GIGA Focus International Edition English

ASEAN Civil Society under the Myanmar Chairmanship

Number 10 | 2014 | ISSN: 2196-3940

  • 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.

    • When faced with attempts to limit its space for participation, civil society has to adopt either an “inside-outside” or “outsider by choice” approach. If it wants to be accepted as a legitimate partner, civil society has to be transparent about the sources of its own legitimacy and democratic internal structure.


      Dr. Stefan Rother


      The GIGA Focus is an Open Access publication and can be read on the Internet and downloaded free of charge at According to the conditions of the Creative-Commons license Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 this publication may be freely duplicated, circulated and made accessible to the public. The particular conditions include the correct indication of the initial publication as GIGA Focus and no changes in or abbreviation of texts.

      The German Institute for Global and Area Studies (GIGA) – Leibniz-Institut für Globale und Regionale Studien in Hamburg publishes the Focus series on Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and global issues. The GIGA Focus is edited and published by the GIGA. The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the institute. Authors alone are responsible for the content of their articles. GIGA and the authors cannot be held liable for any errors and omissions, or for any consequences arising from the use of the information provided.

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