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Rethinking AIPA: The Overlooked Assembly in ASEAN’s Shadow

ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA)’s 44th General Assembly, recently convened in Jakarta, drew limited media attention despite crucial resolutions focusing on youth’s political engagement.

While AIPA’s current structure is far from a regional parliament, its principles should resonate with Southeast Asia’s populace.

Enhancements, from improved visibility to dedicated infrastructure, could reshape its role, bridging regional aspirations with national interests.



by Simone Galimberti

You might have missed it because ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA) never gets much of the limelight.

As a consequence, hardly you will find headlines in the news focusing on the work of the ASEAN Interparliamentary Assembly.

So, it is unsurprising that you might not know that the 44th General Assembly of AIPA session was convened in Jakarta between the 5-11 August.

It is also tempting to say that having missed it was not a big deal and that the resolutions passed are inconsequential for the region.

While AIPA actually does not minimally resemble to any real regional parliament and this is universally acknowledged, AIPA or better the principles and ideas behind it, should matter to the people of South East Asia.

That no one pays attention to this institution is unfortunate actually and also unfair to those who really are working hard to establish a stronger parliamentarian dimension of ASEAN.

It is also unfortunate because some of the resolutions discussed (I wish I could have read them but several requests made to the AIPA Secretariat via e-mail went unanswered) could be really important because they were focused on youths’ participation in political life.

I am referring to two resolutions, one on Advancing Youth Engagement for Inclusive Development Economic Transformation, and Democratic Participation that was proposed by Indonesia.

The other one was the resolution on Advancing the Role of Young Parliamentarians in Governance brought forward by Malaysia.

Both were non-binding as any outcome coming out by AIPA meetings and were discussed by one of its sub-entities, The Young Parliamentarians of AIPA (YPA).

Truly faithful to ASEAN’s way, the governance of AIPA is also quite complex. Simplifying quite a bit. Let me try to explain it.

Apart from the General Assembly which meets once a year and consists of a plenary session and several subcommittees, there is a Caucus that gathers annually and several “ad-hoc” study groups on drugs related matters.

The YPA together with a similar convening group targeting female members of the parliaments of the ASEAN member states, are a bit in the limbo in this complexity.

This is a further indication of the vast potential to streamline and better organize the whole structure of AIPA.

Now, a disclaimer that might surprise the readers.

AIPA, legally speaking, is a separate legal entity from ASEAN though the ASEAN Charter defines it as “an affiliate” organization.

This is an oddity that should be fixed as soon as possible because it is crystal clear that AIPA’s overall aim and mission is to support the holistic development of ASEAN as a community of people.

Though one sure thing is that AIPA is not going to turn itself into a regional parliament any time soon, it is worthy thinking about ways to improve and strengthen it.

Those dreaming about setting up a regional parliament have to confront a current approach within ASEAN that also reflects existing dynamics within the bloc that are not at all conducive to moving towards the establishment of a real chamber.

Yet what is possible is to keep brainstorming about long-term scenarios while trying to fix and improve what already exists.

Certainly, having some statesmanship among the current leaders of the bloc that would drive towards a drastic upgrade of AIPA would be very useful. Still, none of the leaders now in power seems interested.

Once again, those who were expecting some breakthroughs from the ongoing Indonesian Presidency of ASEAN got hugely disappointed.

AIPA could have been one area where President Jokowi should have pushed for some reforms but it did not happen.

It is a missed opportunity because, realistically speaking, it’s not unimaginable to work with the current existing governance of AIPA and its different sub-bodies and try to make them, not only more effective but also more accountable to the citizens of the region.

First of all, the General Assembly, the main configuration of AIPA, what, in practice is a gathering of representatives of the national parliaments and theoretically could evolve into a regional parliament, should increase the frequency of its meetings.

From just one jamboree in a year, the General Assembly should aim to gather at least twice a year in the form of a full plenary.

One option would be to take better advantage of the ASEAN-AIPA Leaders’ Interface.

This is an opportunity where representatives of AIPA (the President of it that normally is the Chair of the parliament of the nation hosting the rotating chairmanship of ASEAN and the AIPA Secretary-General that leads a small Secretariat) to meet the leaders of ASEAN during one of their biannual summits.

The Interface could be preceded by another General Assembly but without the jamboree of a typical session that, and this is another oddity, also includes the participation of a delegation of observer nations.

Indeed, there is no real need to have foreign representations attending as observers to the annual General Assembly.

The existing relationships with other parliaments could be accommodated in a different format on the sidelines of the General Assembly.

There is also potential to make the AIPA Caucus work better and more effectively.

This body, if you think about it, you will probably find the name quite atypical, is at the same time a coordinating body that also plays the role of monitoring if the member states are implementing the resolutions taken by the AIPA General Assembly.

Potentially, this much smaller and therefore agile institution within the AIPA’s galaxy, could turn itself into a body that could truly keep the ASEAN member states accountable.

Perhaps the Caucus could be better integrated and merged with the General Assembly, a body that should fully and better incorporate its existing but unnoticeable sub-bodies.

For this to happen, the Caucus needs a much stronger visibility.

This would only happen if it gains a better recognition, first among the governments of the member states of ASEAN and then among the wider society.

At the end of the day for the Caucus to truly matter it will depend on its capacity to gain and retain relevancy, truly acting as an intermediary watchdog between a thin, still weak regional forum of parliamentarians and the national assemblies where they sit.

A first step in this process would be to ensure that it better carry out its functions in a proper manner and more frequently.

Ideally, a revamped Caucus and fully integrated with the General Assembly (ideally with a different name) could meet quarterly.

Even the existing committees within the General Assembly, for example, focused on political, economic and social matters, should meet more often.

While a reform of the AIPA Caucus could be deemed acceptable enough to all the ASEAN member states, what could be intriguing and in ASEAN matters truly politically acceptable, is the strengthening of the youth dimension of AIPA.

As per now, young MPs do meet during each session of the General Assembly but their meetings do not have neither the political relevance nor much recognition and you can wonder about their legitimacy.

Therefore, it is important to brainstorm on ways to make the proceedings of the General Assembly more youths focused and centered.

To start with, an idea could be to turn the existing institutional arrangement into an official committee of the General Assembly.

Lastly, a symbolic but essential element.

AIPA should have a dedicated building in Jakarta where also the ASEAN Secretariat is located.

Having such structure in place would give some fresh perspective to all the member of the parliaments of each ASEAN member state.

A building would make a tiny but important difference.

Even if it is going to be business as usual with no determination to change the way AIPA works, the truth is that, an AIPA Complex would already represent a change, and a very noticeable one, at least visually.

A building that would host not only a stronger Secretariat that despite not answering requests like mine, is trying to revamp its image with enhanced communication with the outside world.

A dedicated AIPA building should host also a full time President, a person that should be nominated by the ASEAN Leaders once AIPA would become fully integrated with the regional bloc.

A President that should be able to stay in office, ideally for three years.
Are these proposals so daunting and impossible to imagine being implemented?

Personally, I do not think so.

They are gradual and not revolutionary in nature but would give more legitimacy to and strengthen the image of AIPA, a body of which, at the moment, no one cares about.

This must change.

There is possible way to start this difficult but feasible process of transformation.
The AIPA Secretariat should fully promote and make visible the resolutions recently taken in Jakarta, including updating its online database.

Let’s the citizens of ASEAN understand the potential and implications of giving a chance to AIPA, an imperfect organization in a very imperfect community of nations.

This is another way, let’s remind ourselves, to contribute to the long-term project of having a more united region.

Simone Galimberti writes on democracy, social inclusion, youth development, regional integration, SDGs and human rights in the context of Asia Pacific.

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