Democracy Agenda in ASEAN Summit



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Jakarta 28 November 2018

Kepada YTH:

The ASEAN Secretariat

UP: Community Relation Division

Jalan Sisingamangaraja 70A, Kebayoran Baru

Jakarta Selatan – Jakarta 12110, Indonesia
Tel : (62-21) 7262991, 7243372
Email : public@asean.org

Democracy Agenda in ASEAN Summit

22-29 November 2018

Objection to the appointment of General Prayuth Chan-O-Cha to take over the chairmanship of ASEAN in 2019.

The Association of South East Asian Nations is a regional intergovernmental organization comprising ten Southeast Asian countries which promotes intergovernmental co-operation and facilitates economic, political, security, military, educational and sociocultural integration among its members and other Asian states.

The total population of ASEAN is over 583 million people, equivalent to 9% of the total global population. The trade value of ASEAN is 3.3 percent of total world GDP.

The ASEAN Vision 2020, adopted by the ASEAN leaders on the 30th anniversary of ASEAN, agreed on a shared vision of ASEAN as a combination of Southeast Asian nations, outward looking, living in peace, stability and prosperity, bonded together in partnership in dynamic development and in a community of caring societies.

The ASEAN Charter came into force on 15 December 2008, with the heads of state of the member states of ASEAN assembled in Singapore on the historic occasion of the 40th anniversary of the founding of ASEAN agreeing to this charter.

In effect, the ASEAN Charter has become a legally binding agreement among the ten ASEAN member states. It will also be registered with the Secretariat of the United Nations, pursuant to Article 102, Paragraph 1 of the Charter of the United Nations.

ASEAN member states have agreed upon on the purposes of ASEAN of which one of them is “To strengthen democracy, enhance good governance and the rule of law, and to promote and to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms” along with the motto of ASEAN “One Vision, One Identity, One Community”.

According to Article 31 of the ASEAN Charter, the chairmanship of ASEAN shall rotate annually, based on the alphabetical order of the English names of member states. Singapore Prime minister Mr. Lee Hsien Loong is the Chair of ASEAN for 2018. In the coming year 2019, Thailand will have its turn chairing the ten-member ASEAN next year and Thailand Prime minister Prayuth Chan O-Cha will assume the chairmanship.

Even though it is so pleasing that Thailand as a nation will obtain the great opportunity to be the leader of ASEAN, it is so shameful that the Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-O-Cha only came to power in 2014 by way of a military coup which overthrew the elected government. Since his military government has ruled the country for more than 4 years, there have been many hundreds of cases of human rights and fundamental freedom violations against Thai people by his ruling officers. It has been clearly shown that Mr. Prayuth and his military regime have never demonstrated their commitment to the legally binding agreement of the ASEAN Charter. More relevant items of evidence are as follows:

  1. In the year 2010, General Prayuth Chan O-Cha was the army chief under Aphisit Vechachiva‘s government. He committed a state crime by commanding the armed forces to disperse the rally of a United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship group (aka “red-shirts”) at Ratchprasong intersection causing the death of a hundred people and injuries to more than 2,000 people.
  1. On 22 May 2014, General Prayuth Chan O-Cha, who was the army chief, overthrew the elected government of Miss Yingluck Shinawatra. For more than four years in power, the regime has passed more than 500 laws that have caused more limited rights and freedom among the Thai people. Mr. Prayuth as the head of the National Council of Peace and Order (NCPO) has continued to use his absolute power through Section 44 more than 160 times which has promoted his authoritarian leadership.

More than 597 people, who expressed their harmless opinions against the dictatorship, were arrested and at least 1,318 people summoned by the NCPO for attitude adjustment were detained at military camps in various locations in Bangkok and other provinces.

Under the NCPO junta, which overthrew the democratic regime in May 2014, charges of lèse-majesté have increased significantly totalling 94 people, especially against the opponents of the junta. Lèse-majesté is now being increasingly used as a tool to stifle free speech and dissent in the country.

The military justice system has been used to process the legal cases of 1,886 civilians instead of the normal judicial system. There are currently 72 political prisoners being held in prison.

  1. The military regime leaded by Mr. Prayuth Chan O-cha has absolute power to rule the country. The judicial system has been used and controlled by the junta as the tool to eradicate its opponents. It approved the coup, legalized NCPO’s orders and passed the amnesty bill for the military regime.
  1. In 2017, the military junta released the long awaited draft of the country‘s new constitution and later pushed it through via a non-transparent referendum. The government ran a “grassroots information campaign”, but no debates were permitted on its merits or otherwise.

Under the new constitution, the Parliament is bicameral, consisting of a 250-member nominated Senate and a 500-member House of Representatives, of whom 350 are elected from single-member constituencies and 150 members from party lists. The constitution also allows the NCPO to appoint an eight to ten person panel who will choose Senators, including six seats reserved for the heads of the Royal Thai ArmyNavyAir Force and Police, plus the military’s supreme commander and defense permanent secretary. The Senate can stage a no-confidence vote against a future elected government. The bicameral Parliament could also select a candidate who is not one of its members or even a politician as Prime Minister. That person could become Prime Minister if the appointed Senate approves. Some people suspect that with the new constitution, the military seeks to harness political parties in order to create disposable coalition governments. The military would then remain the real power, whatever the outcome of the referendum and the election.

The proposed date for the next election has been postponed several times. At the time of writing, the promise for the next election on 24th February 2019 is still uncertain.

The military regime still maintains its stance of controlling the political activities of political parties and demonstrations by people (a gathering of more than five people is not allowed). The suppression of free speech and opinion still exists widely.

The above mentioned will lead to the non-transparent election and will allow the military junta to retain its dictatorship power through ‘democratic’ means.

The 33rd ASEAN Summit in Singapore between 11–15 November 2018,
PM Lee Hsien Loong handed over the ASEAN chairmanship to Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha. However, Mr. Prayuth’s speech did not address the importance of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedom which are part of the purpose of the ASEAN Charter.

In conclusion, Mr. Prayuth Chan-O-Cha does not deserve to be the Chair of ASEAN in 2019.  We would like the ASEAN summit in 2019 to reconsider if it is appropriate to appoint him, since he is a dictatorship leader, to chair ASEAN.

The purpose of the ASEAN Charter is to promote a people-oriented region of Asia in which all sectors of society are encouraged to participate in, and benefit from the process of Asian integration and community building. We would also like to propose that the agenda for people participation should be included in the ASEAN Summit in order to have people-involvement as a determining factor for their future, for sustainable improvement in standards of living, for promoting democracy, for human rights and for the fundamental freedom of ASEAN citizens.