'Small civic voice' at big Asean Summit

'Small civic voice' at big Asean Summit

New Asean Summit logos are displayed on boxes inside the Grande Centre Point Hotel where the press centre is located. (Photo by Patipat Janthong)
New Asean Summit logos are displayed on boxes inside the Grande Centre Point Hotel where the press centre is located. (Photo by Patipat Janthong)

Representatives of civic groups are calling on Asean leaders to give them a voice in the region after their latest proposal for meetings with the leaders and senior officials at the Asean Summit this week was again rejected.

"We need the green light from all 10 member countries to hold an interface meeting, but this time we only got three yeses from Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia," Suntaree Saeng-ging, regional coordinator of HomeNet Southeast Asia, said, adding that a strong social presence at the summit is necessary to help ensure the voices of the people are heard.

"The rejection reflects that the upcoming summit is likely to be another ceremonial talk shop where tough issues such as human rights and democracy will not be touched on," she said referring to the Asean Summit and related meetings being held in Bangkok from tomorrow until Sunday.

The last such meeting with Asean leaders took place during Malaysia's chairmanship in 2015, so the groups expected to get a chance with Thailand now chairing the grouping, she said.

Usana Berananda, deputy director-general of the Department of Asean Affairs, said Thailand fully supported meetings of civil society organisations (CSOs) representatives and the country leaders.

"Although such meetings cannot take place this time, the door has not been shut. Asean CSO representatives can send requests and proposals for meetings.

"There will be another chance at the [second] summit later this year. We hope that can happen," she said.

Ms Suntaree said meetings with Asean leaders have been difficult for CSOs for many years because some countries are still considered authoritarian or communist and have prejudices against civil society groups.

Chalida Tajaroensuk, executive director of the People's Empowerment Foundation, said the CSOs from the Asean countries earlier proposed a meeting between the Asean leaders and the Asean Civil Society Conference (ACSC) organising committee members at the Asean Summit this time. However, two countries refused.

"Thousands of workers in Southeast Asia are now working in deplorable conditions, for pay that often fails to meet their daily needs. Asean governments must have the political will to implement robust protections for workers, rather than siding with corporate players instead of their own people," Ms Chalida said.

The ACSC was previously scheduled for Monday to Tuesday ahead of the 34th Asean Summit. However, it has been postponed until September this year due to the financial circumstances of CSOs in other countries.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Tuesday called for unity ahead of the event.

"This is our future. We have a lot of potential. If we have a lot of conflicts domestically, we cannot move our work forward internationally. Then who will lose? The Thai people and Thailand will," he said.

He said he would also attend the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan on June 27-28 to promote cooperation between the G20 and Asean.

The second Asean Summit of the year will take place in November, also in Thailand.

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