Indonesia Could Ratify ASEAN Charter Next Month: FM

LEGIAN/JAKARTA/SINGAPORE ~ The national parliament could ratify the new ASEAN charter as early as next month, the foreign minister said on Wednesday, rejecting suggestions the country was dragging its feet.

Indonesia is one of only three states of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) not to have ratified the charter, which aims at closer political and economic integration and sets benchmarks for democracy.

Asked if the charter would be ratified by October, Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda told the AFP newswire: “Maybe even by September.”

“I prefer to have a public that knows what the ASEAN charter is all about rather than to rush into it. We’re a very open society discussing the pros and cons – it’s normal,” he said.

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong earlier on Wednesday urged ASEAN parliamentarians to speed up the ratification process.

“The charter has already been ratified by seven member countries and we look forward to its eventual and expeditious ratification by all members,” Lee said in a speech to the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly in Singapore.

The charter requires the bloc to uphold ideals of democracy and human rights and to make legally binding commitments. It also envisages the creation of a massive free trade zone by 2015.

Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore and Vietnam have ratified the document, while Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand have not.

Similar remarks from Lee at an ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting in July angered some Indonesian parliamentarians, who reportedly complained they were being bullied to back the charter.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono supports the document but Wirayuda acknowledged there were “cynics” in Indonesia who questioned the bloc’s relevance.

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