Asean leaders approve Burma chairmanship bid

Burmese leader Thein Sein at the Asean summit on 17 November 2011 Burma missed out on its last opportunity to chair Asean because of its rights record

Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) have agreed that Burma can chair the regional bloc in 2014, amid some signs of reform in the country.

The move came at a summit of the 10-member group in Indonesia.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa told the BBC the decision was unanimous.

He said member states believed that Burma had made significant progress down the path of democracy.

The announcement came as Burma's pro-democracy party appeared poised to rejoin the country's political process.


The leadership of the Asean regional grouping rotates on an annual basis, but Burma was not allowed to take the top position last time because of its human rights record.

Some critics say it is still too early to award the high-profile role to Burma, where between 600 and 1,000 political prisoners are thought to remain behind bars.

At the scene

We met for an interview in a plain wooden house. Aung San Suu Kyi said that it was one sign of reform that the interview could take place at all - the first time the BBC has been given a visa for such a trip.

She said she was confident that remaining political prisoners will soon be released, a confidence that may come from her recent talks with President Thein Sein, who she described as a good listener; he is widely credited with the pace of reforms.

She has offered to try to negotiate a peaceful end to several ethnic conflicts that have become worse this year. But she said that the continuing conflicts should not be allowed to get in the way of restoring democracy.

Her party, the National League for Democracy, is now likely to support a decision to run in by-elections, a year after they boycotted a national vote.

She is certain to be one of the candidates her party puts forward for by-elections in about 50 parliamentary seats, made vacant when MPs were appointed as ministers.

But Mr Natalegawa said it was important to recognise that the situation had changed.

"It's not about the past, it's about the future, what leaders are doing now," he said. "We're trying to ensure the process of change continues."

Ko Ko Hlaing, chief political adviser to the Burmese president, said Asean had welcomed Burma as a responsible leader.

"Be assured that we are now growing into a democratic society and we will do all our responsibilities and duties as a responsible government, reflecting the desires of the Myanmar (Burmese) people," he said.

But US President Barack Obama, speaking before the decision was announced, said more was needed from Burma.

"Some political prisoners have been released. The government has begun a dialogue. Still, violations of human rights persist," he said in a speech to the Australian parliament.

"So we will continue to speak clearly about the steps that must be taken for the government of Burma to have a better relationship with the United States."

Burma held its first elections in two decades a year ago - polls which saw military rule replaced with a military-backed civilian-led government.

The new leadership then freed pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest and has opened dialogue with her.

Aung San Suu Kyi on whether her party should re-enter politics

Her National League for Democracy party is to meet on Friday to decide whether to rejoin the political process.

It boycotted the 2010 polls because of electoral laws that banned its leaders - former political prisoners - from standing as candidates.

This law and another that required registered parties to "safeguard" the military-written constitution have now been changed.

Ms Suu Kyi told the BBC she expected most of her party to support a decision to run in forthcoming by-elections.


More on This Story

Burma's Transition


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  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    If this is the start of democracy for the long haul, then it's welcomed, but if it's only for Burma to chair the ASEAN get together, then it's dire. I agree that China is the real culprit in all this because their human rights violations are atrocious. China will never change & at the moment they're trying to build their military so fast so as to be able to go to war against US, & win. It's true!

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    "Nothing is changed with cruellest regime" Yes, we've got some prisoners released but only who are very ill or old or their sentences will be due in 4 or 5 months anyway, and very few other names it could be a good impression for the regime.
    Asean chairmanship, to lift economic sanctions and to balance of China's influence are their main intentions in this move. Not for people of Myanmar

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    The threshold is incredibly low.

    A band of thugs terrorising its population impervious to all reason is not suitable.

    But just move a bit away from the absolute extreme and you can carry on terrorising away, no problem.

    ASEA will be represented by a band of thugs. There's no getting around that. I'm just glad I'm not an ASEAN citizen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    The best approach is to employ the carrot as well as the stick. Get the tortoise that is Myanmar to stick its head out of the shell and interact with other surrounding nations. That may accelerate progress. (note to those who use modern geographical names. Make your local Indian restaurant change the menu to Mumbai potatoes and Chicken Chennai).

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Utterly abhorrent. This action shows the contempt of those in the region to democracy. Hardly surprising given the graft in India or the fear in China of civil unrest in the light of the Arab spring.

    The world should take note of this political weakness.


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