A CALL for governments to promote democracy amid threats of a resurgence of military and authoritarian regimes in Asia was sounded by participants of the 2nd World Forum for Democratization in Asia (WFDA), which opened Wednesday at the Philippine Plaza Sofitel hotel in Manila.
Organizers said the participants of the 3-day forum would commemorate the International Day of Peace on Friday, which also marks the 35th anniversary of the imposition of martial law in the Philippines by the then strongman Ferdinand Marcos.
In his keynote address, Secretary Jesus Dureza, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's adviser on the peace process, lauded the involvement of civil society in promoting democracy in the country.
"The government can only do so much to strengthen democracy. We sorted all things and restored democracy not so much through government intervention as through the power of the people themselves," Dureza said.
He said Ms Arroyo had set in place a comprehensive peace process in the belief that the fountainhead of democracy was peace, and vice versa.
Sam Rainsy, leader of the opposition party in Cambodia that bears his name, said he had joined the forum to show solidarity with freedom fighters in Asian countries, especially those in Laos and Vietnam.
He said democrats in government and opposition parties should take the lead in the campaign to preserve newfound democracies in the region.
According to Rainsy, the three main criteria for true democracy are a vibrant opposition that constantly challenges the government, independent courts, and elections that are transparent and reflect the people's will.
Irene Fernandez, director and cofounder of the non-government organization Tenaganita, which promotes the rights of migrant workers and other oppressed and poor people in Malaysia, said the US-led war on terror was "an international network with no base and no nation."
Fernandez said she considered as an act of aggression the constant statement of US President George W. Bush that the security of the American people was the primary concern.
"Today, those labeled terrorists are those who protect the welfare of the minority. This is a contradiction to democracy," she said.
Human rights lawyer Alex Padilla, chair of the forum organizer Initiatives for International Dialogue, said the forum participants had converged "to assert, broaden and consolidate democracy."
He said the representatives of 20 Asian countries would share their best and worst lessons in democracy, totalitarianism and transitions of administrations, and push for democracy, peace and justice.
Dr. Anwar Ibrahim, former deputy prime minister of Malaysia, is to deliver a speech on "Prospects and Problems for Asian Democracy" at 2 p.m. Thursday
His speech will highlight the Malaysian experience in political and civil liberties and economic development and in the consolidation of party control over the economy, politics and culture.