Asia Centre & International IDEA: Forecasting Democratic Futures in the Asia-Pacific for 2024

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Asia Centre and The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) co-convened the Democracy in Asia and the Pacific 2024 Outlook Forum in Bangkok, Thailand on 19-20 October 2023. This was the 2nd Outlook Forum organised by International IDEA, and was attended by more than 20 participants from various INGOs and NGOs, academic institutions, as well as researchers and activists.

The Forum sought to explore uncertainties and emerging issues, using foresight methodologies, that may impact the future of democracy in the Asia-Pacific. The welcome and opening remarks were delivered by Leena Rikkilä Tamang, Director for Asia and the Pacific at International IDEA, and Dr. James Gomez, Regional Director of Asia Centre.

Leena Rikkilä Tamang thanked the participants, acknowledging the range of expertise gathered to discuss the likely futures for democracy in the region. She said that most changes were slow and incremental, but sometimes there were moments in history that were hard to predict but possible to imagine. 

Dr. James Gomez spoke on the need to work more with local communities and organisations, rather than have over-reliance on international experts and specialists for policy advice. He also recommended that organisations work with selected partners to build continuity and maintain strong relationships, rather than becoming part of broad coalitions that are witnessing decreasing utility and benefit for their members. 

Dr. Seema Shah, Head of Democracy Assessment Unit at International IDEA, presented an overview of the organisation’s “The Global State of Democracy 2023” report with these key findings:

2022 was the sixth consecutive year in which overall democratic performance declined; at the same time, participation in democratic processes have increased, which is a hopeful signal. There have also been gains in the fight against corruption.

Although there has been stability across the Asia-Pacific from 2017-2022, there was a low level of democratic performance. Respect for civil liberties has continued to decline, and the rule of law has varied greatly across the region. Nevertheless, democratic participation has continued to thrive.

This Forum examined five main areas: the future of elections, gender and democracy, protection of civic space, and climate change through the lens of PESTLE factors: politics, economics, social, technological, legal, and environmental.

On the first day of the Forum, the participants engaged in mapping signals of change, including exploring how signals “collide” to determine possible futures. The final objective was to interpret which signals were more important than others, and to place them into different categories for further analysis.

The second day saw participants delve deeper into the signals and drivers that create change. They then came up with scenarios in order to communicate to others and inform decision-makers about potential changes, risks and opportunities for democracy in the region. 

This 2024 Outlook Forum was the first time in which in which IDEA and Asia Centre used foresight methodologies to better inform decision-making and agenda-setting processes, with the aim of forecasting and transforming the future of democracy. The concrete outcome of the Forum’s deliberations is envisaged to be in the next Democracy in Asia and the Pacific 2024 Outlook report, to be published by International IDEA.

This two-day event continued Asia Centre’s engagement with International IDEA. During International IDEA’s inaugural Outlook Forum in Bali, Indonesia in December 2022, Dr. James Gomez delivered a presentation on the rise of disinformation. For more information on International IDEA’s 1st Democracy in Asia and the Pacific 2023 Outlook Forum, please visit this link here.

Shortly after, on 8 December 2022, in Bangkok, Thailand, the two organisations held a closed-door consultation on ‘Digital Authoritarianism in Southeast Asia’, gathering more than 20 participants from diplomatic missions, UN agencies, INGOs, CSOs and new media experts. At this meeting, Asia Centre and International IDEA also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) establishing a formal partnership. 

The MoU paved the way for International IDEA to become a title partner at Asia Centre’s 8th International Conference on Democracy and Elections in Asia, held in Bangkok from 23-25 August 2023. International IDEA hosted two panels and a demonstration session, with opening remarks given by Leena Rikkilä Tamang.

Asia Centre and International IDEA will continue their work together. The two organisations are discussing joint research ideas and will further deepen their partnership over the course of this year and 2024. Some of this work is aimed to contribute to Asia Centre’s 9th International Conference on Shrinking Civic Space in Asia: Stories of Resistance and Pushback, to be held in Bangkok, Thailand from 21-23 August 2024.