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The Nation(13/7/99)

VOICING MY THOUGHTS: Nudge Burma towards democracy

National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has urged the foreign
community, and in particular Asean, to do more to help the people of Burma. 

RANGOON -- The democratisation process in Burma can be accelerated if the
international community -- the Association of Southeast Asian Nations
(Asean), in particular -- increases pressure on the military regime. 

The junta continues to frustrate the will of the people by refusing to
honour the results of the 1990 parliamentary elections, which the
opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) won by a landslide
(obtaining 392 of the 485 parliamentary seats). 

Human rights activists and many NLD members and supporters are languishing
in Burmese jails while the junta, which calls itself the State Peace and
Development Council (SPDC), continues to harass, intimidate and repress
pro-democracy advocates. 

We in the opposition cannot allow any authoritarian government to hijack
the elections and are determined to continue with our struggle. 

We believe that support from Asean -- which comprises Thailand, Malaysia,
Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore, Brunei, Laos and Vietnam and which Burma
recently joined -- is crucial to our quest for democracy. 

If Asean can persuade or put pressure on the present regime to convene the
Parliament that was elected by the people, this could be the first step
towards democratisation. 

While some countries are very active in helping hasten this process, the
Asean countries are not. Indeed, quite a few Asean governments -- though
not the public -- justify not helping by invoking the argument that
democracy is a Western concept and that Asian values must be upheld. 

We do not accept the notion that democracy is a Western value. To the
contrary, democracy simply means good government rooted in responsibility,
transparency, and accountability. No authoritarian system can assure good
government because there is no accountability. The government can get away
with whatever it does. 

Asean also invokes the principle of non-interference with the internal
affairs of member-countries, though not with a clear conscience. Rather,
they are afraid that there may be some aspects of their countries that
might invite criticism. Our position is that if they have problems that
invite legitimate criticism, let there be criticism. If not, they have
nothing to fear. 

Because of its policy of non-interference, Asean has rejected calls from
other governments outside the region to nudge the Burmese government into
allowing greater freedom for its people. 

Instead, it has opted for a non-confrontational ''constructive engagement''
stance in relation to Rangoon. This has not worked. 

This policy of non-interference is just an excuse for not helping. In this
day and age, you cannot avoid interference in the matters of other countries. 

For example, many Asean countries are investing in Burma. Is that not
interference in our internal affairs? How can they say they will get
involved in economic matters but not in politics. Economics and politics
are unquestionably closely related. 

Foreign investment has provided Burma's military junta with legitimacy and
propped up the regime. Among Asean countries Indonesia is the biggest
investor in Burma and was its strongest supporter during the time the
military regime sought international respectability through gaining
admission into Asean. 

It is time for a new initiative on the part of the Asean members to impress
on the junta the need to open a dialogue with the NLD. 

Asean members must recognise that it is the military regime that is being
inflexible and not the NLD, as the government's propaganda asserts. We have
bent over backwards to make dialogue possible. 

But the military regime does not want dialogue because they think that
dialogue would be the beginning of the end for them. That would not be the
case, because real dialogue should be acceptable and beneficial to
everybody, including the military regime. 

The military's current position of simply clinging to power by instilling
fear among the people through force is not good for the country or for
them. A negotiated settlement is a far better option for everyone. 


The Nation