Jakarta Post: Asean voices split over Myanmar military coup

This screengrab of a broadcast by Myanmar Radio and Television (MRTV) on Feb 1 shows the declaration of a one-year state of emergency in the country following the arrests of democratically elected civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior officials. - AFP

ASEAN member states have issued statements over a spectrum of concerns in response to the military coup currently unraveling in Myanmar amid heightened concerns of democratic backsliding in the South-East Asia region.

Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior figures from her National League for Democracy (NLD) party were detained in the early hours of Monday in an apparent coup that has raised concerns across the world.

The Myanmar armed forces, the Tatmadaw, seized power in an alleged coup against Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government early on Monday (Feb 1), Reuters reported.

Indonesia, the largest democracy and the de facto leader in South-East Asia, has called for “restraint” in a statement that lists four key points, published on Monday on its website.

In addition to expressing “concern over the recent political situation in Myanmar”, it calls for Myanmar to observe the principles of the Asean Charter, including rule of law, good governance, democracy and constitutional government.

“Indonesia also underscores that all electoral differences be addressed in accordance with available legal [mechanisms],” the Foreign Ministry noted in its third point.

The statement closes with: “Indonesia urges all in Myanmar to exercise self-restraint and put forth dialogue in finding solutions to challenges so as not to exacerbate the condition.”

Indonesia’s response refers to the junta’s threat ahead of the coup to “take action” over alleged fraud in the November 2020 election that saw Suu Kyi’s NLD secure a landslide win, claiming 83 percent of parliamentary seats and fending off pro-junta challengers.

Indonesia has maintained close engagement with Myanmar’s civilian government, especially as the junta that held power for five decades was castigated for its crackdown on the Rohingya minority.

However, other countries from the regional bloc have made varying responses to the coup, from strong wording to complete silence.

Singapore issued a statement expressing “grave concern” and called on all parties to exercise restraint and maintain dialogue, while Malaysia’s foreign ministry viewed the latest developments with serious concern and reaffirmed its “strong support for Myanmar’s democratic transition”.

In contrast, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen referred to the military coup in Myanmar as "internal affairs" and declined to elaborate.

"Cambodia does not comment on the internal affairs of any country at all, either within the ASEAN framework or any other country," Hun Sen said as quoted by Reuters.

The strongman’s response follows the principle of noninterference, which some critics have identified as the biggest hurdle to a coordinated Asean response in a greater push for regional democratic reform.

Other countries in the region have yet to issue their own statements, including current Asean chair Brunei, although The Jakarta Post was given to understand that a regional statement was being drafted.

The wider international community has also responded to the recent developments in Myanmar, including the United States, Australia and India, while United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has "strongly" condemned the military's detention of Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and other leaders.

"These developments represent a serious blow to democratic reforms in Myanmar," Guterres’ spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement as quoted by AFP.

Yuyun Wahyuningrum, the Indonesian representative to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), said the Myanmar junta should respect the outcome of last year’s election.

“Myanmar, as one of the member states of Asean, is bound to the principle of rule of law, good governance, the principles of democracy and constitutional government. Any attempt at a coup should be seen as an indication of breaching the principles as mentioned in the Asean Charter,” she said on Monday.

Charles Santiago, the Malaysian chairman of the Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), tweeted: “The developments in Myanmar are shocking and a slap in the face to every Myanmar citizen who went out to vote in November's elections.

“Asean must immediately use all its diplomatic power to de-escalate the situation and allow democracy to prevail."

At one point considered a dictators’ club, the 10-strong Asean membership runs the gamut of political systems, from authoritarian to democratic.

Thailand has seen both military and civilian rule in the past decade alone, with former coup leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha recently reinstalled as its civilian premier.

Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar have seen different forms of authoritarian rule. Meanwhile, critics have noted that Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia have seen some backsliding in democratic values in recent years.

Marty Natalegawa, who oversaw Myanmar’s democratic transition during his tenure as Indonesian foreign minister in 2009-2014, raised concerns about the worrying trend of democratic backsliding in the region.

“Until recent years, as a Community and as enshrined in its Charter, Asean has engaged itself in the strengthening of democracy and protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

"Myanmar’s transition to democracy – years in the making – did not take place in a vacuum. Rather, it was with the persistent and relentless engagement of Asean.

"Asean was not found to be wanting,” Marty told the Post in a statement on Monday (Feb 1).

“Regrettably, the recent years have seen backsliding in the region’s democratic dynamic. Deafening silence in the face of assaults against democratic principles have increasingly become the norm," he continued.

“Today, Asean must once again demonstrate its relevance: It must speak urgently for the respect of constitutional process and rule of law in Myanmar, and call for the immediate release of those unlawfully detained. At this critical juncture for the region, as in years past, Indonesia must demonstrate its leadership within Asean.” - The Jakarta Post/ANN

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