatives space at the regional level.
Civil society has the potential to address the democratic deficit of regional organizations by establishing alternative regionalism from below.
Civil society can give voice to transnationally marginalized groups, such as migrant workers, whose interests are represented neither by their states of origin or residence nor at the regional level.
All justified doubts about the sincerity and sustainability of its transition process notwithstanding, Myanmar has currently opened up spaces for civil society advocacy. National organizations can benefit from interactions with the regional level.
ASEAN’s ambitious plan to establish a “people-centered” community is undermined by the reluctance of several member states to engage in dialogue with civil society.
ASEAN Civil Society under the Myanmar Chairmanship, GIGA Focus International Edition English, 10, November, urn:nbn:de:0168-ssoar-408854(2014),
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