By Francis Wade
The ASEAN bloc risks damaging its international credibility and impeding regional progress if it appoints Burma to the 2014 chair, a parliamentarian lobby group has warned.
It follows a recent bid by Burmese President Thein Sein for the revolving chair of the 10-member grouping. Thein Sein joined other regional leaders in Jakarta for the 18th annual ASEAN summit, where his ambitions became a key focus of talks alongside the protracted Thailand-Cambodia border dispute.
Following much fanfare over the weekend that the controversial bid will be successful, ASEAN released a statement yesterday on the final day of the summit saying only that it had “considered the proposal”.
It didn’t however take long for observers to level sharp criticism at the bloc, which has come under persistent international pressure to do more about Burma’s myriad domestic crises.
Shortly after news broke of Burma’s proposal, the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) released a statement urging the bloc to reject the bid, arguing that the “oppression in Myanmar [Burma] constitutes a black stain on the credibility of ASEAN and will be an obstacle to efforts by ASEAN to build an ASEAN Community by 2015”.
It added that the grouping should instead “consider suspending Myanmar from the organization over its flagrant violations of the ASEAN Charter”.
Kraisak Choonhavan, president of AIPMC and deputy chairman of Thailand’s ruling Democrat Party, told DVB that despite the warnings, he wouldn’t be surprised if ASEAN accepted the bid.
“They are denying simple reality and masquerading the [November 2010 Burma] elections as a new political development that meets international standards,” he said, adding that the grouping was “exaggerating this to no end, and with no embarrassment”.
“After the election, we don’t see any improvement – in fact the [ethnic armed] conflict has expanded…because the elections have not given anything but more centralisation.”
Human Rights Watch had warned last week that appointing Burma to the chair would be an embarrassment to a region to which it is the perennial thorn in the side. A Thai official said on Friday however that ASEAN officials had “agreed” to support Burma.
Kraisak saw the support for what critics claim is one of the world’s worst human rights abusers as an attempt by ASEAN give Burma the image of a progressing democracy and help lift international sanctions on the country