Different concepts of democracy
covering burma and southeast asia
Monday, July 23, 2018


Different concepts of democracy

By Asiaweek MAY, 1997 - VOLUME 5 NO.2

After 16 years as the head of his country and its dominant party, Mahathir is as outspoken as ever — on ASEAN, leadership and more. Recently, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad met with Asiaweek Editor Ann Morrison and Kuala Lumpur-based correspondents Roger Mitton and Steven K.C. Poh in his office. Here are excerpts from the interview: Will Asean admit Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos this year? I think that could happen. And it should happen. I see no reason why we should take into consideration internal matters when we come together. We too have been guilty of the same things these other countries are accused of. For example, during the Ferdinand Marcos period, there was no democracy in the Philippines, but we never asked them to leave Asean. There was a time in Thailand when there was a military leadership, yet we did not ask them to leave. And our democracies are not the same. We have different concepts of democracy. I don’t think we should hold this against any member country. Why the hurry to admit these nations? Because we think it will have a very positive effect on them. They are afraid of the democratic process, because they have never seen how it works. It may work in Europe, but if they don’t see that it can work in an Asian country, in an Asean country, they will not be convinced. It is much more convincing to see how Malaysia manages its free market and its system of democracy than if they were to see the vague democracies of Europe. Over time, they will tend to give more voice to the people. But it is difficult for them to put their house in order so quickly. We can’t wait until they put their house in order before admitting them to Asean. They become a member first, then put their house in order. Do you find the present regime in Myanmar offensive? No, they are definitely an improvement on previous regimes. Not so long ago, Burma was trying to practice the Burmese way of socialism — a total isolationist policy. They said they didn’t care what the rest of the world thinks. So they didn’t have any idea at all about how to be more democratic. They were totally opposed to any kind of opposition. Under the previous government, I’m quite sure Aung San Suu Kyi would be kept inside. You are against sanctions being applied on Myanmar? You know the first thing that the big powers think of is to squeeze such smaller countries. Hurt them and therefore they will comply. This doesn’t work. Because Burma has already proven that it was quite capable of cutting itself off from the rest of the world. They are not going to starve. They’ve got lots of food, lots of resources. They will stay that way. We think that it’s better to have contact with them — fostering constructive engagement. [Top] Reproduced from Asiaweek.

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