Fear and loathing as Asia-Pacific nations meet to promote tolerance

At a forum to advance democracy and equality, some leaders are more on-message than others

Bali

Julia was not speaking to Mahmoud. Yingluck looked at him with apprehension. Both Recep and Hamid have had big issues with him in the past. Julia has had a few critical things to say in the past about Hamid as well. But, outwardly at least, they hid their feelings for the sake of promoting governance, tolerance and human rights.

The Bali Democracy Forum was attended by a dozen heads of state from the Asia-Pacific region, and observers from the US and Western European states, including the UK. It was organised by the government of Indonesia, which has, it is generally agreed in the international community, made significant strides towards becoming a stable state, recovering from bloodletting in the past, with a functioning parliament and relatively independent media. Its strong economic progress and lucrative market potential was one of the reasons for the hosting of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono by Britain for last week's state visit.

It is, however, questionable how many of the leaders who turned up for the summit this week were on the same democratic journey.

Afghanistan's President, Hamid Karzai, was noticeably resplendent in his signature green robe and karakul hat, and said all the right things. But the elections that kept him in power were mired in fraud and vote rigging startling even by the standards of the neighbourhood. It is the continuing corruption in the Kabul government which had led the Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and other Western leaders to question for whose sake their soldiers are dying in the war, now in its 11th year.

Also represented at the conference was Brunei, whose ruler, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, is one of the few absolute monarchs left in the world. However, his officials were at pains to point out, the kingdom is not an oppressive place and is open to a dialogue on reforms. Brunei does, of course, pay to base British troops – a regiment of Gurkhas – there.

But there was to be no dialogue between Ms Gillard, a co-chair of the forum, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran; she has refused to meet him because of his regime's perceived intransigence over its nuclear programme. Instead she dealt with matters in hand, concentrating, in particular, on the need to empower women further. All the leaders on the rostrum clapped, including Mr Karzai, who bears a degree of responsibility for failing to stop the hard-won women's rights achieved after the fall of the Taliban from being clawed back.

The only one who did not clap was Mr Ahmadinejad, who was staring at his desk. Perhaps he was reflecting on how female students in Iran have now been banned from 80 different degree courses, a move described by the country's Nobel Prize-winning lawyer, Shirin Ebadi, as "another initiative by the government to restrict women's access to education, stop them being active in society and return them to the homes". Mr Ahmadinejad, who is helping to prop up President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, sat at the other end of the table from the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Erdogan, whose government is backing the rebels in the increasingly vicious civil war.

Mr Erdogan was scathing towards the Damascus regime in his speech. There were no plans for the two leaders to meet, Ankara officials said.

Bali had been chosen as the venue for the forum because of the horrific bombing that killed 202 people here a decade ago. Islamist terrorists targeted the island because it is predominantly Hindu in a Muslim state and is a holiday destination for Western tourists. One of the stated aims of the Indonesian constitution is to buttress the unity among its different religions and combat sectarianism.

In his turn at the rostrum, the President of Iran spoke lavishly of tolerance and democracy building a "better and more beautiful world". But he then complained: "In practice democracy has turned into the rule of the minority over the majority. That is why the pure-hearted don't get to be part of the governance."

Salvation will come with the return of the 12th Imam and the day of judgement, he said. "He knows human beings will not taste the sweetness of life unless monotheism reigns supreme in the major centres of power in the world. The arrival of the Ultimate Saviour will usher in the beginning of the truest spring for mankind." Yingluck Shinawatra, a Buddhist, a woman and Prime Minister of Thailand, looked away and shuddered delicately.

News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Worldwide ticket sales for The Lion King musical surpassed $6.2bn ($3.8bn) this summer
tvMusical is biggest grossing show or film in history
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
food + drink
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits