Sunday, June 19, 2005

Renewed calls for freedom as Suu Kyi turns 60 - World -

The only nobel laurate still behind bars. For most part, winning the Nobel Peace Price has been a massive incentive for a nation to undergo political change and reform e.g. Nelson Mandela and apartheid South Africa.

Living in this part of the world and particular in South East Asia (S.E.A.) I think this is one of the few rare human right issues that actually strikes a chord (not a huge one admittedly) amongst most other members of ASEAN who have always shown a remarkable distaste in inferring in the domestic political scene of their fellow members. If I'm not wrong, part of this policy evolved in tendem with the tendancy of nations to attempt to work through consensus rather than say a popular vote, which explains the slow progress of ASEAN on almost every front, particular economic (considering that this was the ostensible reason for its creation in the first place).

At any rate, so slow was the progress of its economic liberalisation *cough* proton *cough* that Singapore and Thailand actually advocated a 2+X policy whereby any two nations that wanted to go ahead with such liberalisation could do so without the consensus of the remaining members who would (as the idea goes) join them once there were ready.

Anyway, back to Myanmar. For those of us who have no idea what the history of The Lady is, back in 1991, the Generals of the ruling military junta of Burma decided to hold elections confident in their ability to win the popular vote. As it turned out, they were soundly whipped by the Aung San Suu Kyi led pro-democracy National League of Democracy (NLD) who won around 90% of the vote. Unfortunately the junta vid the election and threw her into jail. Hence beginning a decade and a half cycle of international pressure forcing them to release her and then the junta throwing her back into house arrest or worse jail when they felt that their political survival was threatened by her and the pro-democracy movement. So it has been a history of promises and broken promises.

ASEAN comes in back in 1994 when they decided that since they were an economic organisation devoted to staying out of each others affairs, that they would allow Myanmar to be a member. Of course they was quite a huge uproar internationally but this was the era of the ascendancy of Asia and Asian Values and Democracy. If one wanted to be charitable, it was also true that the policy of embargo and sanctions imposed by the US and EU were not doing any much good in terms to instigating political reform and change. So one argument goes that constructive engagement by ASEAN would do the trick. Well, a decade later and nothing has changed for the better.

One thing that has taken a massive turn for the worse is the growing problems of HIV/AIDS in Myanmar. It's all the standard problems (ignorance, governmental inactivity and tardiness, lack of education, drugs, poverty and the sexual transmission of AIDS, rebel minorities as well as simple infrastructural incapacity) but has been recently made worse because of the dismissal of the ex- No. 3 of the junta, a relatively internationalist and nice guy by most accounts and it seems the only one with a sense of urgency of this particular problem.

So back to the problem of Aung San Suu Kyi, seeing that it is a cyclical problem and that the generals will never leave her in peace as long as she is a threat, I really don't see any happy resolution to this instant problem. Unless the core generals (the top 5) are suddenly willing to cooperate for the greater good of the nation and can face down their underlings who would not want to see their power base challenged, then neither this problem or that of the pandemic is going to be solved. Recognition of the regime by the internation community is not likely to be forthcoming either and even if it does occur, I fear the people of Myanmar will feel a terrible sense of betrayal. But seeing that lives are at stake it might be necessary to do what might seem to be the unthinkable and legitimise the regime in order to get their cooperation to solve the terrible problems plaguing the people.

But this does not mean that they should be allowed the rotating chair of ASEAN.



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