Friday, August 14, 2009

‘De jure, we are the government, not the military’

The Jakarta Post -Dozens of MPs elected in Burma’s (Myanmar) 1990 elections have since fled the country to escape imprisonment and prosecution by the ruling military junta, who to this day refuse to acknowledge the landslide victory of the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. The Jakarta Post’s Lilian Budianto talks to one of them, Sein Win, who, from his home in Maryland, the United States, serves as Prime Minister of the government in exile. Sein Win came to Jakarta this week to hold a conference to seek international support for reforms in Myanmar. However, Wednesday’s conference was shut down by the police at the very last minute on the grounds that it was organized by an ‘illegal group’ and might damage Indonesian-Myanmarese relations. Below are excerpts from the interview.

Question: The Indonesian Foreign Ministry said Jakarta cannot issue a permit to a government in exile, whoever they may be. This ban was made despite Jakarta’s loud calls for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. What do you want to say about this?

Answer: This is an unfortunate thing. De jure, we are the elected government, based on the results of the 1990 elections. However, the government being recognized by Indonesia and other countries is the de facto government, which is, let’s say, illegal. We are very disappointed with Indonesia’s position, of course. We have chosen Indonesia to launch our proposal for a democracy in our country because we think Indonesia has similarities with Burma. Indonesia’s transition from a military regime to a democracy should lend the world spirit that change can happen in Myanmar. But of course, Indonesia, no matter what, is still a part of ASEAN together with Myanmar and leans toward to the grouping’s principle of noninterference. This is unfortunate. We are very disappointed.

Could you please explain the proposal for democracy in Burma?

We finished the draft recently after a year of preparation. Some points date back to the 1990s. We need to do a lot of things, like make reforms in the banking system, financial arrangements and monetary policy. You have it in the book. (The 23-paged proposal features calls for a review and amendment of the 2008 Constitution, the release of all political prisoners, including Suu Kyi, and the reform of security and social policies.)

The proposal has many very sensitive points of reform, how will the proposal be accepted?

Well, whether they accepted it or not is not really the matter. The most important thing is that we start a dialogue. Negotiations must go on; that’s what we want. The proposal contains our vision of Burma in the future. That economy and other things should go in a certain way. If they [the military] cannot accept it we are willing to have a dialogue with them asking what’s on their mind and find out how they are going to solve the problems. But we see that they are avoiding a dialogue; they want an election and a referendum, not dialogue. The military will not talk to us. We know that.

The military will not participate in a dialogue. What do you think the key to approaching them is?

There are many countries that could influence Burma – China for example. But China is always saying that it is an internal problem, and so, as long as they take this as an internal problem, they will not do much. Our people have traveled to China; they met with some officials in Kunming, Yunnan, although we want our message to go to the decision makers in Beijing. Besides China, our neighboring countries and regional countries also play an important role.

How do you think Indonesia or ASEAN play a role in the restoration of democracy in Burma?

What we want is ASEAN to be active and outspoken. The Indonesian government has already given a statement about the verdict in the trial of Suu Kyi. It was the right action and we are thankful for it. We also know that ASEAN is not comfortable with the military because ASEAN is outward looking. When you visit Indonesia you will see lots of foreigners, foreign companies and media. Even Vietnam and Cambodia are outward looking. They don’t like the military. However, politics in ASEAN are based on two things: they are politics of noninterference and quiet diplomacy. This is unfortunate. If you go quiet, you will not come to anything. The military will not be affected. They don’t care.

How do you see economic relations relating to the way ASEAN deals with Burma?

There are ASEAN investments in Burma and may be because of that ASEAN is not outspoken. Burma is using its national resources for his own benefit. I am not allowed to enter Thailand because of pressure from the [Myanmarese] military.

What do you have to say about next year’s election?

The military will try anything to win. They don’t want to see a reoccurrence of the results of 1990 election.

What about the future of the struggle against the military?

We are all getting old. It was 20 years ago when my friends and I were elected MPs. We will have to think about having the youth join us. They can be people inside and outside Burma. Inside Burma, it is of course an underground movement; the question is how to recruit them.


In Maryland, Sein Win, 64, lives with his wife and a daughter, who joined him from Burma in 2000, as well as a son, who was born in the US. He earned his doctorate in Mathematics from Hamburg University in Germany and taught at universities in Burma and abroad before entering politics in 1988. The cousin of Aung San Suu Kyi, he is the chairman of Party of National Democracy (PND), which was set up in 1988 as a back up party for Suu Kyi’s NLD. He is currently serving his fifth term as prime minister of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB). He works with 10 other Burmese in the NCGUB office in Maryland.

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