Call on Foreign Ministers of the five founding ASEAN nations to make clear at the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat in Cebu beginning on Sunday the strong and growing opposition of ASEAN parliamentarians to Myanmar assuming the ASEAN Chair 2006 without meaningful democratization, including unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners
by Lim Kit Siang
(Parliament, Friday): The Foreign Ministers of the five founding ASEAN nations, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Singapore, should make clear at the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat in Cebu, Philippines beginning on Sunday the strong and growing opposition of ASEAN parliamentarians to Myanmar assuming the ASEAN Chair 2006 without meaningful democratization, including the unconditional release of Burmese Opposition Leader Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners.
Since the Kuala Lumpur Workshop on Democracy in Myanmar on November 26-28 last year, which launched the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC), a historic momentum has developed among ASEAN Parliamentarians transcending national borders and political differences leading to the development of a significant and unprecedented ASEAN parliamentary opinion and perspective that Myanmar should not be allowed to become an international liability whether to ASEAN collectively or to the individual member countries by tainting and tarnishing ASEAN with a rogue state as the Chair.
In the past four months, the Malaysian parliamentary initiative had been followed up with the formation of parliamentary caucuses on democracy in Myanmar in Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines, and with the launching of the Singapore Parliamentary Caucus next month, the AIPMC will have full parliamentary representation from the five founding ASEAN member countries.
During the winding-up of the policy debate on the Royal Address in the Malaysian Parliament on Wednesday, I had specifically urged the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat in Cebu, Philippines from April 10-12 to give serious attention to the strong and growing opposition of ASEAN Parliamentarians, particularly from the five founding ASEAN nations, to Myanmar’s taking over the ASEAN Chair 2006 without living up to its ASEAN and international obligations, particularly on human rights, democratization and national reconciliation in Myanmar.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Foreign Ministry, Dato Zainal Abidin bin Osman, who replied on behalf of the government as both the Foreign Minister and Deputy Foreign Minister were abroad on international commitments, revealed that the Malaysian Foreign Minister, Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar was “the lone voice” at the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting in Jakarta on March 9-10, 2005, to raise the Myanmar issue in the presence of the Myanmar representative, and he expressed the hope that other ASEAN Parliamentarians could also influence their foreign ministers to also speak up.
This is Zainal’s response from the Parliament Hansard of 6.4.05:
“Dato’ Zainal Abidin bin Osman: Terima kasih Yang Berhormat bagi Ipoh Timor. Sama ada perkara ini akan dibangkitkan dalam Mesyuarat Asean Foreign Ministers di Cebu pada 10 hb ini, saya tidak dapat kepastian, tetapi saya ingin mamaklumkan kepada Yang Berhormat dalam Mesyuarat Menteri-menteri ASEAN yang diadakan di Jakarta baru ini, tidak ada sesiapa yang bangun berani menceritakan tentang isu Myanmar di hadapan Myanmar ini kecuali Menteri Luar Malaysia.
“Mungkin Yang Berhormat dapat gunakan pengaruh Yang Berhormat dengan Ahli-ahli Parlimen di negara-negara lain supaya mereka dapat membawa isu ini kepada Menteri-menteri Luar Negara masing-masing supaya apabila berhadapan dengan Myanmar mereka berterus terang dan ingin menyuarakan isu ini. Di mesyuarat yang lepas di Jakarta, cuma Menteri Luar kita seorang yang berani bersuara the lone voice, kita tidak boleh sampai bila-bila menjadi lone voice untuk perkara ini Yang Berhormat.”
If Syed Hamid had been “the lone voice” at the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Jakarta in March in raising the Myanmar issue, then he deserves special commendation.
There should no “lone voice” in the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat in Cebu, as the ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting this Sunday should frontally address the snowballing opposition of ASEAN Parliamentarians to Myanmar assuming the ASEAN Chair 2006 because of its military junta’s long and continuing history of broken promises and pledges about democratization and national reconciliation in Myanmar, including the so-called “Seven-Step Roadmap to Democracy”.
The curt and cryptic remark by the Myanmese Prime Minister Soe Win in Hanoi that “It will be OK” in response to widespread concerns in ASEAN and the international arena on its assumption of the ASEAN Chair 2006 is simply not acceptable in this era of accountability and transparency, just like the outrageous claim by the leader of the Myanmese military junta, Senior General Than Shwe at the 60th anniversary of Myanmar Armed Forces Day last month that his government’s “democratic reforms … have gained acceptance not only among neighbours and nations” but also internationally, “despite all sorts of restrictions, sanctions and onslaughts”.
The ASEAN Foreign Ministers Retreat in Cebu should make it very clear that whether Myanmar is to take over the ASEAN Chair 2006 must depend to a large extent on ASEAN parliamentary and civil society opinion and acceptance. The five Governments of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines and Singapore must not only allow their respective parliamentarians full liberty to articulate their positions but to fully respect their views as an important basis and guide for the final decision-making on the issue.
Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman