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The Bulldog and the ASEAN

Kanbawza Win

Will another ASEAN Foreign Minister's in Bali yield anything for Burma? Why are we hoping against hope when the answer is already a big No. The international community has strongly endorsed the NLD (National League for Democracy) for power sharing with the Burmese thugs headed by its bulldog (christened by the Burmese business community) Than Shwe This strong bulldog has drag on and the country sinks deeper and deeper into crisis. The odd behavior and political moves of this aging despot whose manic, xenophobic and superstitious character bode ill for a country that needs to pull itself into the 21st century and into the international community.

The NLD’s proposal, made on Union Day, (February 12, 2006) calls for the Junta to convene Parliament comprising the MPs-elect from the 1990 elections so that the Parliament can, in turn, legitimately appoint the Junta as a legitimate, transitional authority. It seems that the arrangement gives all parties what they want and need instead of a bogus National Convention and roadmap. It will also function as a dialogue process, allowing elected MPs from all political parties - NLD, ethnic nationality parties and the regime-sponsored National Unity Party – to work together with the regime. This innovative move utilizes both the law and historical precedent to break the political impasse. But this offer was ridiculed in the Junta's mouthpiece "Myanma Alin" likening to U Nu's initiative of the 33 Advisory Committee.  

If one were to dissect the NLD plan a big question of did the NLD have a strategy for brining democracy to Burma now that the military have refused and the deadline 17th April, the Burmese New Year that coincide with this year's ASEAN' retreat at Bali. If there is no backup plan the NLD will lose credibility and will become irrelevant. This plan has a diverse effect both positive and negative. The positive effect is that it divided the military and the Burman group hail it as a master piece, while the negative effect is that the ethnic group sees that this is a "Maha Bama" strategy to marginalize them, for instead of pushing for a tripartite dialogue, it can possible make a deal behind their back. This will reinforced the theory of forming the Union of Nationalities without the Burman/Myanmar group which every ethnic group believes will not tackle the basic ethnic problem. But the NLD has the vision to suggest that an ASEAN leader be appointed as a mediator and obviously they always had a vested interest in ensuring that a peaceful political settlement is achieved in Burma.

The toilet diplomacy, which both the regime and ASEAN has been implementing seems to go down the toilet drain itself. In last year's ASEAN Summit, when all the nine member countries were anxiously waiting whether Burma would waive the prestigious positing of the Chairmanship, the negotiations ended in the toilet when the Burmese delegation announced that it would not accept it to the relief of all lest their relations with Europe and other countries would be jeopardy. 

To save face the ASEAN decided to send its spokesperson Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar to Burma to monitor the democratic process and if possible to help bring national reconciliation. The Burmese Junta easily hoodwinked it by gladly announcing them that the delegation would be welcome. After much delay Syed Hamid reached Rangoon and was not allow to meet General Than Shwe. The Junta as usual, has failed to reciprocate their good will since these blood thirsty generals were admitted in 1997. It has never voluntarily shared meaningful information concerning its domestic developments with other ASEAN members which is an important aspect in confidence-building measures. Chairing the retreat will be Syed Hamid  himself who had admitted since the visit that he did not witness any “significant development” he told Malaysia’s The Star newspaper. “There is that feeling that we are being held hostage by Burma on some of the progress.” Hence the big question is, will the grouping continues to extend their consistence assistance? Of course the junta leaders came to ASEAN for protection in the international arena and after that they ignored them as if the grouping didn’t exist and the ASEAN countries had meekly acquiesce.

Singapore, the most-developed economy in ASEAN suggested last month that Burma should be sidelined within the bloc. Foreign Minister George Yeo, addressing Singapore’s Parliament, said that ASEAN “will have to distance ourselves a bit if it is not possible for the Burmese to engage us in a way which we find necessary to defend them internationally." Indonesia, meanwhile, showed its determination to address the Burma issue during a visit by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to Rangoon in March, which saw both sides form a joint commission, with Jakarta appointing two special envoys to Burma, including former foreign minister Ali Alatas. The paradoxical aspect is that Ali Alatas is a representative of the Eminent Persons Group which will present a progress report on its suggestions for an ASEAN charter. The group’s chair, former deputy prime minister of Malaysia Musa Hitam, has said that more emphasis will likely also be placed on ASEAN’s ability to involve itself in the internal affairs of its members. Current rules say this is strictly forbidden, although the bloc has already tested the limits of this part of ASEAN protocol in its handling of the Burma issue. One of the feeble excuses by ASEAN for propping up the dictators was that of keeping Burma away from becoming a strong ally of China.  It seems that the grouping can no longer risk its reputation by associating itself with such a grossly negligent and brutal regime. 

Lately Singapore Prime Minister Mr. Lee Hsien Loong, Malaysian political leader Datuk Mohd Zaid bin Ibrahim and leaders of the Philippines have begun speaking up for a true democratic leadership in Burma to promote peace and prosperity in their region.  The Thai government, however, has still decided to keep quiet on the desperate UNHCR refugees fleeing to Thailand to escape the brutal Burmese dictators.

Speaking out against an illegitimate Burmese Junta should not conflict with the respectable notion of non-interference in another nation's internal affairs.  Without a genuine democracy the Burmese people live under unspeakable conditions. ASEAN's endorsements of the Junta will not only prolong the people's sufferings in Burma, but it will also compromise the ASEAN unity and integrity.  Without a doubt, the time has come for ASEAN to stop endorsing the illegitimate government and start supporting the truly elected democratic leaders who were under ruthless attacks in Burma. 

Obviously the culprit is ASEAN's Constructive Engagement that has long gone down the toilet drain, a scapegoat must be found and Singapore targeted India and China for not doing enough. Hence, this Bali retreat is what in Burmese call, "Thingyan A Myauk" meaning a cannon blast marking the Burmese New Year Water Festival of Thingyan (Songkrang in Thai) that made a lot of noise with no cannon ball inside.

It has been a very long time since the people demonstrated and had elected Aung San Suu Kyi with the hope that she would make a bridge between Burma and the modern and democratic world.  The Burmese people hope that genuine actions committed toward peace and freedom by the ASEAN, Japan, China, India and the rest of Asia, one day Burma may be able to take real pride in rejoining the Asian community again. Therefore, it is most important for ASEAN to defeat the challenges to the Southeast Asian leadership and endorse the cause for democracy in Burma.



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