The key objective of the Bangkok Declaration on Free and Fair Elections is to “identify the most significant and widespread barriers to free and fair elections in Asia and strengthen the resolve of the Asian people to address them by involving all relevant national, regional and international stakeholders.” It seeks to do this by, more specifically, realizing the following objectives:

  • Provide a sense of ownership to the peoples and election management bodies of Asia through the creation of a document that recognizes the sensitivities of culture, religion and customary practices in Asia.  By engaging stakeholders in the entire process, from start to finish, the drafters of the Declaration established a legitimacy and ownership of democratic principles that is difficult to challenge or deny and, therefore, more readily implemented.
  • Focus the broad universality of international principles on specific issues applicable to Asia.  A regional declaration helps to strengthen the application of the international principles in Asia.
  • Encourage the participation of women and minorities as voters and leaders. Women, in particular, are too often overlooked by society and have frequently been the focus of attempts to suppress their rights. The Declaration recognizes that women’s involvement must be encouraged without dismissing cultural considerations, as otherwise it may give rise more conflict than solutions. A regional declaration can ensure that women’s rights and the rights of minorities are not violated and that they are allowed full participation in the electoral process.

Issues Addressed

The succinct Bangkok Declaration manages to address all major issues involved in the electoral process including, inter alia, EMB independence, the universal franchise, voter information, training of election officials, voter registration and accuracy of voter lists, campaign finance, unfair and dishonest campaign practices, election observation, safeguarding and counting votes and resolution of electoral disputes.

Process

EMBs and CSOs came together to exchange knowledge, share experiences and strengthen working relationships so that they could collaborate on the Declaration.  Working together, they created a document that is approachable, understandable, and relatable to the public at large.  The Declaration focuses attention on electoral issues that are often overlooked or not understood by the public, which will encourage the document’s adoption not only by electoral practitioners but also by a broad spectrum of each country’s citizens.

Target Audience & Participants

The target audience for the Bangkok Declaration is all electoral stakeholders across Asia, particularly those directly involved, in whatever capacity, in elections.  At the same time, the Bangkok Declaration is written so that it is easily understandable by the public.  Despite the attempts to keep the document simple enough for the public to understand, all electoral practitioners can benefit from the document due to its unique scope and exceptional origin.

Funding & Budget

Funding for the Asian Electoral Stakeholder Forum in December was generously provided by the Peace Building Unit of the Belgian Federal Public Service Foreign Affairs.  The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) graciously agreed to join with ANFREL as a co-host of the first AES Forum meeting in Bangkok and, in doing so, has provided helpful professional and technical guidance on many of the steps in the process.

Next Steps

Already, the Bangkok Declaration is being translated into several languages in order to make it more accessible to Asian peoples.  In addition, ANFREL is working in 2013 with its members to help with the implementation and assessment of the principles enshrined in the Declaration.  Such efforts will not, however, be confined to only those countries with representatives attending the first AES Forum but rather will expand to other countries as well.

In order to reinforce the efforts of each country and to build on the sense of common purpose, the second Asian Electoral Stakeholder Forum is being planned for late 2013/early 2014.  Such a follow-up meeting will allow civil society groups and EMB’s to compare progress being made in each nation and to reinforce the importance of their work in enhancing the electoral processes across Asia.  It will also allow them to share strategies for the best ways of winning crucial support for implementation of the Declaration.  While no one expects quick success, participants at the 2012 AES Forum are optimistic that the Bangkok Declaration will, in fact, point the way to the evolution of electoral processes throughout Asia.