The View From Asia

Watching Myanmar warily

Countries in the region are keeping a close eye on Myanmar's transition to democracy. Newspapers in the Asia News Network offer their hopes and perspectives on a way forward, post polls.

Indonesia's puzzling silence

Editorial

The Jakarta Post

It is indeed saddening and regrettable that the Indonesian Foreign Ministry has not made any statement sending a clear message of "constructive engagement" on the determination of the people of Myanmar to become a fully fledged democracy.

Indonesia can no longer hide behind Asean's "non-interference" doctrine to justify its reluctance to play a more decisive but considered approach towards Myanmar. It is almost certain now that the National League for Democracy (NLD) will have a landslide victory.

Before it's too late, Indonesia should immediately take a stance and lead Asean's joint efforts to help the people of Myanmar reach their goal of democracy.

Learning from the military's assault on democracy and brazen decision to reject the internationally recognised general election in Myanmar 25 years ago, Indonesia should be more proactive than it has been in the past as a friend of Myanmar.

Indonesia is constitutionally and morally responsible for helping all parties in Myanmar reach this goal, no matter how painful the sacrifices during the transition to democracy.


The people of Myanmar are making a transition to democracy led by Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy. However, the military still keeps its 25 per cent quota of seats in Parliament. -PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

What is going on in Myanmar now is very similar to Indonesia's experience when people power forced Suharto to step down in 1998.

Aspects of Myanmar's political life, such as the military's dual function, the establishment of a single ruling party and government-controlled general elections are all things that Myanmar's generals emulated from Suharto's 32-year presidency.

Indonesia's silence indicates that the country prefers the old-fashioned "play safe" approach, regardless of its title as the world's third-largest democracy after India and the United States, and the largest member of Asean.

If that is the path it wishes to take, then it is understandable that Jakarta will follow the traditional diplomatic custom of congratulating the winner of Myanmar's election only after the official result is announced.

There is nothing strange with that practice, except that the nation in question is one of the 10 members of Asean, and one that has long struggled to become a democracy.

Continuity and change

Kavi Chongkittavorn

The Nation

During the past four years, Myanmar has opened up, revealing the country's mammoth problems and challenges, especially those related to race and religion.

"It is time for change, vote National League for Democracy (NLD) for genuine change", has been the opposition's key message. Repeated calls for more political reforms - with Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's international stature as a Nobel laureate - have miraculously connected her to the voters.

There are at least three possibilities for the post-election political architecture.

The first possibility would be a decisive victory for the NLD with a majority, minus the 25 per cent quota held by the Myanmar military.

This would put Ms Suu Kyi in the supreme position to decide the body politic in Myanmar for years to come. But to ensure a smooth transition from the Thein Sein government to one belonging to the opposition, the overall security interests of Myanmar's military, both individually and institutionally, will have be taken into consideration.

The second possibility is the NLD is still the winner, but without a large majority.

In this case, Ms Suu Kyi continues to press for constitutional amendments to secure the presidency, from which she is banned, as enshrined in the 2008 Constitution.

Her latest remark on her future political role as above the president has upset the military and drawn heavy criticism from Union Solidarity and Development Party leaders.

If she pursues this aim, the country's post-election political scene could easily sink into crisis as she would face serious objections from the military.

It would be wise for her to stick with the present charter for the time being. Under the 2008 constitutional framework, the military would be willing to wait and give the NLD a chance.

The third possibility would be the two main parties forming a national coalition government with assistance from ethnic parties.

This formula would be ideal for post-election Myanmar, as it would be able to simultaneously pursue the changes Ms Suu Kyi has constantly called for and the continuity of the economic and political reforms initiated by President Thein Sein would be retained.

If they can collaborate as they did between 2011 and 2012, Myanmar will have a win-win formula - continuity and change.

But when some of the promises by Mr Thein Sein for further reforms and constitutional-related matters were not kept, Ms Suu Kyi adopted a tougher position against the ruling party.

To form a government of national unity, both Mr Thein Sein and Ms Suu Kyi must reach a good understanding of their respective roles in the new political environment.

The choice of president and two vice-presidents will show how much rapport they have and their political pragmatism.

Inclusive politics

Editorial/The Daily Star

The elections were reportedly held peacefully and with an 80 per cent turnout.

That notwithstanding, the election has to be seen as what it really is - a flawed, partial exercise in democracy that may not lead to real changes.

The military-designed Constitution specifically prevents Ms Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president even though her National League for Democracy might well win most seats.

And a quarter of the members of the Lower House of Parliament are appointed directly by the head of the armed forces.

That means, regardless of the outcome of the election, the Constitution will likely remain in place for some time because the votes of more than three-quarters of legislators are needed to change it.

However, we have to wait and see how things on the political front unfold.

This, we hope, will lead to an environment of inclusive politics in Myanmar.


•The View From Asia is a weekly compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 newspapers. For more, see www.asianewsnet.net

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 14, 2015, with the headline 'Watching Myanmar warily'. Print Edition | Subscribe