JAKARTA, INDONESIA — Massive demonstrations against the Myanmar military coup have turned violent since a month ago, claiming at least 50 lives as of 4 Mar, according to data from the United Nations (UN).
International communities’ reactions to the latest situation in Myanmar have been mixed.
Countries in the West have condemned the takeover, while some Asian nations such as China, and other ASEAN nations like Vietnam and Thailand appear to be reluctant to raise concerns.
The Myanmar military took over the government after alleging that the Nov election—won by democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League of Democracy—was rigged. The military’s plan to hold a fresh election is worsening the situation, triggering international condemnation.
Founder and president of nonprofit organisation Partners Relief & Development, Steve Gumaer told TOC that the military had no legal grounds to hold a new election.
“If they were to hold another election, there should be a crafted law to legitimise their action. It is purely illegal under their constitution,” Gumaer stated, adding that the 2008 constitution allows the military to secure 25 per cent of the seats.
Where does ASEAN stand in this case?
Myanmar nationals recently staged protests in front of the Indonesian embassy, alleging that Jakarta supported the election proposed by the Tatmadaw.
Indonesia denied backing the junta-planned election, stating that it would stick to the principles stated in the ASEAN charter, such as good governance, democratic values, and commitment to the law.
There was a misunderstanding regarding the allegation that ASEAN supported the new poll, said international relations professor Arry Bainus.
“The case is simple …There was a report on how Indonesia’s Foreign Minister, Retno Marsudi had planned to visit Myanmar. After the meeting between Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo and Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, Jokowi wanted all ASEAN foreign ministers to meet to find a solution to hold a dialogue between the military and Suu Kyi.”
“However, Myanmar nationals interpreted the dialogue’s outcome as supporting the election,” Arry told TOC.
The lecturer at Universitas Padjadjaran regretted that ASEAN had been reluctant to respond to the Tatmadaw coup, comparing its reaction to the strong condemnation from Western countries, which expressed support for the Myanmar people and applied sanctions on the Myanmar military.
“The ASEAN way, which prioritises non-interference and consensus, makes ASEAN feel reluctant to take action when something akin to what is happening in Myanmar takes place,” according to Arry.
Fearing taking such a stance against a world superpower such as China or the United States, he said, would be understandable.
“However, we know one of the principles in the ASEAN Charter is to strengthen democracy, boost good governance and the rule of law. Still, we cannot do anything when there is a violation of democratic principles,” he stated.
Countries like Thailand—which has a long history of military coups—as well as Vietnam and the Philippines have stated that the coup was an internal affair.
Gumaer said that “for any Asian member to do business with the regime, they are legitimising the regime”.
“They’re legitimising an illegal removal of the will of the people and legitimising the use of violence to take over,” he said.
While the ASEAN Foreign Ministerial Meeting did not produce a joint statement, the foreign ministers agreed on a peaceful solution to end the coup.
“Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei must be able to conduct delicate diplomacy, given that countries like Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines have remained silent on what’s going on in Myanmar. They should be very careful. However, they must be ready if they have to take an unpopular decision,” Arry opined.
ASEAN countries and the military coup
Military rule is common among ASEAN member countries, given some of them have past experiences in dealing with the military government.
Thailand has a long history of military coup. The coup in 2014 was the country’s 21st.
“After World War II, military presence was everywhere … However, it is ironic that the military still rules in some of the ASEAN members, even though the era of military regime ended elsewhere,” Arry said.
He highlighted that the Tatmadaw always has an ambition to rule, while the Thailand military is still relatively under the royal family’s strong control despite massive protests against the royal institution.
Citing two conglomerates key to the Tatmadaw’s wealth—Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd and Myanmar Economic Corporation—Arry said: “In Thailand, the military protects the kingdom. In Myanmar, the military controls economic resources.”