Burma’s prime minister is likely to head to Hanoi next week for a meeting of regional ministers during which, reports suggest, the topic of Burma’s controversial elections will feature highly.
The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) grouping has remained mute on the elections since Burma’s main opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party on Monday decided to boycott them.
But, according to Roshan Jason, executive director of the ASEAN Inter-parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC), ASEAN “knows it has to discuss the issue and has to be forward about it”.
“I think [ASEAN] will just advise the government and try to convince [junta chief] Than Shwe to reconsider the election laws,” he said.
ASEAN Affairs Department director-general Vitavas Srivihok told the Bangkok Post yesterday that the election discussion would likely form part of the post-summit statement delivered by ASEAN chairman Surin Pitsuwan.
The NLD had cited the “unjust” election laws as the reason for not registering. Under the laws, detained party leader Aung San Suu Kyi cannot run for office and would need to be expelled from the NLD if it is to participate.
Although the ASEAN bloc has condemned Suu Kyi’s incarceration and called for elections to be free and fair, it has resisted calls to take any substantive action against the Burmese junta, such as expelling them from the grouping.
The main reason for its soft approach to Burma lies in its policy of non-interference in the domestic affairs of member states, something that has repeatedly attracted criticism from pro-democracy campaigners.
This policy has in turn been used as a shield by the Burmese government to deflect criticism of its human rights record, particularly during the trial of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi last year.
Following the failure of the US and UN to push the generals onto a path of reform, all eyes are now focusing on the influence that ASEAN could have in the country. Jason said that there was little hope of the situation inside Burma changing unless the international community urges ASEAN to press the Burmese junta.