DAVOS, Switzerland: An Indonesian senior minister has urged Myanmar’s military to consider stepping back and letting “qualified” leaders govern the country that is in an economic free-fall due to sanctions and worsening civil strife.
Myanmar’s junta should follow the example of Indonesia where the military has stepped back from controlling all aspects of government decades ago, said Luhut Panjaitan, coordinating minister for maritime affairs and investment who is also a former general.
“There are so many militaries in charge of government, but if you are not qualified, why should you be president?” he said on a panel at the World Economic Forum, in a pointed remark about Myanmar coup leader-turned-prime minister Min Aung Hlaing.
“Let someone else who is qualified manage this country like what happened in Indonesia.”
Indonesia returned to democracy after the 1998 ouster of former general Suharto, who seized power from the country’s first president in 1966. Suharto ruled with an iron fist for three decades and oversaw rapid economic growth — a legacy that saw many former military leaders like Panjaitan eventually take on positions in successive governments.
Maj Gen Zaw Min Tun, lead spokesman for Myanmar’s ruling State Administration Council, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Indonesia is this year’s chair for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations after leading very public efforts to hold the Myanmar regime accountable for continued violence against civilians. Last year, President Joko Widodo proposed to Asean leaders that representatives of the Myanmar military be barred from all the group’s events and meetings and not just big-ticket summits.
Despite Indonesia’s efforts, there appears to be no sign of a consensus within Asean on how to hold the Myanmar junta to account. At last year’s Asean summit, top envoys in the region agreed to hold the military government to a concrete but unspecified timeline to make progress on a plan to end violence.
Panjaitan indicated that despite his views, Indonesia would abide by Asean principle of non-interference while continuing talks with the junta leaders. “Whether this year or next year, I think they can solve their own problem,” he said.