Monday, October 18, 2010

Thai democratic credentials fade further over Burma polls

Monday, 18 October 2010 19:54 Jai Wan Mai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - Asean secretary general Dr. Surin Pitsuwan’s gave on October 13 a sadly positive if not fanciful assessment of the likely impact of next month’s general election in Burma, the country’s first for two decades.

The long-time Thai politician said: “Myanmar [Burma] has been a major issue for Asean in its co-operation, interaction with the global community. We would like to see this issue behind us. And the only way that that can be done is to make sure that this [the Burmese] election [on November 7] is going to be a relatively effective mechanism for national reconciliation.”

It is regrettable to hear someone, especially a former member of the Democrat Party of Thailand, voice a remark so damaging to democratic morality and human values.

The secretary general might not realise what he said and how democratic activists will see him. Like it or not, he is acting as an advocate for the Burmese regime, a junta abusing Asean as a springboard to further its claims of international legitimacy following the election date.

The comment is certainly a bitter pill for Surin, long described as an experienced politician and an “activist”, to be handing out. The Economist magazine said in an opinion piece in 2008 in response to his Asean appointment that while most secretaries general were “usually a senior regional official rewarded with the post as the crowning boondoggle in a career of not rocking the boat”, Surin Pitsuwan was different, it said, because he sought an activist role in member states.

But, his apparent sell-out over change should not be misconstrued as anything unique. Surin was also used as a pawn in pursuit of narrow Thai interests in the wake of the Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s first visit to Burma last week.

The Thai leader had aimed but failed to have the Thai-Burmese Myawaddy-Mae Sot border checkpoint reopened after the junta closed it in July. Thailand is the second largest cross-border commerce partner for Burma, with trade valued in 2008/09 at US$327 million, Union of Myanmar Federation of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Win Myint said.

Last week’s attempt by Abhisit to open the trade point, however, resulted in only mere hopes based on Naypyidaw’s promises that the gates would soon be opened.

Nonetheless the following day, Surin aired his qualified support for the Burmese electoral process. The sentiment came even as an observer on the Thai-Burmese border estimated that the Thai PM’s visit to Burma would not benefit Asean nor would it profit the people of Burma.

The message is clear: Thailand cares more about business than human rights abuses and the result of the election. Thailand will do what is best for Thailand, even if it means appeasing the Burmese regime.

However, despite the wishes of Burma’s generals that Thailand and regional groupings support the legitimacy of next month’s election, Asean has a responsibility to remind its troubling neighbour of the requisite to heed the concerns of the international community.

The record of the Southeast Asian bloc is far from promising. Only members the Philippines and Indonesia are strongly voicing their displeasure at the forthcoming Burmese election. But Thailand, at one time a partner in the pursuit of democratic aspirations for the region, has demonstrably lost its way.

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