As Alexis de Tocqueville, a notable historian, noted, civil society organizations (CSO) create “habits of the heart” necessary to be full participants in democratic governance. CSO functions as advocates on important issues, watchdogs on human rights, and homes to individuals sharing a common faith, ethnicity, or interest. This is why CSO engagement is deemed as important in creating a “people-oriented ASEAN as a part of Global Community.” CSO engagement with ASEAN has been proposed since the birth of ASEAN charter (2007) and promulgated in the recent Draft Guidelines on Civil Society engagement with ASEAN. However, CSO is yet to receive any recognition from ASEAN leaders.
Indonesian Chairmanship of ASEAN began on January 1, 2011, with the theme “ASEAN Community in a Global Community of Nations.” Hence, to move forward towards ASEAN Community by 2015, Indonesia will engage CSO across Southeast Asia in the 7th ASEAN Civil Society Conference (ACSC)/ASEAN People’s Forum (APF) which will be held in Jakarta, Indonesia, May 2011.
Having previous meeting in Cha-am and Hanoi, CSO is yet to function effectively in the regional level, due to its unrecognized status. There are gaps between the current CSO programs and agenda and ASEAN agenda. To harmonize both interest, strong action need to be taken by having this conference along with the interface and declaration made by ASEAN CSO to be proposed to ASEAN leaders. Hence, after 7 conferences, the ASEAN leaders will hopefully move forward in achieving a people oriented ASEAN, one of which by having its leader sign therecent Draft Guidelines on Civil Society engagement with ASEAN.