Leaders of the 10 Asian nations that make up ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) currently meeting in Vietnam are being pressured to take a stand against the upcoming Burma elections. Over 100 law makers from across South East Asia have petitioned ASEAN to take action against the Burmese military dictatorship and are demanding free and fair elections.
While the ASEAN summit primarily focuses on economic issues, the political issues in Burma are not going unnoticed. In the past, democracy advocates have turned to neighboring South East Asian nations to pressure the Burmese junta to take steps towards freedom and democracy. However, ASEAN has been reluctant to take a stand against the oppressive military regime. This year’s summit seems to offer some hope as legislators from across the region petition ASEAN to take action against their fellow member, Burma.
This year Burma will hold their first elections in twenty years. However, these elections will be neither free nor fair. Last month, the regime announced new election laws that essentially rule out any opposition parties. ASEAN members have criticized these laws, with the Philippines and Indonesia especially outspoken against the upcoming polls. They are demanding a fully inclusive process, which allows opposition parties such as Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) to participate fully.
The NLD was forced out of the election process after the junta passed new election laws banning political parties whose members include any of the 2,200 political prisoners currently being detained in Burma. The most prominent of these prisoners is Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been the face of the NLD since the 1988 student uprising. In order to participate in elections this year, the NLD would have to make the unthinkable decision to renounce their detained leader.
The Indonesian foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, has spoken to the significance of this year’s elections and that Indonesia has “made references to the commitment by Myanmar that this will be an open, free, democratic and credible elections and we would like to see those kind of commitments realized.”