In Solidarity for the Restoration of Democracy in Myanmar: A Call to ASEAN

8th April 2021

By: Tan Yi Han*

Seven year old Khin Myo Chit was sitting on her father’s lap in her home when soldiers killed her. Thinzar Hein was a nursing student who was treating injured protestors at protest sites when she was shot in the head by soldiers. Sixteen year old Kyaw Min Latt was cycling with two others when soldiers in a passing vehicle shot him. 

More than 500 civilians have been killed since the Myanmar military, the Tatmadaw, seized power on 1 February 2021. The highest toll – 141 lost their lives in one day of 27 March. The escalating violence represents not only a humanitarian crisis but threatens regional peace, stability and prosperity. 

ASEAN cannot afford to turn a blind eye to this tragedy. The leaders of ASEAN must act decisively to help Myanmar return peacefully to a democratically-elected civilian government. 

ASEAN has taken encouraging first steps. A statement conveyed by ASEAN Chair, Brunei, summarising the meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers, urged for a “peaceful solution” to the crisis. Also deserving of applause are individual statements issued by Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore urging Myanmar’s military rulers to free Suu Kyi and other political leaders who have been arrested. 

Thailand has called for ASEAN to adopt a “collective stand” on Myanmar. That could happen via the high-level ASEAN meeting of Southeast-Asian leaders proposed by Indonesian President Joko Widodo. It is encouraging that Singapore actively supports such a proposal. as stated by the Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister of Foreign Affairs, 

The Myanmar general election on 8 November 2020, won decisively by the National League for Democracy (NLD), had been praised by election monitors for being a peaceful process and that it was free of major irregularities. The Tatmadaw has a right to raise concerns on the election.  In fact the Union Solidarity Development Party  had filed their complaints in court, making it unnecessary an illegal to resort to violence. The coup and subsequent killings call into question the Tatmadaw’s claim to be defending the Constitution and the will of the people. 

The anti-coup movement continues to grow despite the brutal crackdown, suggesting that the coup is widely condemned by the people of Myanmar. Meanwhile, 10 of Myanmar’s ethnic armed groups have thrown their support behind the anti-coup movement. All signs point to a protracted conflict and further escalation of violence.

The peaceful transition to democracy in 2015 had led to a friendly environment for economic investments, including from fellow ASEAN countries. In fact, Singapore has been the largest investor in the country, with US$24.1 billion in approved foreign capital. The coup is therefore not only disastrous for the country’s economic recovery, but also for the entire region’s economy.

Many from ethnic groups and villagers are fleeing the violence, becoming refugees. What is often forgotten is the pandemic and that Covid-19 is still rife. The Chinese city of Ruili near the Myanmar border has already seen an outbreak of Covid.

The gestures made by ASEAN and some of the countries in ASEAN cannot remain as just the spoken word. In fact, there has been success when ASEAN’s engagement effort, among other efforts, helped to pave the way towards Myanmar’s political reforms under Prime Minister (and later President) Thein Sein, leading eventually, to a peaceful transition of power to a democratically-elected civilian-led government in 2015. 

ASEAN must endeavour to use its unique position and relationship with Myanmar to positively influence the Tatmadaw and mediate between the key political stakeholders: the Tatmadaw, Aung San Suu Kyi and the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, and representatives from the ethnic minorities. 

For negotiations to be successful, however, all parties must see it as the best way forward. That means that ASEAN must make a clear stand that while the Tatmadaw is a key stakeholder in Myanmar, it does not represent the people nor the government of Myanmar. Only decisions collectively agreed by Myanmar’s key political stakeholders should be recognised. 

ASEAN is the best hope for the people of Myanmar. I urge the leaders of ASEAN to:

  • Hold as soon as possible a high-level ASEAN meeting of Southeast-Asian leaders to discuss the Myanmar crisis and adopt a collective stand towards addressing the conflict.
  • Facilitate dialogue between Myanmar’s key political stakeholders;
  • Make a clear stand the Tatmadaw does not represent the people or government of Myanmar, and only collective decisions via peaceful negotiations will be recognised.

ASEAN can do it again. It needs to. ASEAN must.

Further References:

https://www.e-ir.info/2012/02/08/asean-and-the-principle-of-non-interference/

https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/commentary/myanmar-coup-asean-non-interference-vivian-bakakrisnan-singapore-14263056

https://opinion.inquirer.net/138046/asean-must-help-myanmars-return-to-democracy

*Opinion Writer for MARUAH

*Edited & Approved by MARUAH

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