Democracy Grows and then Dies in Myanmar
The military coup d’état killed the democracy that had never really flourished in Myanmar. ASEAN must not remain silent.
INDONESIA can play a larger role in resolving the political crisis caused by the military coup d’état in Myanmar. It is not enough for the government to call for restraint from all sides. This standard response ignores the principles of democracy.
During the New Order era, Indonesia could rightly be called a patron of the Myanmar military. The Tatmadaw—the official name of the Myanmar armed forces—has said it learned a lot from the Indonesian Military (TNI), both about political systems and the transition from an authoritarian state to a democracy. Indonesia could take advantage of this closeness to pressure the Myanmar military to respect civil supremacy and protect the fledgling democracy.
Democracy in Myanmar began to grow after the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi won the 2015 general election. Despite this, the military never really left the political stage. The civilian government was little more than a buffer to protect Myanmar from international pressure. Although she won the election, Aung San Suu Kyi and her party could not criticize—let alone sideline—the role of the military. The icon of Myanmar democracy and the Nobel Peace Prize laureate even kept her silence when the Myanmar military slaughtered the Rohingya people.
The coup d’état, accompanied by a one-year state of emergency and the detention of Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and a number of senior NLD figures, showed the true face of the military. They seized power claiming there had been electoral fraud, and then promised to hold elections within a year.
Indonesia and the other Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) states should play a role in preserving political stability and security in the Southeast Asian region. This is in line with the aims behind the establishment of the organization, namely to promote peace in the region. However, ASEAN is now divided. Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia expressed concern and asked for restraint from all sides. Thailand, the Philippines and Cambodia believe that the coup d’état is an internal matter for Myanmar. Meanwhile, Vietnam, Laos and Brunei Darussalam have yet to express an opinion.
ASEAN must not sit on its hands in the face of the violations that are happening in front of its very eyes. Myanmar has violated the principles of the ASEAN Charter on the upholding of democratic principles and constitutional government. The military has sidelined Suu Kyi and her party, which had become a threat to the military after once again winning the election, which was held in November 2020. The move by the military has wrecked the process of democratization that so much effort had gone into building in that nation.
It is time ASEAN reexamined the principle of non-intervention included in the ASEAN Charter. The organization’s leaders have a moral responsibility to do something when democracy in the region is threatened. Myanmar itself has repeatedly abusing this principle of non-interference and using it to thwart efforts by ASEAN to apply pressure on them, like when it rejected the plan for an ASEAN summit to discuss the Rohingya issue. As a result, human rights violations in the country have continued.