JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Recognising, albeit partially, the National Unity Government (NUG) of Myanmar could become a second effective action by Indonesia and Asean to force Myanmar's military junta, General Min Aung Hlaing, to implement the five-point consensus he agreed upon during a meeting with the group's leaders in Jakarta on April 26.
The Myanmar government in exile is the official representative of Aung San Suu Kyi, who was ousted by the military on Feb 1 and just recently was sentenced to four years' imprisonment for incitement and violating Covid-19 restrictions.
Indonesia's President Joko Widodo had previously played a leading role in Asean's unprecedented decision to bar the Myanmar junta leader from attending the bloc's summit in October.
The idea to recognise the NUG has been circulating for quite some time among government officials here for several reasons, including that the government does not want the Myanmar issue to haunt Indonesia's Group of 20 (G-20) presidency. Indonesia will host several meetings, including the G-20 Summit in November next year. The military junta's refusal to respect the April agreement will overshadow Indonesia's G-20 agenda.
Just hours after the court handed down its prison sentence to Ms Suu Kyi, Gen Hlaing halved the penalty for no reason. The National League for Democracy (NLD) leader, however, still has to face nine other charges that if proven would force her to spend 100 years in jail.
The NLD won the 2015 and 2020 elections by a landslide, but the military, which has ruled the impoverished nation since 1962, has refused to share, let alone lose, power.
Any decision to recognise Myanmar's government in exile may carry risks, but there is always a solution. What if the Myanmar junta retaliates by closing the Indonesian Embassy there? Just let them do it. What if other Asean leaders such as Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha ask Asean to treat Gen Hlaing equal to other leaders? President Jokowi can easily skip any meeting to discuss such a request with perfect excuses; for instance, he is preoccupied with the G-20 agenda.
Asean's decision not to invite Hlaing to the October summit was a historic breach of the decades-long taboo in the name of humanity because the lives of millions of Myanmar's people indeed matter. The Brunei sultan, as the rotary chair of Asean, was very reluctant to take action against Hlaing, and only after repeated calls from Jokowi and some other Asean leaders, Brunei eventually followed the concerted measure.
President Jokowi needs to drum up calls for tougher actions against Myanmar's military regime before Hun Sen takes his turn as the rotary chair just to force his own will to provide a red carpet welcome to the junta leader to attend Asean meetings, as he promised on Monday (Dec 6). Hun Sen is clearly against the consensus to isolate Hlaing.
President Jokowi needs to immediately consult other Asean leaders, especially Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri, to craft an Asean response to the court verdict on Suu Kyi. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte is also supportive of Jokowi.
Indonesia should save 76-year-old Suu Kyi, not because of her contribution to the regional grouping, but for the sake of the 55 million population of Myanmar.
Defending Ms Suu Kyi may sound controversial considering her denial at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Dec 12, 2019, of a genocide against minority ethnic Rohingya allegedly committed by the Myanmar military.
She claimed the military had a credible mechanism to handle such crimes without international interference. Less than two months later, the military launched a coup against her government.
"Sympathy for the devil. Aung San Suu Kyi allowed the genocide against the Rohingya to happen," a senior scholar reacted in a discussion about Indonesia's stance on Myanmar on Tuesday.
But let's forget, at least for a while, Ms Suu Kyi's arrogance, including her refusal to visit Indonesia and Malaysia just because she believed the two predominantly Muslim nations supported the Rohingya Muslims.
Let's also forgive, again at least for the moment, the behaviours of Myanmar's civil society organisations and even the NUG in exile for showing little trust in Asean. They are now calling for help from the regional grouping.
During Asean's emergency summit in April, Gen Hlaing - who was present in his capacity as the country's military commander in chief - approved the five-point consensus, which stipulated an immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar, the exercise of restraint of all parties and that constructive dialogue among all parties concerned shall commence seeking a peaceful solution in the interests of the people.
"Unfortunately, the family's helping hand was not welcomed by Myanmar's military. Access for Asean's special envoy has not been provided by the military in the last minutes before the summit," Jokowi commented on the decision to boycott Myanmar's junta leader.
As the largest member of Asean and the world's third-largest democracy after India and the United States, Indonesia should be in the front line in saving Myanmar's leader Suu Kyi and the country's people from the butchering of the military.
We cannot let the 10-member Asean become a laughing stock because we stubbornly stick to the non-interference principle while millions of people are facing starvation and death.
President Jokowi should not let the junta dictate Asean. It is time for Indonesia to demonstrate its leadership in Asean for the sake of the whole population of the region. Indonesia should not let him continue killing people who aspire for the return of democracy in Myanmar. We also have to save the lives of the Rohingya and other minority groups.
- The writer is a senior editor of The Jakarta Post. The Jakarta Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media organisations.