Saturday, October 29, 2011

ASEAN's Role in Democratization of Myanmar

In an atmosphere filled with fear and unrest, military-controlled Myanmar finally completed its purported 'multiparty democratic elections' after more than two decades. Although almost the entire world has been criticizing the elections as unfair, the Myanmar military government is expected to proclaim to the entire world that Myanmar had accomplished its democratic elections with a high voter turnout.
Myanmar is a member of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). However, it is sad to point out that as a regional organization, ASEAN could only play an onlooker role in Myanmar's elections. Prior to the elections, ASEAN had proposed to send its observers to oversee the electoral process. Yet, the Myanmar military government, which obviously knew nothing about basic courtesy, flatly rejected the good intention of ASEAN with the reason that Myanmar had adequate experience about elections. In addition, the military government claimed that it would allow each of the embassies and UN agencies in Myanmar to send up to five representatives to observe the voting process at the polling stations. But at the end of the day, these representatives were blocked from visiting to the polling stations for security reason.
Treaty of Amity and Cooperation
ASEAN approved the membership of Myanmar in 1997. The decision was made out of the concern that in the face of the plight of being isolated by the Western countries, Myanmar might turn more and more to China. Furthermore, the Burmese military government had also announced earlier that it was ready to accept ASEAN's Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, demonstrating its wish to be on good terms with its neighboring countries.
After Myanmar officially became a member of ASEAN, the organization has consistently called on the country to conform to the rules and regulations of ASEAN and preserve the reputation of the organization. However, the Myanmar military government continues to go its own way and simply disregard the calls from ASEAN. For example, ASEAN has repeatedly urged the military regime to give proper treatment to the democratic icon of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, and hoped that the military regime would release her. But until today, Suu Kyi is still placed under house arrest. This is because the military regime has assumed that ASEAN needs Myanmar, which is abundant in natural resources, more than Myanmar needs ASEAN.
Fair Elections
For the elections this time, as usual, ASEAN released a statement to express its hope that the elections would be conducted in a fair and transparent manner. But what else can ASEAN do in addition to expressing its hope? Elections are part of the internal affairs of a country. At present, there is an unwritten rule among the 10-member states of ASEAN, namely the member states are not allowed to interfere into the internal affairs of other countries. Therefore, as long as ASEAN persists to 'abide by' this 'sacred' rule, it can do nothing even though it knows well that the elections were unfair.
While the entire world is condemning the elections held by the military regime, eventually ASEAN will still release a statement to welcome the accomplishment of the elections and express its hope that this will be the first step of the democratization of Myanmar.

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