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Kuala Lumpur Declaration: Breaking through the future, the future is Social Democracy!

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kl declaration

Ten years ago, social democratic and progressive parties formed the Network of Social Democracy Asia (Socdem Asia) to promote social democratic thinking, practices and alternatives. Since then it is the only dynamic platform for democratic Left parties forging for a social democratic future in the region.

Knowing fully well the huge challenges that progressives faced, our movement strives to create democratic spaces in undemocratic regimes or have sought to expand these democratic spaces where they existed. Where poverty and exclusion reside, we work to challenge and change the conditions and systems that underpin marginalization of people.

The region has witnessed tremendous changes. Progressives are making democracy work by strengthening the institutions which are fundamental to democracy’s success and by engaging a more active citizenry to take part in governance. Nonetheless, we recognize the shrinking spaces in many Asian countries as we see a pushback from undemocratic forces. We understand that this reaction is rooted in the ruling political and economic establishments’ desire to reassert itself and erode all reforms which challenge inequality and tyranny. Our promise is to relentlessly fight.

Truly, much work has still to be done. The old structural battles of a decade ago are still the same structural battles we pursue today. Inequality in all its forms whether based on race, gender, income, or ethnicity, persists. While Asia now serves as the main engine of economic growth, the economic benefits that the majority of the people receive are not commensurate to their labor and sacrifices. Most of this growth has been captured by a wealthy and powerful minority. Also present are old cultural and social values and institutions which serve as barriers for greater gender and racial equality.

Solutions to these existing problems continue to elude us as we see an unprecedented aggression of unregulated capital. We recommit ourselves to the principle of the primacy of labor over capital. Because we see labor as the true creators of wealth, we will strive to institutionalize pro-labor social protection policies to thwart the ever-growing threat of precariousness to the working people. The changing dynamics and nature of work means a growing unease anxiety among the working peoples of Asia. As social democrats it is our historic duty to use the levers of power to ensure that Asian workers adapt to the new economy and in fact thrive under such conditions.

At the core of our beliefs is the fundamental centrality of human rights. We are aware that human rights are under attack in the region by tyrants and corporate power. At the same time, we must end all forms of discrimination and prejudice which exist to marginalize people. Our duty is to strengthen existing domestic and national protections for human rights and equally push for protections for our people’s social, economic, political, civil, and cultural rights. We will also work to strengthen regional and international instruments to protect human rights.

While we battle longstanding social, political and economic problems we must address new challenges. The phenomenon of populism serves as a potent force that can unravel the democratic gains we have achieved. In fact, in some countries, it has already unraveled much of the gains that we have pushed for.

Also, on the horizon is the fast-changing 21st century economy. Uncertainties in the fields of automation and artificial intelligence hang above us. Without an appropriate response, these can push people to cynicism and insecurity. Such scenarios are opportunities for authoritarianism and populism to reach a broader audience.

Also facing us is the existential threat of climate change. The scientific evidence shows that humanity has a short period to reorient its economic and political system to address this crisis. We, as humans, have the collective responsibility to undo the causes of climate change and other man-made damage to the environment. This huge challenge necessitates bold collective leadership and big ideas to thwart this catastrophe. We need a reorientation of our fossil-fuel dependent energy systems towards carbon-neutral, safe, renewable, and accessible energy resources under a plan of just energy transition that ensured that people are able to adapt to these new energy systems. More importantly, we must reshape our economies to become more sustainable, just, and equitable because the existing economic systems that created tremendous wealth have also created tremendous pollution, environmental destruction, and inequality.

Social democracy as a movement must capture the momentum and imagination of a future generation which has seen politics and governance as distant to their daily lives. Young people are less interested in the work of politics and governance, especially joining political parties. This growing chasm between the people and their representatives in government must be addressed head on. As such, we as social democrats must represent the people, especially young people in the truest sense of representation. This means opening our discourse of social democracy and our social democratic parties to the people. Young people must be part of all levels of leadership in our movement today. We, as social democratic parties, invest in young people because they are part of our struggle today, not tomorrow.

We look to the future with hope and hold this currency to break elitism, exploitation and deception that maintain the status quo.

We believe in the principle of international solidarity. We have built this Network as the actualization of this principle as a platform for social democrats and progressive to bring more people to our movements and causes. We must also engage existing regional institutions such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and transform these institutions from regional arrangements for trade and economic integration into institutions that can promote and protect the rights and wellbeing of the peoples in these regions. This requires strengthening regional human rights bodies and pushing for mechanisms to standardize and benchmark decent living conditions which are complementary to poverty measures and growth measures. This means working with civil society and mass movements to push for these reforms to create a Social ASEAN and a Social SAARC.

Social democrats, socialists, and progressives must be the leading force for equity in Asia. Our victories in capturing political power must translate into actual programs that benefit all peoples.

As it stands, our movement is breaking through and building greater influence in local governments, national parliaments; it is helping to capacitate grassroots-based political organizations, pioneering policies in the fields of welfare, breaking racial and ethnic barriers and championing human rights. These are hard earned victories rooted in the struggles of the past. And now, we have the momentum of our struggles in the present time to help us overcome new obstacles.

We will continue to strive to build more decent and equitable societies through the multiple channels of struggle our parties are involved whether in the field of policy-making, local governance, political opposition, mass movements, and civil society cooperation. We work for the expansion of democracy beyond the structural limitations in our respective countries be they autocratic states or liberal democracies

We reaffirm our rootedness to our strong values and the pillars of our programme. Our commitment is to freedom, social justice, and solidarity emphasizing popular participation and equal opportunity to achieve human dignity. We envision a future where structure and people overcome inequality, income is fairly distributed, corporate hegemony is reversed, and solidarity across gender, ethnicity, race, and other social-political, cultural, and religious affiliations translates into empowerment.

Our struggle is to realize and defend human rights, sustainable development, the creation of the Social State, people-centered regional integration, and decent work and life for working peoples remain the engine of our movement.

We forge cooperation with all who seek greater freedom and democracy around the world. Recognizing the common and shared challenges, we will continue to mount global resistance and create borderless solutions to these problems.

As social democrats, we are building the case for the social democratic alternative, an alternative to neoliberal economics, authoritarian rule and unequal social relations. The challenge is to make it the most viable model for our societies of the future.

We will win this social democratic future with the people in the front and center of our movement.