Myanmar was plunged back into direct military rule when soldiers detained Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders in a series of dawn raids on February 1, 2021. — AFP pic
KUALA LUMPUR, April 24 — Exactly a year ago today, the Asean Leaders’ Meeting (ALM) in Jakarta, Indonesia, mooted a plan aimed at resolving the political impasse in Myanmar and to restore law and order in the country following the Feb 1, 2021, coup.
Known as 5-Point Consensus (5PCs), the plan appeared convincing and showcased a united stand of the 10-member grouping on troubled Myanmar. The 5PCs was welcomed by other parties as well, including the United States and the United Nations, as there was an urgency in finding ways to stop the crackdown on anti-coup protesters by the Tatmadaw (military).
The 5PCs are : end the violence; hold constructive talks among all stakeholders; Asean provides humanitarian aid to Myanmar; a special Asean envoy appointed to conduct talks; and envoy to be allowed to visit the country.
However, there has been no significant progress so far in building trust with the junta and returning Myanmar to the path of democracy through the 5PCs despite the best efforts of Asean to convince the junta led by Senior General Min Aung Hliang.
In fact, Myanmar had snubbed Asean from the start when its special envoy was not allowed into the country. Subsequently, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen who visited Myanmar early this year after his country took over the Asean chair to bring forward the 5PCs also ended up disappointed when he was given the cold shoulder by the junta.
So why has the 5PCs failed to deliver at least some tangible outcomes?
Senior lecturer at Universiti Malaya’s Centre for Asean Regionalism Dr Rahul Mishra said despite Asean wanting to see the crisis resolved quickly while under the close watch by the international community, the bloc has to concede that the political conundrum would require more time to solve.
“As much as Asean wants to urgently implement the 5PCs, its hands are tied by its own history, agreed procedures and conventions,” he said, referring to Asean’s non-interference policy that has long been part of the grouping’s foundation and seen as an impediment in taking action on any member states.
Mishra also ruled out the possibility that Asean would take any more tough action on Myanmar other than barring junta leaders from summits relating to the grouping, as seen in the Asean Summit in Brunei last October and the Asean-China Summit last November.
He said even if Asean considered a tougher stand like suspending Myanmar from the grouping, it would yield only sub-optimal results.
Instead, he said the grouping will continue to use diplomacy and try to engage the junta constructively through dialogues.
“Asean isn’t really in a position to compel Myanmar for any expeditious action. I think Asean will carry on with its diplomatic isolation of Myanmar while pursuing backchannel diplomacy.
“In the absence of any punitive measure, Asean would rely on putting more peer pressure and try to exercise its normative power on Myanmar,” he told Bernama.
Meanwhile, Assistant Professor of International Relations at Thammasat University’s Faculty of Political Science Dr Pinitbhand Paribatra opined that Asean needs more time to implement the 5PCs set out by the regional bloc to resolve the Myanmar problem.
He emphasised that the 5PCs has been one of the significant and remarkable moves of Asean where it could deal with the junta directly, having discussion with Hlaing, and directly engage with stakeholders in Myanmar’s domestic politics.
“Looking back, Asean took a longer time in dealing with crises in the region. In this case, Asean needs more time and opportunity to work things out,” he said.
Noting that the junta has been reluctant in implementing the 5PCs, Pinitbhand suggested that Asean could come up with bargaining strategies.
These include dealing with opposition parties in Myanmar, pressuring business sectors to find collaborative solutions, and holding additional regional discussion to address the issue.
“It is a dilemma of Asean with regard to the principle of its decades-long policy of non-interference in the affairs of members. That limits the potential of the block to impose any criticisms and pressure on the junta through the 5PCs,” he added.
On whether Thailand, as Myanmar’s closest neighbour, could play a more effective role through ‘quiet diplomacy’, Pinitbhand said Thailand is far too quiet as it is the kingdom’s desire not to get involved in the process.
“I don’t think Thailand’s quiet diplomacy would bring very fruitful conversation between the junta and the Thai government to seek possible solutions. The Thai government would not like to be involved in the affairs of Myanmar.
“So far, as we learnt from the media, the Thai government would like to pursue humanitarian kind of diplomacy without involving any negotiations or possible solutions to the conflict or crisis in Myanmar,” he said.
On whether the junta’s plan to extend the current state of emergency until the proposed multi-party election in August 2023 “depending on state stability and peace” and ceasefire agreements with ethnic armed groups until the end of this year could help convince Asean, Pinitbhand said ‘it is not enough at all as violence still going on’.
“The chance to meet with democratic champion Aung San Suu Kyi and others was already refused by the regime. The media and people’s rights and freedom are still under question in the country.
“The 5PCs fell short of the organisation’s expectations, judging from the developments last year,” he said.
For founding member of the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar (SAC-M) Marzuki Darusman, the junta has not held to a single point of the 5PCs.
“The agreement has failed and a change of course from Asean is needed,” Darusman said.
Another founding member Yanghee Lee was of the view that the failure was because Asean had engaged with the wrong party.
“The National Unity Government (NUG) represents Myanmar and is the proper party to lead engagement with Asean. The NUG has demonstrated that it is the constructive partner that Asean needs to make any progress towards resolving the crisis,” she said.
SAC-M is an independent group of international experts working to support the peoples of Myanmar in their fight for human rights, peace, democracy, justice and accountability.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Myanmar said that as of April 11, a total of 566,100 people have been displaced by clashes and insecurity since the February 2021 coup.
According to human rights organisation Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), at least 1,780 civilians had been killed while over 10,000 people have been arrested and almost 1,000 jailed since the coup. Suu Kyi and other opponents of the junta have been slapped with corruption charges and others to prevent them from returning to politics. — Bernama