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Protesters take cover behind home-made shields as they confront the police during a crackdown on demonstrations against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo: AFP

Suspend Myanmar from Asean if military won’t back down: lawmakers

  • The bloc should abandon its doctrine of non-interference unless the junta restores democracy and releases civilian leaders, prominent politicians urge
  • In a joint statement Malaysia’s Anwar Ibrahim and Singapore’s Charles Chong among others say it is time to explore the possibility of sanctions
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations must suspend Myanmar if its military rulers refuse to restore democracy and release civilian leaders from custody following February’s coup, six prominent past and present regional lawmakers said on Wednesday.
The joint statement – initiated by Cambodia’s exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy – said regional governments in the 10-nation bloc needed to abandon “the old doctrine of non-interference” in the affairs of other Asean members, and instead explore the possibility of trade and economic sanctions on the junta.
Malaysia’s opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, Indonesian MP and former deputy parliamentary speaker Fadli Zon, Philippine senator Kiko Pangilinan, former Singapore government MP Charles Chong and the former Thai foreign minister Kasit Piromya were the other signatories to the joint statement.

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“At the heart of the matter [is that] Association of Southeast Asian Nations governments have been handicapped by the self-imposed doctrine of non-interference,” the statement said. “This doctrine may have been needed in the past, but it has since become a major hindrance and stumbling block to the development of participatory democracies and the protection of the basic rights of the peoples of Asean”.

“All other Asean governments must unite and send an unequivocal message to the Myanmar military junta to immediately free all political prisoners, to restore the political situation in Myanmar to that prior to the February 1, 2021, coup and to respect the people’s votes in the November 2020 general election,” the politicians added.


Fires set at Chinese factories in Myanmar during deadliest day of anti-coup protests

Fires set at Chinese factories in Myanmar during deadliest day of anti-coup protests
“All those responsible for the killing of innocent people must also be prosecuted and brought to justice. Failing which, all other Asean governments must unite and suspend Myanmar’s membership of Asean and thereafter impose targeted trade and economic sanctions against the military junta and their associates.”

The missive was released as the junta’s violence against unarmed civilians across the country continued to escalate six weeks into the coup.

The UN rights office on Tuesday said at least 149 people had been killed since Senior General Aung Min Hlaing seized power from the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) and detained dozens of civilian politicians, including the de facto head of government Aung San Suu Kyi.

Earlier in March Asean convened a special meeting aimed at defusing the situation, but the talks yielded few results.

The bloc has condemned the violence but has insisted that it will not take punitive measures such as sanctions, saying that talks between the NLD and the military remained the best hope for a peaceful resolution.

Malaysia’s opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is among those to have signed the joint statement. Photo: Bloomberg

Individual countries have also emphasised that they have no plans to abandon Asean’s non-interference principle.

There is no specific provision in the Asean Charter – the grouping’s constitution – on ways to suspend or eject member states. Any move to suspend Myanmar’s membership can thus only be carried out if there is unanimous support from the heads of the governments of the rest of the bloc.

In contrast, the United States slapped fresh sanctions on key junta leaders soon after the coup, and the European Union is reportedly planning similar action within weeks.

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Kasit, who was Thailand’s foreign minister from 2008 to 2011, noted that there had been precedent of informal regional interference in Myanmar’s affairs.

He said he and other regional counterparts had engaged intensively with junta representatives at the time over “a series of cups of coffees or even glasses of wine” to pressure the military rulers to adhere to a seven-point road map to democracy.

The Tatmadaw, as the Myanmar military is known, in 2010 kick-started democratic reforms after nearly five decades of autocratic rule.

Following that, Suu Kyi’s NLD came to power in 2015’s election and also staged a decisive victory in last November’s polls.


Fires set at Chinese factories in Myanmar during deadliest day of anti-coup protests

Fires set at Chinese factories in Myanmar during deadliest day of anti-coup protests

The current junta has said it seized power – ostensibly for a year – to conduct fresh elections as it believes the November polls were rigged.

Rainsy, the exiled Cambodian politician, cautioned against accepting the junta’s claim over irregularities in the November polls.

“We need to specify transition towards what? It must be towards democratic transition,” Rainsy said in the press conference.

“I think transition must be based on the result of the November 2020 elections and we cannot trust the junta with their promise to organise another election next year,” he said.

The politicians also aired their views on whether representatives of Myanmar’s military should be allowed to attend Asean meetings. Kasit said the bloc traditionally placed “no conditionality” on “what type of government” would be allowed to participate in meetings.

He added that the meeting in Bangkok on February 24 among the junta-appointed foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin and Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi was “implicit recognition” of the junta’s sovereign power.

He said it was up to Asean leaders to use the bloc meetings to issue an ultimatum to the junta representatives that the country would face suspension if there no was no end to the violence against civilians and NLD leaders remained in custody.

Zon, the Indonesian MP, said he was considering raising a proposal for the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Assembly to suspend the membership of Myanmar’s parliament until democracy was restored.