EDITORIAL ASEAN at 50 and beyond

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - News - EI EI TOE LWIN CHAN THAR

THE next few days the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity will be fo­cused on ASEAN as the Philip­pines chair hosts a se­ries of sum­mits with all the ma­jor pow­ers. It is a time to look back and look for­ward.

ASEAN has come a long way since its es­tab­lish­ment in 1967. The past half-cen­tury could be con­sid­ered a pe­riod of con­stant trial and er­ror. That helps ex­plain why ASEAN is a very dy­namic or­gan­i­sa­tion and con­tin­ues to bal­ance na­tional in­ter­ests with col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing. So far, so good. How­ever, a fre­quently asked ques­tion is whether the group can sur­vive in the next 50 years do­ing the same things in the same way. Some­thing has to change.

In­deed, it must be said right now that it is a tall or­der to sus­tain such a del­i­cate bal­ance among its mem­bers, rich and poor, new and old. Given their di­verse ge­o­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tions, in­ter­ests and po­lit­i­cal sys­tems, it will take time for the mem­bers to achieve a con­sen­sus. Some­times, the lack of a con­sen­sus has been por­trayed as a sign of dis­unity among mem­bers. Ac­tu­ally, that is not the case. ASEAN con­tin­ues to agree and dis­agree on a wide range of is­sues. There were many cases in which mi­nor­ity voices al­lowed ma­jor­ity ones to pro­ceed. The so-called mi­nus-x for­mula could be widely ap­plied in the fu­ture to speed up de­ci­sions on sen­si­tive is­sues.

It is not sur­pris­ing that when crit­ics re­flect on ASEAN, they au­to­mat­i­cally say the bloc is a talk shop and weak, and, there­fore, is not a force to be reck­oned with in in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics. In­ter­est­ingly, for ASEAN watch­ers the group’s weak­ness rep­re­sents at cer­tain times hid­den strengths. Ev­ery ma­jor power would like to en­gage with ASEAN be­cause it has le­git­i­macy and re­siliency.

ASEAN can be strong when it takes a united stand. Ob­vi­ously, ASEAN’S po­si­tions are vis­i­ble on im­por­tant is­sues that mean life and death. For in­stance, on nu­clear pro­lif­er­a­tion, ASEAN sees eye-to-eye with other na­tions on the over­all nu­clear threat. That is why US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump ap­proached ASEAN in April to work to­gether on bring­ing pres­sure to bear on Py­ongyang. Al­though North Korea has good ties with ASEAN mem­bers, the group has not hes­i­tated to con­demn the her­mit king­dom’s nu­clear at­ti­tude.

How­ever, for the next 50 years, the most im­por­tant el­e­ment de­ter­min­ing the fate of ASEAN and its rel­e­vancy will be its peoples’ sup­port and strong sense of be­long­ing. At the mo­ment, the so-called ‘ASEAN div­i­dend’ and op­por­tu­ni­ties have not yet per­me­ated all as­pects of ASEAN so­ci­ety. If this trend per­sists with­out any rec­ti­fi­ca­tion, frus­tra­tion among the dis­ad­van­taged or ex­cluded groups will grow, pos­si­bly lead­ing to an out­break in the re­gion of “Brexit” syn­drome. At the mo­ment, ASEAN in­te­gra­tion is still in­com­plete. ASEAN pol­i­cy­mak­ers can re­fo­cus and put more en­ergy into peo­ple-cen­tred ac­tion plans, mak­ing sure that the ASEAN Com­mu­nity is a peo­ple’s project.

From now on, more and more young peo­ple in ASEAN will in­flu­ence the group’s fu­ture. Youths com­ing from each mem­ber coun­try have dif­fer­ent skills and abil­i­ties.

It is im­per­a­tive for all of them to join forces, syn­er­gise their vi­sions and turn them into re­al­ity.

Most of the par­ties reg­is­ter first and then launch cam­paigns, but you have al­ready started pub­lic ex­po­sure and opened of­fices even be­fore nam­ing the party. What is your strat­egy?

Our po­lit­i­cal be­lief is to start im­ple­ment­ing from the very fun­da­men­tal level af­ter gath­er­ing opin­ions… at the grass-roots level. The nor­mal pro­ce­dure is: if you have 15 per­sons, you can reg­is­ter your party. Af­ter be­ing regis­tered, you can put up the sign­board and or­gan­ise. That is the nor­mal pro­ce­dure. For us, be­fore the party is of­fi­cially launched, we have started or­gan­is­ing in many towns.

Do you be­lieve these moves will make the party known bet­ter?

We al­ready have a net­work. Our com­rades 30 years ago in the 1988 demon­stra­tion are in all towns. But we aim for wider par­tic­i­pa­tion. We also seek the par­tic­i­pa­tion of gen­er­a­tions be­fore (88 Gen­er­a­tion) and af­ter.

Peo­ple see 88 Gen­er­a­tion and the Na­tional League for Democ­racy as the same. Now you are go­ing to es­tab­lish a sep­a­rate party. So what are the chal­lenges?

Ac­tu­ally we have joint ac­tiv­i­ties with NLD, es­pe­cially in other towns. Many 88 Gen­er­a­tion mem­bers are NLD party mem­bers too. Some are work­ing for civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions (CSO) or non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions (NGO). But if they had to choose a party, there was noth­ing but NLD.

We may share some prin­ci­ples of the NLD and other ex­ist­ing par­ties such as in the setup, man­i­festo, mul­ti­party sys­tem, fed­er­al­ism, mar­ket econ­omy, and oth­ers, but not in ev­ery re­spect. For ex­am­ple, how do you think about the peace process? What do you think about the Rakhine is­sue? On some of these is­sues there will be dif­fer­ences in per­spec­tive and opin­ions. We will tell the pub­lic our opin­ions, our stand on ev­ery is­sue.

I won­der how you will dis­tin­guish your­selves from NLD.

At present, the gen­eral char­ac­ter­is­tics will not dif­fer. If a mul­ti­party sys­tem is ac­tu­ally es­tab­lished, each and ev­ery party has to com­pete. That is democ­racy.

We can dis­tin­guish our­selves by how much we ful­fil the ex­pec­ta­tions of the peo­ple. When we im­ple­ment our plans and goals, we need more ac­tion and we need more pub­lic­ity.

When 88 Gen­er­a­tion de­clared its in­ten­tion to form a party, some sup­ported it but some crit­i­cised that it should in­stead help NLD. What is the mo­ti­va­tion be­hind your de­ci­sion to form a party?

When we re­viewed our ex­pe­ri­ence, we de­cided to en­ter into pol­i­tics. Among our com­rades, there were ar­gu­ments. Ac­tu­ally, there were sug­ges­tions to form a party, es­pe­cially at the 25th an­niver­sary of the 1988 demon­stra­tions. It may take 3 or 4 years for a party to be­come es­tab­lished. We have to strug­gle a lot to make it.

Party of­fices were opened in Bago, Aye­yarwady and Yan­gon. Why did you choose those re­gions?

It mainly was based on ac­tive mem­bers. We started with ar­eas where we have strongholds. You have sought sug­ges­tions from res­i­dents since April. What did they sug­gest?

The most fun­da­men­tal one is non-dis­crim­i­na­tion – ac­cept­ing peo­ple re­gard­less of race, re­li­gion, sex and wealth. The sec­ond is democ­racy and hu­man rights, which was one of our goals in the ’88 demon­stra­tions.

Eth­nic peo­ple talked about equal rights and a fed­eral union. Also, peo­ple want pro­tec­tion and pro­mo­tion of worker and farmer rights.

A free and fair mar­ket econ­omy is our pol­icy. In in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions, we aim for peace­ful co­op­er­a­tion with all coun­tries. These are the prin­ci­ples of our new party.

There is an 88 Gen­er­a­tion peace and open so­ci­ety work­ing as a CSO. Is there any rule that one has to quit from that or­gan­i­sa­tion to join party?

No, but NGOS can­not par­tic­i­pate in the elec­tion cam­paign of a party.

You are play­ing a key role in the for­ma­tion of the party, but we don’t see the par­tic­i­pa­tion of other 88 Gen­er­a­tion lead­ers like Min Ko Naing.

Min Ko Naing him­self has said he has a pas­sion for lit­er­a­ture and art more than pol­i­tics. When we de­cided to form a po­lit­i­cal party, Min Ko Naing agreed that those who are keen to do pol­i­tics would do pol­i­tics and those who are keen to work for the CSO would re­main at the CSO.

When dis­cus­sions on set­ting up the party be­gan, Ko Mya Aye was also in­volved. Why did he stop?

To es­tab­lish a po­lit­i­cal party took many years and many dis­cus­sions be­cause we want all to par­tic­i­pate. We don’t pro­hibit any­one from par­tic­i­pat­ing

In a dic­ta­tor­ship, the gov­ern­ment is not cho­sen by you. You don’t have a choice. In a democ­racy, the pub­lic has many choices.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Myanmar

© PressReader. All rights reserved.