Asean and the Lady
covering burma and southeast asia
Monday, October 15, 2018


Asean and the Lady


(Page 2 of 2)

Informal discussions have already begun on various plans to work with the new government’s leaders and to help strengthen new institutions that have to be set up following the election.

One concern is that the new Burmese government could end up displaying the same kind of resistance to change that its predecessor did. As the incoming Asean chair, Indonesia will thus face twin challenges in interacting with Burma. First of all, Jakarta will play a pivotal role in further integrating the new government into the Asean scheme of things, to ensure that it will be accepted by the international community, which uniformly condemned the flawed election. To increase its credibility, Burma will certainly assume the Asean chair, which it skipped in 2005,  in 2014, after Cambodia and Brunei have taken their turns. Secondly, Indonesia, as the only Southeast Asian member of the G20, will have to walk a tightrope to balance between regional and international expectations. Failure to do so could easily undermine Jakarta’s ambition of raising the Asean community’s international stature.

Seen from this perspective, the release of Aung San Suu Kyi following the election was a source of relief for Asean. Much is at stake in how Suu Kyi—one of Asean’s most prominent citizens—is treated. The Asean Charter and all of the other sacred documents produced by the grouping will be seen as worthless if Suu Kyi’s case is mishandled.

More than the Asean leaders would like to admit, Suu Kyi has a moral authority that far exceeds anything they can claim for themselves. She can challenge them to look at her case and honor their pledge to protect her rights as a citizen of Asean. There is no need to remind them that the Asean Charter begins with the words, “We the peoples,” echoing the preamble of the American Declaration of Independence. During the drafting process of the terms of reference in 2007, this choice of words was approved quickly and without dissension.

Suu Kyi has to capture that high moral ground by reaching out to all stakeholders within Asean, especially its leaders and bureaucrats. Unlike the restrictive situation that prevailed when she was released for the first time in 1995, there are now more Asean citizens living in a democratic environment than ever before. Indonesia, which used to serve as a model of the current Burmese military junta, has transformed itself into a vibrant democracy. All Asean members have also pledged to make the grouping a people-oriented community.

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