Asia is widely recognized to be at the cusp of a historic change which can transform the societies, make them more inclusive, eradicate poverty and bring equality and a higher quality of life. However, beyond economic growth, there is also recognition that for the region to realize the aforementioned positive changes, much more needs to be done on many fronts such as addressing inequality, governance challenges, and identity based politics. With Asian political democracy still fragile, economic forces unpredictable, poverty widespread, and elite groups continually dominating the political space, we must ask ourselves, as progressive global citizens, what is the best approach to accelerate our own achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and beyond? What is the best approach in preventing or mitigating future conflicts? How do we build capacity to provide for all society? It is within this context that the Asia Development Dialogue project advocates democratic governance as a key aspect of the post-2015 debate.
The central idea behind the Visions of Democratic Governance – Asia 2030 forum is that developmental goals can be achieved through a synergy of two perspectives: First, the idealist whom envisions fair elections, accountable leaders, and democratic institutions as the core pillar of every society and second, the realist who perceives development as a sequence where state-building is a vital first step for the state to provide welfare and security to its citizens. While the two notions are seemingly mutually exclusive and scholarly debate is often polarized in one direction or the other, a complete picture of the issues facing our world must be examined from comprehensive analytical lenses. Without the capacity to govern, democratic institutions too, can generate disillusion and discontent. At the same time, without democratic institutions to hold public officials to account, focusing solely on strengthening state capacities could lead countries down a dangerous path – for all governments and civil society involved.
A global post-2015 goal will need to reflect the balance of democracy and governance dimensions in relation to the poor. Democratic governance is cross cutting. Weak states, inadequate policies, and exclusive decision making has a disproportionate impact on the poor. Democratic governance allows the translation of demands into choices, resulting in policy formulation and implementation. It is predictable, inclusive, transparent, and accountable. Through democratic governance, states can focus resources on poverty reduction and strengthen accountability when it comes to using public funds. It can build national capacities for pro-poor policies and develop its own capacity to deliver public services to where it is most needed. Finally, it can shift decision making closer to the poor and involve a diverse range of stakeholders. Improvements in democratic governance are thus critical to poverty reduction. The combination of both factors working simultaneously provides the enabling environment to generate effective processes of social inclusion and poverty eradication.
In the long-run the fundamental issue is not about choosing between democracy or governance but instead what practical strategies should be taken towards these goals, what consequences will follow, and how any policies and actions can be best combined, sequenced, and timed. Through collaboration, states and civil society can raise citizen’s voices while concurrently creating an effective government and sustainable future. This interplay between democracy and governance is crucial to making sustained progress against a wide range of development challenges facing our world.
The Visions of Democratic Governance – Asia 2030 forum presents fresh perspectives drawn from experts across sectors in various countries around Asia, to defend or debate this argument by envisioning their preferred future of democratic governance via scenario planning. This event will allow elected officials, senior bureaucrats, international organization representatives, civil society leaders, corporate executives, scholars, and other development practitioners to come together to debate, inspire, and learn from one another using an innovative futures technique facilitated by Dr. Sohail Inayatullah. As contributor to the United Nations Post-2015 consultation process, the Asia Development Dialogue provides the ultimate platform to debate democratic governance as a viable global goal.