Indonesian minister tells Myanmar to let ‘qualified people’ run govt

Indonesia's Coordinating Minister of Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Pandjaitan urged Myanmar’s military to consider stepping back. PHOTO: REUTERS

DAVOS – An Indonesian senior minister urged Myanmar’s military to consider stepping back and letting “qualified” leaders govern the country that’s in an economic free-fall due to sanctions and worsening civil strife. 

Myanmar’s junta should follow the example of Indonesia where the military had stepped back from controlling all aspects of government decades ago, said Mr Luhut Panjaitan, coordinating minister for maritime affairs and investment who is also a former general.

“There are so many militaries in charge of government, but if you are not qualified, why should you be president?” he said on a panel at the World Economic Forum, in a pointed remark about Myanmar coup leader-turned-prime minister Min Aung Hlaing.

“Let someone else who is qualified manage this country like what happened in Indonesia.”

Indonesia returned to democracy after the 1998 ouster of former general Suharto, who seized power from the country’s first president in 1966. Mr Suharto ruled with an iron-fist for three decades and oversaw rapid economic growth – a legacy that saw many former military leaders like Mr Panjaitan eventually take on positions in successive governments.   

Major General Zaw Min Tun, lead spokesman for Myanmar’s ruling State Administration Council, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. 

Indonesia is this year’s Asean chair after leading very public efforts to hold the Myanmar regime accountable for continued violence against civilians.

Last year, Indonesian President Joko Widodo had proposed to leaders of the bloc that representatives of the Myanmar military be barred from the bloc’s events and meetings beyond big ticket summits.

Despite Indonesia’s efforts, there appears to be no signs of a consensus within Asean on how to hold the Myanmar junta to account.

At last year’s Asean summit, top envoys in the region agreed to hold the military government to a concrete but unspecified timeline to make progress on a plan to end violence. 

Mr Panjaitan indicated that despite his views, Indonesia would abide by the Asean principal of non-interference while continuing talks with the junta leaders.

“Whether this year or next year, I think they can solve their own problem,” he said. BLOOMBERG

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