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12 Oct 2022, 1450 hrs

Political Participation through Social Movements

There has been a perceived lack of interest from the next generation in political participation. However, is political participation in decline or is society just moving away from traditional methods of addressing social issues? As large-scale collective action reverberated across the globe in recent years, what is the future of social movements in influencing the way we conduct politics?

Strong social movements can be a tool for the public to express concern about what governments are doing, according to panelists discussing “Political participation through social movements” at the second Asian Conference for Political Communication (ACPC) held in Singapore on 12 and 13 October.

Talking about how a social movement managed to become the “thought leader” for a lot of ideas the Malaysian government implemented, Thomas Fann explained the workings of his electoral reform group, BERSIH.

Known also as the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, BERSIH is composed of civil society organisations and political parties with an aim to campaign for clean and fair elections in Malaysia, Mr Fann said.

“Only when elections are clean and fair, can citizens be real masters of their own destiny and expect holders of public office to act with accountability and effectively,” he noted during his presentation.

Also commenting on how social movements can express concern about what governments are doing, especially within democracies, Bruce Edwards of Asia Pacific Democrat Union, Australia, said that “answers about social movements are country specific”.

“The movement towards democracy in countries around the world is never inevitable,” Mr Edwards said.

Describing the relationship between political and social movements in the biggest democracy in the world, Charu Pragya, a representative of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party said, “Political movements and social movements don’t have to be on opposing ends all the time”. 

Ms Pragya explained the significance of India’s flagship government schemes such as “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” which promotes the welfare and education of the girl child and the “Swachh Bharat Mission“, a sanitation focussed movement that seeks to make the country open defecation free. Ms Pragya said the schemes came as a response to the call for positive social change from the people.

Dr Janjira Sombatpoonsiri from the Institute of Asian Studies Chulalongkorn University, Thailand, also mentioned India’s “very strong” pro-independence and de-colonisation movement as an example of a strong social movement which left a legacy.

The ACPC 2022 brought together over 200 influencers from academia, politics and media to talk about challenges on social media, discuss the odds and threats of #twiplomacy, analyse the phenomena of rising populism and watch the hottest tools for e-campaigning.  It was organised by the Singapore-based Media Programme Asia of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS), a political foundation from Germany, committed to democracy, human rights, free markets and the freedom of word.

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Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines
Asia Pacific Democrat Union, Australia
Bharatiya Janata Party, India
Institute of Asian Studies Chulalongkorn University, Thailand
University of Tsukuba, Japan
Coalition for Free and Fair Elections (BERSIH), Malaysia