Friday, August 7, 2009

Suu Kyi is ‘Part of the Problem’: Goh Chok Tong

The Irrawaddy News

Goh Chok Tong, Singapore’s former prime minister and current senior minister, said on Thursday that Burma’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is “part of the problem” facing the military-ruled country.

Goh told reporters at the Asia-Middle East Media Roundtable in Singapore that while the West sees Suu Kyi as the solution to Burma’s problems, she is also “part of problem” because she believes she is the government, according to Singapore’s Channel NewsAsia news network.

He also suggested Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), needed to seek a fresh mandate in the 2010 elections, saying that Suu Kyi should not dwell on the fact that her party’s victory in the 1990 elections was not recognized by the junta.

“That was 19 years ago, that’s history. If she realizes she has to be part of the solution, she has to offer some concessions, such as to publicly say that she would be in favor of the lifting of sanctions,” Goh was quoted as saying in The Malaysian Insider on Friday.

On Burma’s scheduled elections for next year, Goh said the junta should make sure that the elections were “fair, free and legitimate.” He added: “The process must involve parties that oppose you as well. Aung San Suu Kyi must be allowed to participate.”

The senior minister from the most developed country in Southeast Asia also said that military-ruled Burma’s economy has enormous growth potential.

“Myanmar [Burma] has the potential to boom in the next 10 years and it can be like Thailand’s today in 20 years’ time,” Goh said.

Responding to Goh’s comments, Aye Thar Aung, the secretary of the Committee Representing the People’s Parliament (CRPP), an umbrella group consisting of parties elected in 1990, rejected the idea that Suu Kyi is part of Burma’s problem.

“I disagree with Mr Goh Chok Tong because Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has openly said since 1988 that she could negotiate with the generals for the benefit of the country. She has also said that believes the military is needed to resolve the problems in Burma,” said Aye Thar Aung.

“Significantly, she also recognizes the importance of resolving ethnic issues. So she is still a key player in efforts to reach a resolution,” he added.

The argument that Suu Kyi is “part of the problem” is not new.

In early 2003, a number of Burma analysts, citing claims in the country’s state-run media that Suu Kyi was not willing to negotiate with the military, began to suggest that she had become an obstacle to political progress.

At the time, these analysts argued that Prime Minister Gen Khin Nyunt, a relative moderate among the ruling generals, should be regarded as the most important force for political change in Burma, not Suu Kyi. Khin Nyunt’s ouster in October 2004 put an end to that idea.

But the debate over Suu Kyi’s role in Burmese politics has recently been revived, with some Burma experts and international aid agencies saying that greater attention should be paid to the needs of ordinary Burmese citizens, rather than the plight of its most famous political prisoner. With the US and the European Union threatening tougher sanctions in response to Suu Kyi’s trial on charges of violating the terms of her house arrest, the debate has intensified.

In a recent interview with Asia Times online, Burmese historian Thant Myint-U, a former UN diplomat who is currently a visiting fellow with the Institute for Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, called Suu Kyi’s strategy for reform “a gamble” that has not paid off.

He added that Suu Kyi’s approach has come at “the increasing cost of other roads not tested and opportunities lost as well as the enormous effect sanctions and aid cut-offs have had on ordinary people, especially the poorest and most vulnerable in the country.”

Meanwhile, Singaporean leaders, who are vocal advocates of engagement with the regime, have come under fire for being fundamentally ill-informed about Burma’s political realities.

In an interview last Sunday with The online Citizen, Singaporean Foreign Minister George Yeo incorrectly stated that Burma had been ruled by the military since its independence in 1948 and that Suu Kyi’s father, Aung San, had created the law that a Burmese citizen married to a foreign national could not take political office.

“The statements made by Singaporean leaders this week are undermining their own credibility,” said Debbie Stothard, the coordinator of Altsean, the Alternative Asean Network.

The CRPP’s Aye Thar Aung said that while regional leaders were welcome to play a role in resolving Burma’s political standoff, they should try to learn more about the country to get a better understanding of the roots of its problems.

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