Dina Indrasafitri, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Sun, 05/08/2011
ASEAN leaders will discuss Myanmar’s request to chair the grouping in 2014 on Sunday, but as Indonesia wants to maintain engagement with Myanmar, ASEAN will likely let the reclusive country take the post.
Myanmar president Thein Sein, who heads the military-backed party that overwhelmingly won controversial general elections late last year, requested the country chair ASEAN in 2014 at Saturday’s leaders’ meeting.
“Today we heard Myanmar’s request, which will be discussed [Sunday],” Indonesian Foreign Ministry director general for ASEAN cooperation Djauhari Oratmangun said on the sidelines of the 18th ASEAN Summit in Jakarta on Saturday.
Foreign Ministry director for ASEAN political cooperation Ade Padmo Sarwono said Indonesia, a supporter of engaging Myanmar, would listen to the views of other member states before making a decision.
Officials said Saturday that Laos supported Myanmar’s bid while Thailand and several other countries indicated they weren’t opposed to Myanmar chairing ASEAN in 2014, while Singapore is reported to have said it would be better to push back the date because of human rights concerns.
Given the way ASEAN makes decision, officials said there was no reason to reject Myanmar’s bid as Indonesia and the other ASEAN states backed the results of the country’s election.
“Myanmar feels they have completed their democratization process with the election, and with the release of [pro-democracy icon] Aung San Suu Kyi they want to claim their right as possible chair,” an ASEAN official said on condition of anonymity.
The grouping rotates its chair every year. However, Myanmar was forced to skip its turn in 2005 after coming under heavy pressure from the international community over its stalled progress on national reconciliation and human rights issues.
ASEAN’s likely decision to allow Myanmar to chair the group in 2014 will face criticism from regional and international civil society groups.
New York-based Human Rights Watch urged ASEAN to reject Myanmar’s request until the country’s government took genuine steps toward improving human rights, including the release of more than 2,000 political prisoners.
HRW pointed out that Myanmar failed to address concerns repeatedly raised by ASEAN leaders in past summits.
It said Myanmar held sham elections in November 2010, with widespread restrictions on opposition parties, continued detention of political activists, and severe limits on basic freedoms of expression, association, and assembly, with international election monitoring not allowed inside as the main military-backed party swept the large majority of seats and now dominates the government.
“Rewarding Burma [Myanmar] with ASEAN’s chairmanship aft er it staged sham elections and still holds 2,000 political prisoners would be an embarrassment for the region,” Elaine Pearson, HRW’s deputy Asia director, said.