Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Indonesian MPs Give Burma Reform Lessons

Burma can learn from both the successes and failures of Indonesia during its transition from military rule to democracy, members of Indonesia’s parliament told Burmese presidential advisers for legal and political affairs during a meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia on Sept 27.
According to notes from the meeting obtained by The Irrawaddy, the Indonesian MPs told the Burmese delegation that one of the first steps in Indonesia's own transition to democracy—which began in 1998 after the fall of former dictator Suharto—was making significant constitutional amendments to protect human rights and provide a framework for economic and political reforms.
The Indonesian legislators acknowledged that their country made a mistake by failing to bring to justice those responsible for gross violations of human rights during the Suharto regime and then letting them hold positions in the new government.
As a consequence, the Indonesian MPs said, such persons remain obstacles to resolving conflicts, particularly with respect to the management of the country's natural resources.
One of the issues the Burmese delegation raised in the meeting with the Indonesian MPs was how to strengthen Burma’s Parliament and public administration.
The Indonesian MPs responded that the first step should be to give Burma’s Parliament power under the country’s Constitution. They said that even though the Indonesian parliament was previously just a rubber stamp for the government, the amended Indonesian constitution gives the parliament the authority to oversee the budget and make law.
The Indonesian MPs also said that increasing the capacity of civil society should take place simultaneously with increasing the power of the parliament. During the early stages of reform, they said, Indonesia’s leadership was aware that it was important to listen to civil society and acknowledged that if the government sector is weak, the civil society should be allowed to play its role. In addition, civil society has been allowed to play a role in the legislative process, such as in drafting the law for the protection of labor rights.
Dr Nay Zin Latt, a political adviser to Burmese President Thein Sein who was part of the Burmese delegation, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that the Indonesian MPs warned that Burma's reform process could be protracted if the country has a weak parliament and civil society sector.
“We understand that the reform process cannot go very smoothly with a weak civil society. We have more plans underway for the process,” he said.
Nay Zin Latt also suggested that just as post-Suharto Indonesia saw the gradual end of military representation in its parliament, the same thing can be expected to take place in Burma's national parliament, where 25 percent of the MPs are designated by the military.
But regarding the question of bringing to justice those who committed human rights violations in the past, Nay Zin Latt pointed out that change in Indonesia stemmed from a grassroots public movement, whereas in Burma change is being driven from the top down by government leaders, including President Thein Sein, who are former military officials. Therefore, attempting to bring members of the previous military junta to justice may actually prolong the reform process, he said.
However, the Burmese delegation did inquire about ways of coping with corruption, and in response the Indonesian MPs acknowledged that this has been an issue that the achievement of greater degrees of democracy and openness have not solved in their country.
The Indonesian MPs warned there cannot be a gap between moral and political commitment if the problem of corruption is to be adequately addresses—there must be a strategy that focuses on prevention, not just repression, and a budget that allows the strategy to be carried out. In addition, the ruling party must address the issue with impartiality if they expect law enforcement officials to do so as well.
The Burmese delegation also sought advice on how to deal with requests for autonomy by ethnic groups in different states and regions, and expressed a fear that autonomy would allow those states with the most natural resources to develop ahead of the others.
After the meeting, the Burmese delegation reportedly visited Indonesia's Ache Province, which was previously engaged in a decades-long civil war with the Indonesian government but was granted autonomy a few years after the country began its political transition to democracy. The 2005 agreement between the Indonesian government and the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) resulted in Aceh receiving a special regional status, and former GAM guerrillas came to power after winning the first post-conflict elections.

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I am an independent man who voted to humanitarian aid.