I am delighted to speak for the United Kingdom at the sixth Bali Democracy Forum. It is a significant occasion, being President Yudhoyono’s final Bali Democracy Forum before the end of his 10 year term as President. Over that period we have seen the process of democratisation consolidated across Indonesia’s vast archipelago; and we applaud its regional leadership.
We have seen remarkable steps towards consolidating democracy across the world in recent years. There has been significant progress driven by the government in Naypyitaw, for example. Political prisoners have been released, and censorship and onerous infringements on freedom of expression have been relaxed.
But the consolidation of democracy does not stand still. The test of any government, including those which recently came to power in North Africa and the Middle East, is whether they ensure that all citizens, regardless of religious or political difference, can participate; whether the protection of law is extended to all minorities and women are able to play a full role in society; and whether they respect the democratic process by stepping aside if they lose the consent of their people. Democratic consolidation is most likely to succeed through an actively inclusive process which allows everyone’s voice to be heard.
So with many new democracies facing real challenges as they progress, it is apt that this forum now examines ways to support the consolidation of democracy.
Part of that support means that, while recognising that different democracies develop at different paces, we should continue to support political reform in our partners – for our own security and prosperity as well as for that of the wider international community.
The British experience
Britain has a long history of democracy. 2015 sees the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta – the first document to assert that the English monarch was bound by the rule of law. To mark that anniversary the UK will host the Global Law Summit in London; and we look forward to welcoming many participants from Asia. The Summit will showcase the UK’s unrivaled legal expertise, based on its long history of freedom and justice. Coming to Britain and using the law of England and Wales is the way leading international businesses choose to arbitrate disputes.
But even for Britain, with its long constitutional history, consolidating democracy is an ongoing process and we must continuously adapt to changes within our society. For example, we saw an historic development in the late 1990s when the United Kingdom decided to devolve legislative powers to elected assemblies in Scotland, Northern Ireland and my own country of Wales. I firmly support the current arrangements for devolution in the UK as providing the constitutional flexibility with which the peoples of all the British nations are comfortable
The benefits of values
The British Government firmly believes in, and extols, the benefits of democratic values. A market economy, human rights and the rule of law are central to our prosperity and security. But British prosperity and security also depend on the readiness of our international partners to foster those values as well. British security is weakened when other nations lack the necessary conditions for safety; and where the absence of sufficiently robust law creates fertile ground for conflict or terrorism. And our businesses cannot safely invest if a partner’s business environment does not apply the rule of law. We therefore see it in Britain’s own national interest to promote these values internationally.
Ingredients for consolidating democracy
So, what is needed to consolidate democracy? Democracy rests on foundations that are built over time: strong institutions, accountable government, a free press, the rule of law, and equal rights for men and women. Consolidating democracy requires the presence of institutions that allow it to grow, such as capable parliaments, responsible political parties, effective electoral bodies; and conditions in which human rights such as freedom of expression and assembly can flourish.
We live in an exciting age, with social media playing a crucial role in consolidating democracy. Over two billion people across our planet are now connected to the Internet. It is transforming people’s lives, with its power instantly to connect people on opposite sides of the world and enable them to hold governments to account. Social media empower people, giving everyone a distinctive voice, and enabling often widely divergent views to be aired to a global audience.
The international community and its institutions also play a key role in consolidating democracy. We applaud ASEAN’s commitment to be a people-centered institution and strong support discussions such as the Bali Democracy Forum. The Open Government Partnership, of which Indonesia recently took over as lead co-chair from the UK, is supporting transparency, strong institutions and governance structures internationally.
And the rule of international law is key to the security and economic progress of our citizens. That is why the United Kingdom is a strong supporter of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, and why it attaches such importance to ensuring the Arms Trade Treaty enters into force.
Britain recognises, of course, that other countries will develop democracy at different speeds and that individual members of the international community must work with the grain of their own societies. But that does not mean that we should simply accept that change in certain countries will not happen for decades. We must consistently support one another in consolidating democracy around the world; by raising human rights, freedom of expression and the rule of law with our partners when they fall short, even those with whom we are seeking closer ties. And we must constantly review our own conduct.
To conclude, consolidating democracy is a continuous process - just as relevant to older democracies as to newer ones. Not all democracies will develop at equal speed; but we must collectively continue to support, encourage and foster the growth of democratic values in our partners – for our own prosperity and security as well as for theirs.