Promoting Democracy – Editorial – The Jakarta Post
Editorial Board (The Jakarta Post)
Sat, Aug 7, 2021
The Chinese proverb, “a mouse’s eyesight is only an inch long,” may well reflect observers’ sentiment of this week’s appointment of an ASEAN special envoy to referee the fight. for power in Myanmar.
In the potentially significant consequences of a regional attempt to restore order to the besieged country six months after a coup, ASEAN’s choice of mediator risks appearing short-sighted.
The decision to appoint Brunei’s senior diplomat Erywan Yusof as the bloc’s main representative is at a glance preferable to a Thai ally of the junta regime who is conducting a potentially grotesque proceeding. After all, Erywan had led ASEAN activities so far, including in response to the coup situation.
But the question is: will his new term continue beyond Brunei’s presidency of ASEAN, which ends in the coming months? Many in the region are keenly aware of the risk of not being able to maintain continuity in the mission.
As experts have pointed out, the special envoy must race against time to bring out a tenable plan by September, under a precarious guarantee from Myanmar’s military regime. Later on, the project will likely be doomed to failure, in the same way that efforts to repatriate Rohingya refugees did a few years ago.
The medium-term outlook under Cambodian ASEAN presidency next year is also not entirely clear. While sources say his leadership can soften its stance on the ASEAN approach further, there is little incentive for one autocratic regime to sabotage another.
So where does that leave us with the coup crisis?
If the Myanmar junta takes a page from the 2014 Thai coup playbook, it could set a precedent to avoid harsh international condemnation and delay a “return” to democracy.
But senior officers aren’t the only ones taking lessons from their neighbors; Myanmar’s civil disobedience movement is inspired by the uprising of Thai youth, as well as growing discontent with the handling of the COVID-19 disaster.
The reality is that the February coup was launched at a time when the pandemic was only just beginning to spread and Myanmar’s economy had only just started to reap the benefits of democratic development. The risks are real – the United Nations Development Program reported on April 30 that COVID-19 and the coup could reverse economic gains made over the past 16 years.
For ASEAN, the task ahead could represent a decisive opportunity to take democracy under its wing. The bloc has already decided to take a different approach from what it did with the multiple coups in Thailand, when some member states endorsed military rule and others refrained from interfering.
On the eve of ASEAN’s 54th year, leaders in the region can choose to strive to meet its 2025 goals to achieve a shared and prosperous ASEAN economic community, or risk it all. to fall back into a military authoritarianism that only benefits those close to power.
Indonesia can set a historic example, as much of its political and economic reforms hinged on the willingness of its military leaders to step back and let the nation prosper.
It is therefore crucial for ASEAN to unite for the sake of its people and to guide the mission of the special envoy to put Myanmar back on the path to democracy.