Asia has a huge diversity of types of government, ranging from dictatorships to absolute monarchies to constitutional monarchies to democracies, with many variations on each type. Notwithstanding this range, elections have become part of the political fabric of most Asian countries, although the degrees of freedom and fairness in elections vary considerably from country to country. Since World War II, most Asian countries have made at least some progress in moving towards more meaningful elections and real democratization.
The value of democracy (and the value of human rights, of which democracy is a component) has increased throughout Asia during this time, and today there is a conscious effort on the part of the people in each Asian country (and many of their governments) to work towards fully free elections and full democratization. However, even now, many Asian countries face a continuing challenge in achieving those ends. While most of the countries in Asia share many attributes of a common past, including a history of being subjected to often harsh colonialism followed by independence and the evolution from nominally democratic governments to governments more fully embracing truly democratic principles, it is still not clear why some countries have progressed more than others on the road to real democracy.
In the past, people from many countries discussed the idea for a (non-binding) Asian agreement to complement the “Declaration on Criteria for Free and Fair Elections”. Such a document would have its own character and be crafted to be suitable to the prevailing political and cultural conditions in Asia. Through discussions of aspirations and concerns aired by election stakeholders, election management bodies, civil society and election observer groups, an idea was born to organize a series of dialogues to draft such a document for guiding electoral processes more effectively throughout Asia.
The Asian Network for Free Elections, with members across Asia, championed the creation of a mechanism in Asia to address common electoral issues while also advancing the rule of law and honoring the cultures, traditional laws and customs of the many peoples who live in Asia. Thanks to its years of work in the region, and the deep involvement each ANFREL member has in its own country, the ANFREL network, its members working together, guided the process of creating just such a mechanism. The result is the Bangkok Declaration on Free and Fair Elections, which was endorsed in the inaugural meeting of the Asian Electoral Stakeholder Forum. The declaration will serve as the founding document of the AES Forum and, as such, will guide much of its work in the future.