Hanoi ASEAN Summit should take a strong For Myanmar

08/04/2010 Hanoi ASEAN Summit should take a strong stand to demand free, fair and inclusive elections in Myanmar allowing participation by Aung San Suu Kyi or ASEAN should withhold recognition of legitimacy for election result

The 16th ASEAN Summit currently being held in Hanoi should take a strong stand to demand free, fair and inclusive elections in Myanmar allowing participation by Burmese democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi or ASEAN should withhold recognition of legitimacy for the Myanmese election result.

Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said in Hanoi yesterday that all countries, including Malaysia, must play their part for the concept of ASEAN community to become a reality.

He said ASEAN must take the multilateral resolutions agreed at the regional stage seriously if the grouping is to realize the ASEAN community by 2005.

Najib and all ASEAN leaders must be mindful that the ASEAN community is based on three pillars, economic, political and socio-cultural, in particular the human rights commitments made by all the ASEAN governments in the ASEAN Charter “to strengthen democracy, enhance good governance and the rule of law, and to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms” (Section 7).

Unfortunately, on the biggest issue confronting ASEAN legitimacy today, the holding of free, fair and inclusive elections in Myanmar, Najib and other ASEAN leaders have been singularly silent at the Hanoi ASEAN Summit.

This is an issue the ASEAN leaders cannot avoid at the Hanoi ASEAN Summit without the regional organization and all the ASEAN leaders being subject to national, regional and international criticisms for being wishy-washy and insincere about their human rights commitments in the ASEAN Charter.

The ASEAN Summit has been presented with a petition by more than 100 ASEAN legislators calling on ASEAN leaders to sanction Myanmar if it failed to hold free and fair elections.

The petition reads:

On 8 March 2010, the military government of Myanmar published new laws governing the electoral process for the nation’s general elections planned for later this year. Numerous provisions in the laws guarantee that the elections will not be open and inclusive of Myanmar’s diverse population, notably excluding participation of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and Myanmar’s leading pro-democracy icon, Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners who form a substantial share of the leadership of non-military-aligned movements and political parties.

With the promulgation of these apparent biased laws, clearly aimed at preventing opposition parties and candidates from contesting the elections, the regime has forfeited its best opportunity to show willingness to engage in an inclusive process of national reconciliation and the establishment of a lawful and democratic government for the Union of Myanmar. In light of this fact, ASEAN and individual governments of its member States must undertake resolute actions to convey to Myanmar’s military dictators that its disregard for principles of democratic governance and human rights is unacceptable and no longer tolerable by its regional neighbours.

Because of the exclusionary provisions of the election laws and the fundamental flaws in the country’s Constitution, enacted in 2008, under which the elections will be held, the results of the elections cannot be acknowledged or accepted by ASEAN, both morally and politically.

Furthermore, the elections are evidently designed to do nothing more than firmly entrench the military’s role in the future governance of Myanmar. The elections will in no way facilitate the formation of a representative, democratic government. If Myanmar insists on conducting the elections without reviewing and revising the 2008 Constitution and the election laws, it leaves ASEAN with no choice but to reject the results of the planned elections.

As Myanmar has thus far ignored ASEAN’s calls to reform and has not been positively influenced by the policy of ‘constructive engagement,’ a new and more decisive course of action must be undertaken. ASEAN should immediately enact strict and targeted economic sanctions against Myanmar’s military government.

Despite large budget surpluses generated from regional trade, the regime has done nothing to improve the welfare of its citizens. The living standards of average citizens have fallen desperately low while members of the military regime and their associates have grown increasingly wealthy off profits from the exploitation of Myanmar’s vast natural resources. Targeted sanctions would effectively cut the economic lifeline of these corrupt leaders and compel them to begin genuine dialogue and reforms.

Furthermore, Myanmar has categorically failed to uphold its responsibilities and adhere to the principles enshrined in the ASEAN Charter. It should, therefore, be immediately suspended from the grouping and its permanent expulsion earnestly considered.

Simultaneously, ASEAN should support, if not propose, to the United Nations Security Council that an arms embargo and most importantly a Commission of Inquiry on crimes against humanity be brought on Myanmar, as recommended by the UN Special Rapportuer on Human Rights, Tomas Ojae Quintana.

Immediate, substantial and effective action must be taken as all forms of constructive engagement with Myanmar’s military regime have undoubtedly failed.

Although a date has not been for the elections by the Myanmar military junta, it is believed that it will be held on Oct. 10, considered an auspicious date by the Burmese generals.

Najib and the other ASEAN governments must stand up and send an unmistakable message to the Myanmar military junta at the Hanoi ASEAN Summit that free, fair and inclusive elections allowing the participation of Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar is a litmust test of its qualification as a continued member of ASEAN in the light of the ASEAN Charter and its human rights commitments.