Fostering Inclusive Democracy: Reflections from Dhaka

The bustling heart of Dhaka, Bangladesh, not only offers a vibrant tapestry of culture and daily life but also serves as a pivotal ground for discussions that shape the future of democracy in our region.

On March 18, 2024, at the Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS), we had the privilege of co-hosting the Dialogue on Democracy in Inclusive Society (DDIS) Forum. This gathering, a testament to the spirit of collaboration between Indonesia and Bangladesh, focused on a key question: “Does Democracy Deliver?”

Indonesia’s Ambassador to Bangladesh H.E. Heru Hartanto Subolo addresses the audience at the ‘Fostering Inclusive Democracy: Reflections from Dhaka’ event

Bangladesh and Indonesia stand as two major emerging powers in Asia, each being an  epicenter of growth in their respective regions—Southeast Asia and South Asia. Sharing common values and strategic significance in the region with Indonesia, Bangladesh emerges as an ideal partner for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia (MoFA RI) to host DDIS for the first time.

Initiated by MoFA RI, DDIS is created from a genuine desire to open a space for meaningful dialogue, idea exchange, and collaborative action. This initiative marked MoFA RI’s pioneering effort to project the BDF’s core values into focused bilateral forums like DDIS and aimed at addressing the multifaceted challenges that our democracy is facing today. It acted as a continuation of the conversations we have nurtured through the Bali Democracy Forum (BDF), creating a platform where the values of pluralism, inclusivity, and homegrown democracy, which we champion at the BDF, could be discussed, understood, and promoted in partnership with our friends in Bangladesh and beyond.

Engaged audience members stand poised, delivering impassioned speeches at the event

The forum was inaugurated with remarks that underscored the importance of DDIS as a platform for enhancing people-to-people contact and deepening our collective understanding of democratic values and practices. Here, I shared our vision for cross-sector collaboration in nurturing pluralism and tackling the societal challenges increased by digital disintegration and the spread of misinformation. We pointed out the urgency for all sectors to embrace a foundation of shared thought, where inclusivity and democracy merge.

Following that, Dr. Mizanur Rahman, Director of the Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs (BILIA) noted Bangladesh’s unique path emphasizing the value of homegrown democracy that respects historical context and local knowledge. He appreciated BDF’s role in fostering inclusivity and highlighted how DDIS facilitates collaboration between our countries to champion these principles.

In the company of representatives from government entities, think tanks, academics, civil society organizations (CSOs), diplomatic corps, and media, we explored the core of democracy as it relates to inclusivity. The dialogue went beyond mere academic discourse, turning into an active sharing of ideas and experiences. It became clear that democracy, in its truest form, is not just a political system but a commitment to hearing every voice, especially those at the margins of our societies.

Amidst an atmosphere of enthusiasm, speakers stand before the audience, sharing their thoughts and experiences with conviction

The forum was marked by insightful contributions from our diverse array of Indonesian speakers. Dr. Philips J. Vermonte, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the Universitas Islam Internasional Indonesia, Dr. Mohammad Hasan Ansori, Executive Director of the Habibie Center, and Uni Zulfiani Lubis, Editor-in-Chief of IDN Times shared perspectives that bridged Indonesian experiences with global narratives on democracy’s challenges and promises.

Through DDIS, we deepened our understanding of pluralistic democracy and the digital era’s influence on democratic processes. These discussions stressed the essential partnership between government and non-state actors and addressed the challenges posed by the digital era to democratic integrity. Our discussions not only focused on identifying issues but also applauded the chance for unity and new thinking in fostering democratic engagement.

One of the forum’s highlights was the input from Dr. Sadeka Halim, Vice Chancellor of Jagannath University, Bangladesh. Her insights reminded us of the importance of restoring public trust in democracy by addressing power imbalances between government and non-government actors. Her stance served as a strong reminder to ensure that the voices of all citizens are heard and respected, enhancing our shared commitment to a democracy that truly delivers for its people.

In a dynamic exchange of ideas, attendees take the stage, delivering powerful speeches that resonate with the audience

The emphasis of this forum was placed on the need for continuous dialogue, mutual understanding, and active engagement from all of us. We collectively realized that modifying our approaches to democracy, especially in this rapidly evolving digital age, is key to fulfilling the needs of our societies.

Our discussions in Dhaka heavily focused on the complex relationship between digital media and democracy. We looked into how digital platforms can empower us but also pose challenges, stressing the importance of ethical governance, regulation, and digital literacy. It was also highlighted that the importance of ethical guidelines for digital media to ensure information is accurate and trustworthy, vital for a democracy where citizens are informed and actively involved.

As we departed from Dhaka, we held onto various insights, renewed connections, and a strengthened commitment to the principles of democracy and inclusivity. This forum was not just a conclusion; it was a light guiding our collective efforts toward realizing democracy’s full promise for everyone.

Guest speakers captivate the crowd, standing tall as they share their insights and perspectives

Looking forward, we are inspired by the spirit of dialogue and collaboration from Dhaka to embrace both the challenges and opportunities ahead. Let this journey remind us of our shared dedication to fostering a world where democracy prospers, deeply embedded in the aspirations of our interconnected global community. This forum can continue by taking up issues in the areas of democracy and good governance as they evolve and relate to the interests of both our countries.

In reflection, the DDIS stands as a pivotal chapter in our ongoing dialogue on democracy and inclusivity—a dialogue that we must continue with renewed enthusiasm and joint hope. As we move forward, let us all commit to nurturing a world where the essence of democracy is celebrated in every action we take, together building a more inclusive and peaceful world.

Written by-

Siti Nugraha Mauludiah
Deputy Minister for Information and Public Diplomacy
Republic of Indonesi

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