[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index
Who speaks for the people? From th
- Subject: Who speaks for the people? From th
- From: brelief@xxxxxxx
- Date: Tue, 30 Jan 1996 05:32:00
Subject: Who speaks for the people? From the Economist
Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"
Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"
January 27, 1996
WHO SPEAKS FOR THE PEOPLE?
The divide between "western" and "Asian" ideas of politics
and development is, by now, wearisomely familiar. As is
well known, "westerners" argue for democracy and
individual rights, and argue that they nicely complement
economic development (see page 78). "Asians" stress the
interests of the community and suggest that authoritarian
rule often provides a better foundation for economic growth.
Unfortunately, this familiar tale gives a highly misleading
picture of who is actually pushing for what in developing
Asia. Take Cambodia and Myanmar, two countries in
South-East Asia, where the arguments over the Asian road
to development are particularly urgent.
Cambodian democracy, a youthful product of concerted
international effort, is running into trouble as the
government takes an increasingly intolerant line towards its
critics. the military junta ruling Myanmar, which has a far
more brutal record than the Cambodian government, is
trying simultaneously to entrench its control of the country
and to shed its image as the bad boy of the region.
In both countries the most serious opposition to
authoritarianism comes from within. It is Asians, not
westerners, who are arguing for human rights and
democracy. Meanwhile, the western powers, which are
often portrayed as eagerly pushing liberal values on a
reluctant Asia, are, in reality, almost languid in their
approach. They are offering limited rhetorical support for
democratic forces in Cambodia and Myanmar, but little
In Cambodia, the most forceful repudiation of the "Asian
way" to development comes from Sam Rainsy, a former
finance minister who is now the country's leading
opposition politician. "No human being", he says, "should
be asked to choose between bread and freedom." Aung San
Suu Kyi, the leader of the opposition in Myanmar, takes a
similar line. She was released from house arret last July.
Miss Suu Kyi, whose offense had been to win a democratic
election, accepts the government's argument that peace and
stability are essential for economic development. But she
asks how they can be achieved "on a foundation of
vindictiveness and violation of trust."
It is true that both Mr. Rainsy and Miss Suu Kyi have had a
good dose of the West. They both spent considerable
periods in exile, Miss Suu Kyi in Britain and Mr. Rainsy in
France. But they are both extremely popular at home. Miss
Suu Kyi's party won the election in Myanmar in 1990 with a
crushing majority. Mr. Rainsy's Khmer Nation Party,
launched only in November and still illegal, already claims
66,000 members. Conversations with the Khmer- in - the -
street appear to confirm its popularity.
Mr. Rainsy fears -- probably with good reason -- that he may
soon be arrested on trumped - up charges. Miss Suu Kyi
also knows that she and her supporters risk rearrest, or
worse, if they confront the government. Both leaders are
looking to the West for political support.
It is here that the Asian - western divide does begin to
correspond to reality. Other South - East Asian
governments could not care less about the lack of human
rights in Cambodia and Myanmar. Democracy is not an
issue as the two countries move towards membership of the
Association of South-East Asian Nations. By contrast,
western governments generally argue that it might be nice if
the governments of Cambodia and Myanmar paid some
attention to democratic norms.
Mr. Rainsy is pinning his hopes on such support. The
United Nations invested $2.6 billion in bringing peace to
Cambodia and endowing it with a democratic constitution.
Surely, he suggests, aid donors, still vital to the economy,
would not allow that legacy to be ripped up? Yet Winston
Lord, the Clinton administration's top Asia man, was at
pains not to be seen wielding the big stick when he passed
through Cambodia this month. He said he would "convey
concern" about recent developments. But he drew attention
to Cambodia's ghastly past -- the Khmers Rouges' genocide
and the Vietnamese occupation -- and argued that the world
"cannot be overly demanding." Mr. Rainsy takes comfort
from the belief that Mr. Lord's private message was much
tougher, but he may be clutching at straws.
Western governments have also been pretty supine over
Myanmar. They credit their aid embargo with an important
role in the Myanmar junta's one big concession to
international opinion -- the release of Miss Suu Kyi from
house arrest. But for all the talk of isolating Myanmar, in
most other respects western governments have taken a
conspicuously soft line. There has been no question of
economic sanctions. Indeed, many governments, including
those of Britain and France, are now actively encouraging
their businesses to get involved in Myanmar, despite Miss
Suu Kyi's please that foreign investors should "jolly well
As a result, the governments of Myanmar and Cambodia
feel increasingly confident about ignoring the human - rights
rhetoric coming out of the West. The military junta in
Myanmar seems to feel under no real pressure to make any
further concessions to Miss Suu Kyi. And Prince Ranariddh
and Hun Sen, the joint prime ministers of Cambodia, felt
able to be "too busy" to meet the United Nations human -
rights envoy, Michael Kirby, when he visited Phnom Penh
Mr. Kirby was supposed to represent the outside world. But
the outside world speaks with many voices, and
Cambodia'[s rulers at the moment seem to prefer Asian
authoritarians' to western liberals'. On January 24th Mr.
Rainsy took his campaign to Australia. Three days later
Prince Ranariddh was also due to travel -- to Myanmar.