Finger-pointing at Myanmar masks situation in Vietnam

Finger-pointing at Myanmar masks situation in Vietnam

AT the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Hanoi on Friday, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa did not denounce Vietnam for ignoring calls for free and fair multi-party elections.

He did, however, chastise Myanmar about that.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo did not condemn the host nation’s jailing of scores of pro-democracy activists like Professor Pham Minh Hoang and lawyer Le Cong Dinh.

But he scolded Myanmar about the detention of oppositionist Aung San Suu Kyi.

Thai lawmaker and head of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus, Kraisak Choonhavan, did not demand that human rights abuses in Vietnam should top the summit’s agenda.

But he did say that about Myanmar.

It’s a funny old world where hypocrisy and double-standards proliferate; but at a summit in one of the region’s most repressive regimes, it boggles the mind that equally forceful comments were not made about Hanoi’s brutal dictatorship.

And brutal is the mot juste. This is a regime that in recent times has meted out long jail terms to citizens who merely call for peaceful evolution towards democracy.

Yet even those beacons of liberty who are ASEAN dialogue partners, like the United States, Australia and Canada, issued no clarion calls for Vietnam to show more respect for human rights and freedom of speech.

But Myanmar’s generals, wow, what a beating those guys took.

Of course, in a way, they asked for it by having the audacity to schedule a multi-party general election for this Sunday.

Even before people have voted, the massed ranks of hypocrites in Hanoi have dubbed the election a charade that will in no way reflect the wishes of the citizens of Myanmar.

And again, up to a point, that is true.

These are disciplined elections that follow the Singapore model in that they are designed to ensure the ruling party stays in control.

Any oppositionist who threatens the governing People’s Action Party in Singapore is destroyed. It happened to Chia Thye Poh, Ashleigh Seow, JB Jeyaretnam and Chee Soon Juan.

As Australia’s Green Party leader Bob Brown said last week when objecting to a bid by Singapore’s bourse to take over its Australian counter-part: “We should tell them nothing doing. Singapore is a state that tramples all over freedom of speech, democracy, the rights of opposition, the ability for public discourse.”

But none of the summiteers in Hanoi lambasted Singapore about this, just as none of them berated Vietnam. They were far too busy working themselves into a verbal frenzy over Myanmar.

It’s no wonder the generals in Naypidaw ignore these tantrums. Despite evidence to the contrary, they are not totally stupid – as they showed by timing their polls to coincide with the US midterm elections so that Myanmar’s result would be consigned to the inside pages.

And at last, its military leaders have cleverly followed the example of Laos and Vietnam and exchanged their uniforms for civvies.

That said, they still have no more emotional rapport with the people of Myanmar than they had in 1990, when the last polls were held.

Back then, they totally misread the mood of the electorate, and so Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won in a landslide.

The baffled generals then ignored the result and continued to rule in their own eccentric manner – a sort of cross between Caligula and the Three Stooges – and thereby cemented the loathing that everyone feels towards them.

So it was a no-brainer to attack them yet again in Hanoi and thus deflect criticism from host Vietnam and the likes of Laos and Singapore.

It allowed Marty and Romulo, and even Hillary Clinton and other masters of the double-standard, to emit their flatulent and totally meaningless condemnations. A pox on them: They are as bad as the generals they revile.

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