PP21: A Search for Alternatives


The recent democratization movement in Thailand was the starting point for discussions on democracy and the notion that is being promoted that only economic liberalization can bring about democracy.

People’s Organizations (POs) in Thailand that participated in the recent democratization movement, while acknowledging the role played by the middle class in it, believe that the aspirations of the two classes are different. The grassroots people believe that the democratization movement gave them some breathing space to consolidate themselves, but democracy cannot be limited to parliamentary democracy; rather, it must embody democracy that "can be eaten." This includes economic, social and cultural aspects in the decision making process. Democracy is holistic.

Thailand is now claimed as a country where economic liberalization has had a profound impact on democracy and that this led to the success of the democracy movement and the overthrow of the military. This notion has, however, been disproved by various studies; in fact, some parliamentary gains have been negated by economic liberalization. For example, liberalization creates conflict over natural resources, creates more misery and hardship for the rural population. Parliamentary democracy is representative. This has allowed a few people to reach a certain high status at the expense of the majority of the people. This form of democracy can be called "low intensity democracy."

Participatory democracy, on the other hand, demands that there be participation by all people at all levels of development planning; it recognizes the importance of cultural diversity and pluralism that has helped sustain societies in harmony with Nature. This cultural diversity has to be protected at the local level. In the world order that is promoted now, alternatives are not allowed, and there is a trend towards the homogenization of cultures that poses a great threat to our societies. Given this context, it is important that alliances between diverse groups and people are created and strengthened.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) should seriously start thinking of alternative forms of governance. What is the role of POs and NGOs given the collapse of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union? These states were looked upon as the side for change, and they did provide military, financial (alternate trade) and moral support to the various people’s movements seeking change in Third World countries. Socialism focused on the State, and this has now collapsed; thus, what now is our vision? To gain a better understanding and to build our vision, it is important that we go back to our history.

Capitalism is also in a crisis, and these two crises of capitalism and socialism affect us. There is the looming division of international capitalism into three blocks: the Americas, Europe and Asia. The collusion and competition between America and Japan has to be understood in relation to our countries and where we stand in relation to it. It does not make sense for us to change one master for another.

The New World Order may seem abstract to us, but we have to understand how it is manifested in the reality of our people’s liv3s. For instance, the New World Order will bring about a change in the nature of production. National industries will be wiped out to be replaced by transnational corporations (TNCs), and what little trade protectionism there is will be dismantled.

In addition, international agreements and treaties, as designed and pushed for by the Northern countries, are to their benefit and are only a new form of colonialism that will make Third World countries totally dependent on them. This will result in greater misery and impoverishment for our people. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the Paris Convention will force countries to be integrated into the international market economy and will also affect the sovereignty of our countries. Insane irrationalities will dictate that polluting industries move to less populated, poorer countries so as to limit the hazard; the polluter-pay-principle will rule, and the basic problem will not be tackled.

In the areas of food and natural resources, the biodiversity convention will control the food regimes of the world and will give more power to the already powerful, and the Third World will have to give up control of the natural resources which are to be found in these countries.

The structural adjustment policies of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will also dismantle the few social structures that provide for the poor. Education, child care and health facilities, which were provided for the people, will be done away with as they will be considered uneconomical. The World Bank will then move in to provide aid and loans, for example, for a massive education program. This will lead to an insidious infiltration of these institutions and their backers into our countries and will allow them to frame policies for us.

After World War II, countries in Asia witnessed rapid change. The massive inputs of science and technology have led to a transformation of our societies through the substitution and dismissal of our traditions and cultures and by appropriation of our natural resources, thus, leading to impoverishment.

This has created a trend towards homogenization and uniformity and the com modification of life. There will be a uniformity of con sciousness, common sense and reality. The Asian countries which are called traditional countries will lose their diverse cultures. There will be a diversity of commodities but not of people. As mentioned earlier, this is one of the biggest threats that we face today: the loss of alternatives! Thus, we will be left with no options and will be pushed to follow the dominant contemporary economic, cultural and social trends that have left Third World countries poor -poor economically, culturally and socially.

The problems and issues confronting us are too dire to be left to middle class NGOs to solve. Can a PP21 process intervene to overcome the problems confronting us today? PP2 1 has to capture the vision of the people, and we have to be in solidarity with it. This is a period of great reaction. How does PP21 perceive the present? There are no set solutions. Solutions which will work will have to be multilayered and without any priorities - integrated and simultaneous solutions - a holistic solution. NGOs will also have to come to terms with the crisis in and amongst us.

PP21 is a process that is based on the resilience of the people with participatory democracy as its key element. It is a search for alternatives. How is this to be achieved? A beginning could be made by understanding the problems confronting the people, by building an inventory of alternatives and by safeguarding our diversities which we need to appreciate and understand.

PP21 will have to base itself on the people’s history. The 1960s can be viewed as a period of crisis; the 1970s as an era of struggles; the 1980s as a time of consolidation, formal and informal, and a time of collapse. The 1990s will have to be the decade for the search for alternatives. The various sectors will base their struggles on their history. This will be linked to concrete issues and the search for solutions. Emerging trends will have to be analyzed and understood politically and culturally. Asian responses to the regional and international contexts will have to be studied. Diversity will have to be recognized. The process will have to be dynamic to stay alive and will have to move beyond national boundaries and across the continents to be effective. PP21 will have to move away from the attitude that "governments should..." to "we will...," and we will have to develop actualities based on realities.

(Ed. note: This article is a synthesis of the discussion at the People’s Plan for the 21st Century [PP2J] alternative workshop that was held from Sept. 6 to 9, 1992, in Bangkok, Thailand, and its links with the international context.)