Civil Societies and Grassroots Engagement with ASEAN in Policy-Level, Strategic Approach to ASEAN Structure and Policy Bodies

    Being 2019, ASEAN have gone so far to 52th anniversary years with the well-known successful regional cooperation amidst the world. According to ASEANstats[1] by ASEAN Secretariats exposed the progress of ASEAN statistics from last 50 years, 1967-2016, demonstrates an increasing number of population growth from 185 million to 634 million, an economic inflation have raised to 2,219 billion USD from 10 billion, people’s life expectancy also developed from average 56 years old to 71 years old and the  poverty rate has declined from 47% in 1990 to 14% in 2015. As these statistics number can ostensibly justify the visible positive evolution of ASEAN regional cooperation. ASEAN frequently declared the one of main specific point is ‘people-oriented’, ‘people-centered’ and ASEAN will be left no one behind as the scene of ASEAN’s promise. ASEAN also attained to engage with several external partners for cooperative development.

    One of the contentious issues of ASEAN Community is the participation of civil society organization (hereafter is “CSOs”) which could be seen alongside in ASEAN disputes. ASEAN CSOs which comprised 11 countries (including Timor-Leste) have demanded ASEAN Member States (AMS) to open a space of social engagement within ASEAN policies and decision-making bodies in any levels. ASEAN CSOs have established the ASEAN Civil Society Conference and ASEAN People Forum (ACSC/APF) which became to be the main forum of civil society to exhibit forum every year in parallel with ASEAN Summit as the host of ACSC/APF will be based on following the ASEAN Chairmanship each year. Since 2015, every ASCS/APF conference outcome will promulgate the statement of CSOs to head of states by giving suggestion and social concerns from grassroots and vulnerable groups in ASEAN. Moreover, CSOs have also requested to have “interface meeting” with ASEAN Leaders that have occasionally been achieved only 4 times since 2015. Through ACSC/APF, ASEAN CSOs are concerned on the human rights issues in ASEAN and urge ASEAN governments to pay more attention on solution to resolve various human rights issues such as refugees, indigenous, land rights and peoples’ displacement from national development, women, children, environment, education, armed conflict, poverty, economy, youth, gender and LGBTIQ, labour and migration, disabilities, decent work, social justice and so on in ASEAN.


    Nevertheless, the social participation with ASEAN has become more complexed. Caused by the complexity of ASEAN politics is that ASEAN governments assembled by ten diversities of political systems such as democracy, one-party socialist, absolute monarchy and so on. This has been politically affecting ASEAN to become instability democratization which directly impacts to social participation. A social participation has inevitably relied on various political, economic and societal aspects in ASEAN. Importantly, since 2008 ASEAN Charter was established that have made ASEAN Community to be more systematic on its regulation through multilateralism. ASEAN Charter also accords the dominant power for decision-making fully belonging to AMS among ten countries consensus which led by the ASEAN Chairmanship in each year. As more complexed, during the discussing regarding on policies or development projects in all levels are close-door meeting where do not allow CSOs and ASEAN citizenship to investigate a meeting, an outcome of governmental meetings would be appeared as a statement which ASEAN citizen are limited to access through only text-based information.

    The relationship between ASEAN Member states and CSOs is precarious and sentitive, it depends on various factors. However, CSOs are working closely with grassroots and local bases but it still lacks to reach or vibrate the momentum to ASEAN decision-level. This research aims to study to function of ASEAN structure related to ‘decision-making bodies’ and to strengthening CSOs strategic effective approach to decision-making body. The definition of CSOs in this research is defined to CSOs who only engaging with ACSC/APF. The group of ACSC/APF is CSOs who are bridge between governments and grassroots. This research is based on Thai context between interaction among CSOs and ASEAN governments.




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