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Burma’s parliament has voted to join a Southeast Asian parliamentary body whose professed aim is to boost the participation of citizens in regional affairs, despite criticism of the void between civilians and the majority of parliamentarians in Burma.
A proposal to become the ninth member of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA) was approved yesterday by the Union Parliament, the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported today.
The AIPA, a wing of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), advocates for closer cooperation among the region’s legislatures and parliaments, being as they are “the representatives of the peoples of ASEAN”, and thus “greater participation by the peoples of the ASEAN countries” in the progress of Southeast Asia.
If accepted, as is likely, Burma will join Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Brunei is the only ASEAN member state not to be part of the parliamentary grouping.
Burma’s elections last year were roundly condemned by observers after allegations of voting fraud and intimidation regularly surfaced. Some analysts said the ruling junta had carefully designed laws to minimise any chances of the opposition gaining leverage in the new parliament.
Throughout the polls ASEAN maintained its cornerstone policy of not interfering in the domestic affairs of member states. The executive director of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) lobby group, Agung Putri Astrid, told DVB that the bloc “accepts the elections” but was “also urging the government to open up dialogue with [opposition icon] Aung San Suu Kyi and consider national reconciliation”.
Whether Burma’s acceptance to the AIPA will prompt ASEAN to increase pressure on the new government, due to be officially instated on 1 April, is unlikely, given its habitual fence-sitting position, although the bloc’s new chairman, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, is rumoured to be a quiet fan of Suu Kyi.
Despite the ban on her National League for Democracy party competing in the polls, they remain a potent and influential opposition force to the parliament, which is dominated by pro-junta Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) members.