Few were expecting any surprises from the ASEAN Ministerial Retreat in Lombok, Indonesia over the weekend. So when news emerged that the 10-member group was urging an easing of sanctions against Burma (Myanmar), we found it rather shocking, if not altogether disturbing.
The introduction of a regime sanctioned constitution, general elections and the release of Aung San Suu Kyi are grounds for Indonesia and fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to be cautiously optimistic, but nothing more than that. They are certainly not worth betting Indonesia’s international credibility on.
The argument put forward using the election and Suu Kyi’s release as rationale was flawed and premature.
The elections were held under extremely restrictive conditions, to the point that even Indonesian foreign policy analysts here criticized the limitations being placed on international poll watchers. In other words, the process was not open to the kind of scrutiny and critique common in standard elections around the world.
The right to free expression ― whether through public rallies criticizing the government or a free press ― remains void.
We dare ASEAN ministers and leaders to publicly avow that the citizens of Burma have the right to express and channel their aspirations towards a viable political opposition that has the same rights as the ruling regime.
And while the release of Suu Kyi is a nudge in the right direction, are there any assurances of a cessation of political or ethnic persecution when the authority of the regime is under threat? The answer remains no.
When a regime so unabashedly engaged in open political suppression with military force, such as was the case during the saffron revolution just three years ago, we should keep our suspicions on alert.
Nor do we find it difficult to shake off our incongruity when, in 2008, a constitutional referendum was passed with an almost unanimous 92 percent of the ballots, a number which Joseph Stalin would have been proud of.
We are sad ASEAN would feel it necessary to risk its credentials ― yet again ― when a cloud of uncertainty still hangs over Burma. Indonesia should encourage the process of opening up in Myanmar, but it should not put its reputation on the line for a regime that only has itself to blame for its predicament.