reeks of double-standards.
Editorial: The Nation, Bangkok, July 13, 1997
CAMBODIAN co-premier Hun Sen has bitten a chunk off Asean's ear by single-handedly forcing the regional organisation to do what it said it would never do.
Last week, in a major policy reversal, Asean was driven to issue an uncharacteristic statement - it demanded the return of the democratically elected government in Cambodia. At a press conference after a gruelling five-hour emergency meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian Foreign Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said Asean wants to see Cambodia's democratic institutions upheld.
Such a new-found adoration for democracy among Asean leaders is laudable. But, of course, it reeks of double-standards.
If Hun Sen's swift swoop on his coalition partner, First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh, is said to be a coup, how would one describe the refusal of Rangoon's generals to hand over power to the popularly elected National League for Democracy?
Asean leaders have only themselves to blame for the renewed crisis in Cambodia. Just last month they showed no aversion whatsoever to dealing with whoever is in power by embracing Burma into Asean's fold even though the ruling junta is an illegitimate regime. Such a signal from Asean must have embolden Hun Sen as he plotted to oust Ranariddh.
Hun Sen has shown, time and again, that he is a shrew politician. By launching the coup, he has forced Asean's hand. If Asean prefers to deal with the much reviled military junta over that of the democratically elected NLD in Burma, why should he - who to all intents and purposes is an elected leader - be snubbed?
''Why can't the international community not accept it [Ranariddh's ouster]?" Hun Sen asked yesterday. ''I would like to know."
Indeed, so would we.
It is clear that Ranariddh will soon be made redundant. While the prince is desperately trying to shore up support from a jaded global community, Hun Sen can count on a number of disgruntled Funcinpec members to keep the facade of the coalition government intact. Most likely, Hun Sen will browbeat the remaining Funcinpec members to stay in government until the next elections in May. And this time he would be ensured of winning with a clear majority.
And what's wrong with that? After all, Hun Sen can point to Indonesia which has emerged relatively unscathed despite its strong-arm tactics in nudging out popular opposition politician Megawati Sukarnoputri from its stage-managed elections. If there is anything Cambodia and Burma can learn from some of the authoritarian Asean regimes, it is how to organise elections in which the result is already known, and yet still retain some measure of international respectability.
It appears that Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is so obsessed with the dream of an Asean incorporating all 10 Southeast Asian countries, to coincide with the organisation's 30th anniversary celebration in Kuala Lumpur later this year, that he is willing to throw caution to the winds.
Yet, Malaysia stands to lose most from the Cambodian crisis. Three-quarters of all foreign investment in this war-torn country comes from Malaysia, making it Cambodia's biggest foreign investor. All that is in jeopardy now. There must be a lot of recriminations in Kuala Lumpur about what has gone wrong.
Surely, what has gone wrong for Asean is its double standards, inconsistency and hypocrisy, its blind pursuit for economic gain over human rights and democracy, and its bull-headedness in defending what to many is a morally repugnant ''constructive engagement" policy.
Asean's 30th anniversary is not a time for celebrations. Instead, the organisation could do well to solemnly re-examine its role and vision. The world has changed since the founding of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 1967. Asean is no longer a Cold War animal. It must readjust to this new reality.
A new Asean should be one that is in keeping with the wishes and aspirations of the people in Southeast Asia. Asean has reached a milestone after 30 years. In the next 30 years, it should aim for another milestone - to play an active role in promoting human rights and democracy in this part of the world.
And it should start with Burma.