Strengthening Grassroots Democracy | Asia Pacific Greens

Strengthening Grassroots Democracy

Venue: Asia Pacific Greens Federation 3rd Congress 12-14 June 2015, Wellington, New Zealand

Workshop Title: "Strengthening Grassroots Democracy"

Facilitator: Eugenie Sage

Date and time: 12 June 2015, 4:30-6:00


Discussion Insights:

Why is democracy important to you?

  • self-determination, mandate to impose authority
  • power of the people
  • without democracy, rights are curtailed e.g. freedom of expression

What is the current state of grassroots democracy in your country?

  • Australia - big money has the ability to significantly influence politics, Liberal and Labour so similar that effectively no choice. Positive elements- have a system that allows smaller parties to be part of parliament, democracy depends on people making informed decisions and media is political propaganda for the conservative side of politics, real problem with local councils - you don't know who you're voting for and what they stand for.
  • India - have a democracy led from the grass roots, from the village level.  People have the right to choose their candidates.
  • Japan - has democracy but not really because there is a really unfair election system, you have to pay a lot of money just to be a candidate, even as a city councillor.  The government doesn't hear about citizen movements or activist movements, just the majority views. Education: democracy is not taught about so poor understanding. Not everyone can vote e.g. Koreans born and raised in Japan cannot vote.  People don't know about this and about what democracy is and what it should be.  If you don't know people from Korea, you don't know they don't have the right to vote.
  • Korea - there is a law to prohibit public protests, many people are fined or imprisoned.  At the community level, they try to raise their voices about environmental issues, but if they have a public protest they will be arrested, and the police use force to suppress public protest. The capitalist system also controls the political system.  The ruling party is very conservative and they control many things including the media. The judicial system is not independent either. Big companies are very involved in corrupt systems.
  • New Zealand - we have a proportional system at parliament, and the Greens wouldn't be in parliament if we didn't have MMP.  At local government level it's mostly first past the post.  In Canterbury after the earthquakes emergency legislation has reduced democratic decision making. Under National a lot of power has been centralized in the Executive and there is more ministerial intervention in local govt.  Much harder to take cases to the Environment Court.  A lot of laws passed under urgency that should not have been passed without public submissions and debate.   Police have arrested environmental activists arrested, eventually released but this an example of intimidation.  Big debate about the role of spay agencies.  We have the framework of democracy but under the current government it has been eroded.
  • Philippines - democracy is only a concept.  It is ruled by the relations of dynasties.  Bribery is present at all levels - at the national level you need billions of pesos to run for office.
  • Taiwan – history of democracy is still quite short, still under martial law until 1987. Faces same situation as Japan, it's very costly to participate.  Some proportional representation but only at the central level, and not many seats. Corruption is present, local govt is bound very closely to big companies, harming agriculture and the environment.  There is now some grassroots democracy building.  Facing the threat from China, eg when considering a trade agreement have to doubt the political motivation behind the economic ambition.  Grassroots democracy is blooming now, with the generation that has only known the democratic system. They are motivated to get better schools, sidewalks etc. and people mobilise to do this
    Question - is the situation in Hong Kong similar to Taiwan?
    Answer: Yes. People in Taiwan try to cooperate with people in Hong Kong. China tries to control the media, and guidelines in text books and the curriculum.
    Question - is there a Green Party in Hong Kong?
    Answer: Not sure.
  • Papua New Guinea - it is a democratic country.  Problem is people don't elect democratically, because money plays a major role.  Even in parliament, we can get a Green MP in, but when he gets in he may join another party.  You can't really vote freely.
  • Solomon Islands - 9 islands, many different cultures.  Democratic country, national elections and provincial elections.  Money influences outcomes.  Development coalition for change is running the government at the moment.  The Green Party is starting to come up now.


What would strong democracy across the Asia- Pacific region look like?

  • Working together on specific issues eg between Taiwan/Korea and Japan on nuclear issues.
  • Limiting the impacts of money on democracy eg ensure candidate deposit fees are low and affordable, limit large political donations, avoid the “revolving door” between politics and industry
  • Proportional voting systems
  • Voting systems where there is a low threshold to gain representation eg 1 %.
  • No requirements for a large membership to be able to register a political party
  • Separation of powers between Parliament, Executive and the Judiciary
  • Free, unbiased media
  • Growing democracy education
  • Greater awareness of region wide democracy issues.
  • Right to protest recognised/ freedom of expression and freedom of organisation.
  • Voting system that gives the best/ fairest representation of the public’s views.
  • A system that promotes stable, long term policies.
  • High percentage of public engagement in the political process
  • Freedom of speech and political assembly.
  • High degree of co-operation.
  • Principle and values based trade and diplomatic relations.
  • Power and influence goes from the bottom/grassroots up.
  • Local ownership of decisions
  • Money does not have undue influence on political process
  • Strategies for strengthening grassroots democracy across the Asia-Pacific region
  • Better communication between Green parties – establish a network committee in the Pacific region
  • Strengthen the democratic rights of women, indigenous people and young people.
  • Advocate for unbiased media and public service radio and TV
  • Education – formal and informal.
  • Protect and advocate for freedom of speech
  • Focus on engaging youth.
  • Use social media eg Facebook – all delegates to the Congress could “like” each other on Facebook to help spread the circulation of causes and ideas.
  • Develop a website
  • Candidates for office develop profiles early in their campaigns

Key Actions for Strengthening Grassroots Democracy

  • Collect and be a platform for sharing & reporting on information about democracy in other countries.
  • Share and provide operational support and information.
  • Provide project funding for common causes.
  • Develop local democracy training courses.
  • Put other countries democratic rights “on the agenda” in our own countries e.g. in trade negotiations (make the agreement dependent on provision of democratic rights)
  • Expose corruption in the First World
  • Networking
  • Carbon cost accounting
  • Localised economies including local currencies
  • Establish a member and supporter database for each country and keep it up to date.
  • Advocate for a establish Proportional voting systems
  • Ensure voting systems have a low threshold to gain representation e.g. 1 %.
  • Provide funding and support for smaller green parties