Bangkok – When Myanmar decided to relinquish, albeit reluctantly, the Asean chairmanship due to it next year, it was not so much due to pressure from the usual Western human rights campaigners, but by its own Asean partners. Spurred by the development, a grouping of Asean lawmakers is out to change Asean's policy onMyanmar from "constructive engagement" to "persistent pressure".
In a commentary circulated by Project Syndicate, Mr Jon Ungphakorn, a committee member of the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Caucus on Democracy in Myanmar (AIPMC), said that the episode involving Myanmar's chairmanship of Asean "was a lesson in assertiveness".
"It showed that persistent pressure works better than the 'constructive engagement' that it (Asean) had pursued, to no avail, for the eight years since Myanmarjoined the organisation," said Mr Jon, who is also an elected member of the Thai Senate.
He said the shift in Asean's attitude has been led by the AIPMC, an embryonic grouping of elected regional legislators formed last November to push for progress on democratisation in Myanmar.
The group has taken "the unprecedented step of crossing national and party lines to review critically Asean policy on Myanmar, seek the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and disqualify Myanmar from chairing".
Mr Jon added: "Now, we will move for the suspension of Myanmar's membership of Asean unless Suu Kyi and other political prisoners are released and clear progress towards democracy is made through negotiations involving the Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy and representatives of the various ethnic groups."
He pointed out that Myanmar's domestic problems have regional ramifications.
"When Myanmar joined Asean in 1997, there were only 210,000 Myanmar refugees and asylum-seekers throughout the region. Now, nearly one million people have fled Myanmar's political and economic chaos for neighbouring countries, and another million people remain internally displaced.
"Our youth are at an all-time high risk of drug addiction from the massive flow of narcotics, particularly amphetamine-type stimulants from Myanmar, while the generals there maintain congenial ties with notorious drug lords."
Mr Jon believes that AIMPC can play a role in persuading Asean leaders to change their policy towards Myanmar since "as elected legislators in Asean's established and budding democracies, the members of AIPMC feel that our voices have merit and legitimacy".
"This is why we feel obligated to call on the highest levels of the international community — including the UN Security Council — to address the question ofMyanmar, for we must show that we are serious about peace, democracy and human rights. The courageous people of Myanmar, like people everywhere around the world, deserve what far too many of us take for granted."
* The next move to help Myanmar change (New Straits Times, Oct 7)