Brunei focussed more on 'increasingly urgent present'
By Ignatius Stephen in Bali

The future may appear "dark and dim" but be confident - a bright new world awaits. That is why Brunei Darussalam was now directing its efforts "far less at the past" than at the "increasingly urgent present."

His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam made this observation in a 'titah' during the opening of the Second Bali Democracy Forum at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, which aims to promote regional and international cooperation in democratic and political development in Asia.

His Majesty, who graced the forum in the previous year at its inception, said: "The forum is only a year old. But I think it is starting to offer something very special in regional and international affairs."

The monarch added: "I thank all our friends from this region and beyond. Their presence inspires us. Their words and thoughts unite us in common purpose."

His Majesty said the 10-member Asean has 10 very different systems of government and also highlighted challenges that threaten Brunei's traditional way of life, which may lead to further insecurities on its economy, finance and environment.

"This is the result of many things. There is the history and geography of our region and the influence of events and forces from outside our region.

"There is the structure of our societies. And most importantly, there are our customs, faiths and traditions.

"All these, of course, have been well explained by historians, political scientists and economists. But, at the end of it all, one simple fact remains - we are what history has made us.

"In that sense, our efforts in Brunei today are directed far less at the past than at the increasingly urgent present."

According to His Majesty, this is a task that is both "exciting and disturbing".

"It is exciting because of the bright new future that we could be opening up... It is disturbing because there are also challenges that are neither clear nor bright," said His Majesty.

"They are dark. They are dim. They are felt rather than known. They challenge our traditional way of life, our religious life, our family life, our community life and our social relations. They are felt by our people who often worry about the impact of the Internet, the television and the influence of new ideas and new values."

His Majesty noted that all these could lead to fear for security, whether it is economic, personal, financial or environmental.

In light of this, His Majesty said that it was important for leaders to have the trust and confidence of the people that these challenges will be met.

In this regard, His Majesty said that the Brunei Government would continue to give priority on important matters such as education, health care, food security and economic diversification.

"In the face of all this, we believe that our generation of leadership in all walks of life has one overriding responsibility - that is to give our people confidence and trust.

"Here, I mean the confidence that their most cherished values are not under threat.

"The confidence that the absolutes that shape their family and community lives will not disappear.

"The confidence that respects faith, social stability and goodwill towards each other are enduring.

"And by trust, I mean the trust that their government will not allow the modern world to destroy all this and the trust that they will be well prepared, educated, and equipped to see globalisation as something to be embraced and welcomed.

"That broadly represents our approach to the Brunei we see emerging today. Just as the world around us is changing at an astonishing pace, so is our society and so is our people."

"There is a lesson from this," said His Majesty. "We must be constantly assessing and re-assessing. The past is what it is. The future will be the same. Only the present is changeable."

"That is what we are now engaged in. Its official names are 'education', 'heath care', 'food security', 'economic diversification' and so on."

His Majesty also highlighted the target for regional integration of an Asean Community by 2015 and encouraged member states to work closely together towards achieving this goal.

The monarch also stressed on the importance of regional association and acknowledged the efforts made by Asean in adjusting to the new world of the 21st Century.

Other world leaders who attended the forum themed "Promoting Synergy between Democracy and Development in Asia: Prospects for Regional Cooperation", included Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Japanese Prime Minister Hatoyama and Timor Leste's leader, Xanana Gusmao.

Thirty-six countries are participating in the forum with 12 others attending as observers.

Earlier, Yudhoyono said that as the world clawed its way out of financial turmoil, economies had to restructure in a way that protected the "poor and weak", according to AFP reports.

"The crisis has forced the world to conduct restructuring that is more democratic. One of the consequences (of the crisis) is the surge in demand for more inclusive growth," the Indonesian president said.

He said representative, accountable government would be "hollow" without development.

"Many have the opinion that democracy is not the ultimate objective. The ultimate objective of democracy as well as development is creating prosperity for the people," he said.

Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said elections this year in India, Indonesia and Japan testified to the health of democracy in the region.

But he said challenges remained in countries like China, Myanmar and North Korea.

On China, he said there were "great expectations" that Beijing would "continue to make progress as a responsible power on the issues of democracy and human rights".

The Bali Democracy Forum is intended to provide an "open framework" for dialogue where countries like China and Myanmar can participate without fear of censure. - Borneo Bulletin (11th December 2009)