Myanmar stumbles on path to democracy under Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi. (AFP)
Updated 29 March 2017

Myanmar stumbles on path to democracy under Aung San Suu Kyi

Yangon: For decades Myanmar’s people dreamed of democracy, but a year into office Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government is struggling to revive a sluggish economy and shake off the vestiges of the still powerful military.
Swept into power on a wave of optimism and hatred of the generals who ruled for 50 years, Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) vowed to boost prosperity and end decades of bloody civil war.
But while “The Lady,” as she is widely known, still draws widespread personal adoration in many areas of the country, dissenting voices are rising.
Suu Kyi cuts an increasingly aloof figure, say analysts, ducking press conferences and remaining silent over a bloody army crackdown on Rohingya Muslims.
Her reticence to speak out on the violence in Rakhine state is fast losing her fans among an international community that was once bedazzled by her power as a rights defender.
Expectations of what the NLD could achieve in a year governing one of Southeast Asia’s poorest countries were unreasonably high, according to Myanmar watchers.
But now many are questioning whether the government will ever be able to piece the country back together. 
“There is a growing sense among the politically engaged urban electorate that the government is not meeting their expectations,” said political analyst Richard Horsey, a consultant for the International Crisis Group.
“Partly, that is because those expectations were inevitably far too high... but partly it is due to government under-performance.”
Most MPs have little or no political experience and many spent years languishing in jail under the former junta that gorged itself and its cronies on Myanmar’s resources and brutally suppressed dissent.
The government is hobbled by a military constitution that bars Suu Kyi from the presidency and guarantees them a quarter of parliament seats — enough to block any changes.
It also gives the army control over the three most important ministries: defense, borders and home affairs.
A prominent NLD lawyer who was trying to scrap the charter, Ko Ni, was murdered in broad daylight at Yangon airport in a killing allegedly masterminded by a former military officer.
Speaking at his funeral, Suu Kyi urged the public to be patient.
“For the history of a country, for the history of a government, 10 months or one year is not much,” she told the crowd.
But many in Myanmar wryly joke that the NLD is just “old wine in a new bottle” — new packaging for a government that still does not listen to its people.
Several of Suu Kyi’s flagship policies are already faltering.
Growth is slowing and foreign investment is expected to fall for the first time in four years, while double-digit inflation is eating up people’s incomes.
Political insiders complain Suu Kyi has concentrated too much power in her own hands and is stifling debate within the party.
Prosecutions against journalists, satirists and activists under a vague online defamation law have meanwhile surged over the past year — several brought by NLD members.
The Lady has also faced criticism for mishandling peace talks with ethnic insurgents in Myanmar’s borderlands, where fighting is at its most intense in decades.
Analysts warn that rising anger in ethnic minority areas could see the NLD lose power to local parties in April 1 by-elections.
“There was hope that the situation would improve under a new government. But it hasn’t, it’s even got worse,” said veteran Myanmar commentator and author Bertil Lintner.
“She’s become a fig leaf for continued military rule.”
Internationally, many have been shocked at Suu Kyi’s silence over an army crackdown on Rohingya Muslims so brutal UN investigators believe it may amount to crimes against humanity.
Last week the UN Human Rights Council agreed to dispatch a fact-finding mission to investigate whether troops had committed atrocities in the north of Rakhine State.
The government has rejected the probe, saying it would only “inflame” tensions, and lashed out at those reporting abuses.
But despite the new government’s teething problems, many still revere “mother Suu” as a saint-like figure who delivered Myanmar from military oppression.
“I’m not convinced public discontent is as widespread as often perceived,” said Renaud Egreteau, a visiting fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, pointing out that the NLD retains strong support in its rural heartlands.
Government adviser Aung Tun Thet said it was too early to judge the NLD.
“We can’t say after a year what the government’s performance has been like an exam. We can’t say if they have passed or failed,” he said.

Indonesia targets ‘virus’ of religious radicalization

Indonesia’s Vice President Ma’ruf Amin says the government is on a quest to stop the spread of radicalism. (AN photo by Yudhi Sukma Wijaya)
Updated 25 February 2020

Indonesia targets ‘virus’ of religious radicalization

  • Vice President Ma’ruf Amin shares concern over former Indonesian Daesh members who want to return home
  • There are 600 former jail inmates under observation of national counterterrorism agency BNPT

JAKARTA: The Indonesian government has decided not to repatriate hundreds of citizens who joined Daesh in a bid to counter the rise of radicalization in its society.

President Joko Widodo said on Feb. 12 that the government was prioritizing the security of its 260 million population by reducing their exposure to terrorist attacks from those who had fought for Daesh.
Indonesia has experienced a number of attacks by people linked to militant groups that support Daesh. Recent attacks include a suicide bombing at a police headquarters in November and an attack on the then-chief security minister, Wiranto — a retired general who like many Indonesians uses one name — who was stabbed in the abdomen last October by a man affiliated to a Daesh-supporting network.
Chief Security Minister Mohammad Mahfud MD said that there were 689 people in camps in Syria — most of them women and children — who said they come from Indonesia, based on data provided by the CIA, the the Red Cross and other agencies.
The government will consider on a case-by-case basis whether to repatriate children aged 10 or younger, and based on whether they have parents or are orphaned.
Mahfud said that the government was concerned that if foreign terrorist fighters were repatriated they could become a dangerous new “virus” for the country.
Indonesians who had been repatriated from Syria have to take part in a government-sponsored deradicalization program for a month.
In addition, the national counterterrorism agency BNPT has rolled out deradicalization programs for terror convicts incarcerated in more than 100 correctional facilities. It continues to monitor at least 600 former jail inmates who have served their terms and are undertaking empowerment programs to prevent them from rejoining fellow militants.
Vice President Ma’ruf Amin has been tasked with the responsibility of coordinating efforts to take on radicalization. His credentials as a senior Muslim cleric are expected to carry weight in countering the spread of hardline Islamic teachings.


260m - Total population of Indonesia.

689 - Number of people in Syrian camps who say they are from Indonesia.

600 - Number of inmates under observation of national counterterrorism agency BNPT.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, septuagenarian Amin, who is chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council, although in an inactive capacity, acknowledged his background as a religious figure was the reason why President Widodo assigned him to the task.
“We want to instill a sense of religious moderation and develop a nationalist commitment,” he said.
He added that the government did not want former Daesh members who claimed to be Indonesians bringing “a plague” to the country, becoming “a new source of radicalism” if they were repatriated.
The government uses the term “radical terrorism” to avoid confusion with other types of radicalism.

Hundreds of Indonesians joined Daesh in Syria, to fight against President Bashar Assad. (Getty)

Amin said that prevention and law enforcement were required to combat terrorism. While Indonesia has gained international recognition for its counterterrorism efforts, there remains much to do to curb the spread of radical terrorism, he said.
“If radicalism turns into action, it could become terrorism, so we begin from their way of thinking and we realign their intolerant thoughts, which are the source of radicalism. We deradicalize those who have been exposed,” Amin said.
There are five provinces where the spread of radicalism and terrorism have been particularly being targeted: Aceh, Riau, Central Sulawesi, West Kalimantan and East Java.
Amin said that the government was on a quest to prevent the spread of religious radicalism in Indonesia.
“The cause of terrorism and radicalism could be triggered by religious teachings, the economic situation, injustice, therefore it takes a comprehensive approach from upstream to downstream,” Amin said.
A coordinated approach involves various government agencies and institutions, and begins with early childhood education through to college.
“We want to instill religious moderation, a sense of nationalism and patriotism and introduce Pancasila into early childhood education,” Amin said, referring to the country’s foundation principles.
According to the Global Threat Landscape report issued in January by Singapore’s International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), deradicalization programs targeting women and children are necessary given the growing number of women involved in terrorist activities. The programs need to be different to those provided for male militants.
The report found that family networks which include wives would continue to play a part in militant activities in Indonesia this year. Family units are likely to be involved in future attacks as some pro-Daesh families have indoctrinated their children with its ideology.
Previous attacks have seen women and children involved in attacks such as the suicide bombing in Surabaya targeting churches and a police headquarters in 2018.
Asked if the BNPT efforts have been enough to counter radicalization in Indonesia, Amin said that the program was on track, but in the future the government aimed to have a more focused target supported by cooperation with government agencies.
 “We expect the results would be much better than what has been achieved so far,” he said.