Singapore PM calls for speedy ratification of ASEAN charter

Singapore PM calls for speedy ratification of ASEAN charter


SINGAPORE (AFP) — Singapore on Wednesday called for speedy ratification of an ASEAN charter, which requires the bloc to uphold ideals of democracy and human rights and to make legally binding commitments.

In a speech to Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) parliamentarians, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the charter was an important part of the process for ASEAN to establish a single market and manufacturing base by 2015.

“The charter has already been ratified by seven member countries and we look forward to its eventual and expeditious ratification by all members,” Lee said in a speech to the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA).

Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore and Vietnam have already ratified the document, which commits members to “strengthen democracy, enhance good governance and the rule of law, and to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

The three other ASEAN states — Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand — have yet to ratify the document.

Chai Chidchob, president of Thailand’s National Assembly and speaker of the House of Representatives, said he expected the Thai parliament to ratify the charter by September.

“There’s no problem,” he told AFP.

Indonesia’s parliamentary speaker Agung Laksono said he was hopeful his country’s legislature would ratify by December but said the charter needed thorough scrutiny.

ASEAN’s target is for all 10 members to ratify by the end of the year, when leaders hold their annual summit in Bangkok.

“The parliament just received from the government the draft of the ASEAN charter. The parliament is right now in the process of studying the charter carefully,” Laksono told reporters.

He said he wanted to ensure “that the charter is indeed implementable, not just only a concept on paper”, and each paragraph would be “considered carefully.”

Rizal Sukma, deputy executive director of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta, has urged Indonesia not to ratify the charter in its current form.

In an article posted on the think-tank’s website, Sukma described the charter as “fraught with promises, without any reference as to how those promises are going to be delivered in reality.”

He cited the absence of a mechanism to ensure that members comply with their commitments.

But Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda told AFP in Jakarta on Wednesday that his country’s parliament could ratify the charter as early as next month.

“We’re a very open society discussing the pros and cons — it’s normal,” he said, acknowledging there were “cynics” in Indonesia who questioned the bloc’s relevance.

The Philippines was represented at the Singapore meeting by members of the House of Representatives, which does not have the power to ratify international pacts. That role is vested in the upper house of parliament, the Senate.

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo has warned her country would be hard-pressed to ratify the ASEAN charter if Myanmar refused to embrace democracy and free opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The charter aims to give ASEAN a legal framework and sets out principles and rules for members while transforming the 41-year-old bloc into a legal entity, a move that would give it greater clout in international negotiations.

The charter resulted from a long and controversial drafting process that saw some of the strong recommendations from ASEAN elder statesmen watered down or dropped, including provisions on sanctions and expulsion.

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