TACDB Expresses Its Severe Disappointment in ASEAN and Implores It to Re-Examine Its Approach to Burma’s Junta

The Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma (TACDB) wishes to express its extreme disappointment in the Association of South East Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) embrace of the severely flawed election in Burma. By doing so, ASEAN’s Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan and the members of ASEAN have put the priorities of the Burma Junta above those of the people of Burma. Their willingness to accept the results so quickly reveals badly misinterpretation of democracy.

Reports of widespread election fraud are still coming out of the country yet ASEAN has already welcomed the election as a “significant step”. The election was in fact such a “significant step” that, in response to the electoral fraud, multiple opposition parties have already threatened to boycott the election results if the Union Election Commission does not investigate many of the reports of fraud coming from citizens and opposition parties alike. The UEC, biased and toothless to enforce its own electoral laws before the election, seems unlikely to do so now. The electoral fraud in Burma, primarily using coerced votes and widespread intimidation, should alarm anyone that cares for the fate of that country’s people. That it did not seem to bother ASEAN is tragic.

In addition to electoral fraud, the elections have resulted in an outbreak of fighting and increased numbers of displaced peoples in some ethnic areas. Waiting to see how the Burma Army would deal with this situation before judging the success of the election was another good option for ASEAN that it failed to take. Failure to do so implies that ASEAN is uninterested in how the Army manages conflict and reconciliation in their ethnic states. Instead of passively accepting this old wine in a new bottle, ASEAN should not jump to the conclusion that its newly “civilian” government (where civilian is defined as a parliament with 25% of its seats appointed by the military) will be a legitimate member of ASEAN that will bring honor to the group.

Ideally, ASEAN could have acted as a good but honest friend to the Burma government and people by releasing a statement that called for a more transparent, fair election process and for real change. This would include a call to revise the constitution and electoral law to ensure basic democratic principles and an independent UEC. After such a change, ASEAN could help to facilitate new elections in the next year or two that meet international standards in areas where November 7th’s elections failed.

But far short of that ideal, ASEAN has, by releasing their statement of support so quickly, missed an opportunity to wait and see whether the UEC would respond to complaints of fraud and apply even a small amount of pressure from the outside. Any prospect ASEAN had to encourage the organizations (UEC, SPDC, & USDP) controlled by the regime towards a more fair and just election was lost at the point they went ahead and gave the election their seal of approval. As proud citizens of an ASEAN member, it is frankly embarrassing that the association would be so quick to embrace something so clearly fraudulent.

Rather than waiting and judging the election on its actual merits using even basic international electoral standards, it appears that ASEAN’s statement welcoming the election was as pre- -determined as the results of the election itself. Elections are the most direct expression of a citizenry’s voice and should be respected by both Burma and ASEAN. They are not simply a formality that we pretend to honor every few years. ASEAN’s quick acceptance of Burma’s election calls into question whether the association believes this. TACDB implores ASEAN to show its support for the universal principle of self- government by speaking truth to Burma’s government and doing the just thing for Burma’s people.

For further information please contact Ms. Laddawan Tantiwithayapitak at +66 81 4449463

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