Burma due for ASEAN assembly recognition

Naypyidaw will send a delegation to Cambodia this month where the annual summit of the ASEAN Inter Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA) is expected to officially recognise Burma as a member.

Around 14 parliamentarians will travel to Phnom Penh for the event, scheduled for 18 August. Dr Aye Maung, chairman of the parliamentary Guarantees, Pledges and Undertakings Vetting Committee, told DVB that the event will include a ceremony to hand over Burma’s national flag.

Along with Brunei, Burma is one of only two members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) bloc not currently part of AIPA, and until now had only held “special observer” status. Although AIPA has never explicitly stated the reasons why Burma could not join, a number of delegates have long objected on the grounds of lack of democratic reform and state-sanctioned human rights abuses in the country.

Since the formation of a new government, however, ASEAN members’ rhetoric on Burma has softened, and ASEAN chief Surin Pitsuwan has maintained that Burma should be included.

The AIPA advocates for closer cooperation among the region’s legislatures and parliaments, and professes to boost the participation of citizens in regional affairs – something Burma may struggle to realise, given criticism of the void between civilians and the majority of parliamentarians there.

But ASEAN is known to have urged greater dialogue between both sides of the political spectrum in Burma, despite welcoming elections last year that many claim has entrenched military rule under the guise of a civilian government.

The delegation to Phnom Penh was due to be led by parliamentary speakers, although it coincides with the second session of the new parliament, beginning 22 August.

Burma’s position in ASEAN has seen much debate in recent months following a bid by President Thein Sein to become chair of the bloc in 2014 – critics claim however that Burma’s continuing domestic crises would reflect poorly on the bloc and render it an ineffective leader.

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