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Volume II No.3


Published 07 February 2021

Dear Reader,

Donald J. Trump must be green with envy. For much of December and early January he did everything he could to overturn the result of a national election that he lost. He made claims of widespread election fraud without any evidence. He went as far as to incite an insurrection against the US Congress, which is the rough equivalent of throwing the kitchen sink. And what did he get for his efforts? A second impeachment.

Compare that to what just happened in Southeast Asia. The generals in the Myanmar military establishment needed only three small hours in the morning of 01 February to get the same job done. On the claim, also without evidence, that the election was stolen through widespread electoral fraud, they made a surgical move. In one fell swoop, they detained the duly elected head of government of Myanmar and her political associates, appointed their own cabinet members, and declared a state of emergency in which they would wield absolute power. Brilliant!

Once again, dear Reader, this is your Briefer Jamil Maidan Flores observing the World, Region and Nation from a locked-down Jakarta and trying my best to help you make sense of developments.

My, my, my Myanmar!

So how do you make sense of what’s going on in Myanmar? To the military mind with autocratic ambitions, it makes perfect sense. Here you are, Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the top military brass in your country. But you are not the head of government. And you are about to fade into compulsory retirement. That means you will soon be a nobody. To be sure, you will probably be an influential nobody but still a nobody.

Hey, you are an aspiring superstar and you allow yourself to become a nobody? That does not make sense.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (left) and Gen. Min Aung Hlaing

On the other hand the person who stands most formidably in your way to national leadership is a superstar, but a fading superstar. The world no longer worships her the way it did when then US President Barack Obama planted a chaste, respectful kiss on her face as they met in Yangon on 14 November 2014.

Rohingya refugees cross the Bangladesh-Myanmar border. (Photo: Reuters)

Since then she has turned that face away from the plight of Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya community, the most persecuted ethnic minority group in the world. She has cozied up to the military, going so far as to appear before the International Court of Justice in The Hague to defend you and the rest of the military establishment against charges of genocide.

So her halo is shattered. The international community has decanonized her. But, hey, she just notched a landslide win in the general elections last November, an overwhelming 80 percent of the votes cast. In the months ahead, if she makes clever use of her immense majority in Parliament, and given some luck, she can consolidate her hold on power while you slouch your way to Nobodyland.

So what do you do? Remember, you are Gen. Min Aung Hlaing in Myanmar. What are you a general for?

So he did what was to him logical and sensible. He did not have to resort to rabble-rousing. He did not have to incite a mob with flaming demagoguery so it would march and besiege and ransack Parliament in order to disrupt a democratic process. That kind of melodrama is for losers like Donald J. Trump. Like a true general, he got the job done in the wee hours of a Monday morning, with surgical precision.

A soldier stands guard during a senior military officer’s visit to a Hindu temple in Yangon. (Photo: New York Times)

At daylight the people of Myanmar woke to the reality of a new ruler, a military-appointed cabinet and a yearlong state of emergency, with their duly elected officials under arrest. The Myanmar people took the situation with relative calm: they had been through this before. They withdrew their cash from banks and bought as much gold as they could. They also stocked up on rice and water, fully charged all their battery-powered devices, and quietly organized for resistance and civil disobedience.

Vanilla-flavored diplomacy

Countries like the US, the UK and Australia were swift to react and to condemn the coup d’état. The US threatened new sanctions against the military regime. Within hours, most members of the community of nations have either expressed condemnation or grave concern at the situation in Myanmar. The United Nations Special Envoy on Myanmar, Christine Schraner, strongly condemned the military takeover, but in the UN Security Council, China vetoed a proposed condemnatory statement, as usual.

Christine Schraner-Burgener, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Myanmar, briefs the Security Council on the situation in Myanmar. (Photo: UN)

And as usual, ASEAN issued a vanilla statement recalling “the purposes and the principles enshrined in the ASEAN Charter, including the adherence to the principles of democracy, the rule of law and good governance, respect for and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

 Here in Jakarta, a highly respected professor of international law has in effect advised the Indonesian government to let sleeping dogs lie. Prof. Hikmahanto Juwana has been quoted as saying, “Indonesia must allow the coup government to consolidate,” and not to follow the example of the US, UK and Australia, which condemned the military takeover.

 This is what the Indonesian government actually said: “Indonesia asks all parties to obey the principles of the ASEAN Charter, comply with the rule of law, good governance, democratic principles and constitutional governance. Indonesia also underlines that all general election disputes can be resolved through the available legal mechanisms.”

 I hope you are crazy about vanilla.

Dr. Dino Patti Djalal, founder of Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia (FPCI) gives his opening remarks during a conference on Indonesia-South Korea relations. (Photo: Twitter/@fpcindo)

Is there any voice in the ASEAN region that clearly recognizes the coup in Myanmar for what it is and holds a mirror to the enormity of that usurpation? There must be quite a number right now, but among the first to speak truth to power in this case is the Jakarta-based Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia (FPCI).

 Mincing no words, the FPCI asserted: “The military takeover and its imposition of a state of emergency for one year has no credible legal, political and moral basis and indeed creates yet another bad precedent for Myanmar’s nation-building process.”

 That’s for starters. To read more of what the Community has to say about the situation today in Myanmar, go here.

Let’s talk, please

A late breaking news is that Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on a state visit to Indonesia and his host, President Joko Widodo, have their respective foreign ministers to consult with the ASEAN Chair, Brunei, on the possibility of holding a special foreign ministers’ meeting on the situation of Myanmar. If this meeting pushes through, it’s the very least that ASEAN can do. Here’s hoping it will not be denounced by passionate advocates of non-interference in the internal affairs of Member States.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo (right) meets Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. (Photo: Liputan 6)

What to do for democracy

The power grab by the generals in Myanmar may be regarded as an aberration in the light of PinterPolitik contributor Joshua Kurlantzick’s assessment of the mixed situation of democracy in South and Southeast Asia. The situation in these two regions, compared to other regions in the world, is still not so grim, he says.

Nevertheless he proposes an array of measures that should be urgently taken to prevent illiberal leaders from using the pandemic to entrench their power and undermine democracy. To read up on what these measures are, go here.

Thai protesters, mostly students, call for ‘true’ democracy for their country. (Photo: Bangkok Herald)

Covid-19 clips airframe wings

Meanwhile, it’s not only illiberal national leaders that are benefiting from the pandemic. There is one airframe manufacturer that is getting a huge undeserved break: Boeing needs about two years to recertify its B737 Max, a time span during which its rival, Airbus, can lord it over the airframe market. But there is no market now because of the pandemic! And the pandemic is expected to last another two years during which there is little or no airframe market. Airbus gains no advantage. Lucky Boeing!

Boeing 737 Max production at one of Boeing’s factory in Renton, Washington, US. (Photo: Getty Images)

To learn more of the interesting economics of the airframe manufacturing industry and its anomalies as explained by Hasan Soedjono, enter here.

That’s all for now, dear Reader.

Here’s looking forward to being with you again to tell you how ASEAN is addressing the fraught situation in Myanmar, if it addresses the predicament at all. And how the return of America to multilateralism is impacting on the lay of the land here in Southeast Asia.


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