If ASEAN chair Indonesia sends a general as special envoy to Myanmar, that facilitator must be allowed to meet all parties there, said an ex-Indonesian general who aided the Burmese transition to democracy from junta rule over a decade ago.
That person must also be someone who supports civilian control over the military and understands democratic transition, Agus Widjojo said in an interview with BenarNews.
He said the envoy would need to meet ethnic armed groups’ representatives, and democratically elected lawmakers who were ousted in the Myanmar military coup in February 2021.
“He has to [meet all parties], because it’s his job and only with sitting together, not just with one party, can a resolution be found,” Agus said.
BenarNews sought Agus’ views after Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo recently told the Reuters news agency that he planned to send a senior general to Myanmar “as soon as possible” to share his country’s experience in transitioning to democracy from military rule.
Much is expected of Indonesia in its role as 2023 chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, especially in resolving the post-coup crisis in Myanmar, because it is the region’s largest nation and it has helped Myanmar similarly before.
Former Gen. Agus, in fact, played a role in Indonesia helping Myanmar with that transition to democracy from 2007 until 2011, and has frequently been invited as a speaker on Myanmar’s democratization process.
Agus said Jokowi’s special envoy must be someone who has played a role in democratic transition in Indonesia and is well-versed in the history of the military at home as well as in Myanmar.
“To what extent did he as a military person support the democratic transition [in Indonesia]? How sincere was he in giving up power and abiding by democratic principles where the military must be under civilian control and be professional,” Agus said.
Agus himself supported the democratic transition at home, according to the Westminster Institute, a U.S.-based research organization focussed on extremists and radical threats.
Gen. Widjojo was deeply involved with the reform of the socio-political role of the Indonesian Armed Forces – leading to the peaceful democratic succession of President Suharto in 1998 … with the surrender of the privileged position of Chief-of-Territorial Affairs that he had previously held, and with the surrender of the Armed Forces faction in the Indonesian Parliament,” says a bio of Agus on the institute’s website.
“He has been instrumental in the transformation of the National Military into a fully professional military, ready to sustain Indonesia in a democratic era.
Indonesia’s dictator Suharto, a former general, resigned after 32 years in power in 1998 amid political and economic upheaval.
After Suharto’s departure, the Indonesian military was stripped of its dwi-fungsi (dual function), which allowed military officers to occupy top positions in Indonesian politics and governance.
‘Quiet diplomacy needed’
Agus said any envoy that Indonesia sends to Myanmar should be able to see the big picture and set priorities on what needs to be discussed with parties there.
“In principle, we must push them to find their own solution. I don’t believe that change can be forced from the outside,” he said.
Agus should know what he is talking about.
In 2007, he attended the funeral of former Myanmar Prime Minister Soe Win as an envoy to Jokowi’s predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, or SBY, as he is popularly called.
In the following years, he met with retired and active military officers in Myanmar, as well as officials from then-opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), he said, all as part of efforts to help the country transition to democracy.
SBY, who was Indonesia’s first directly elected president and himself an ex-general, helped mediate conflicts between the Myanmar government and ethnic minorities, provided input on drafting democratic laws, and invited officials to learn about democratic institutions.
Such interactions, though, diminished after a change in government in Jakarta in 2014 when Jokowi was elected president. Until last year, Jokowi had focused more on domestic affairs and shown little interest in diplomacy.
Now, as he approaches the end of his second and last five-year term, Jokowi may be looking for a last hurrah, but most analysts are doubtful it will come via Myanmar transitioning successfully to a democracy any time soon.
Michael Vatikiotis, a Southeast Asia expert, said on Twitter that the issue about who will be envoy is a distraction.
“This obsession with appointing an envoy distracts from the job of quiet diplomacy needed to engage all the relevant parties in Myanmar,” Vatikiotis said.
“Besides, the Tatmadaw [Myanmar armed forces] doesn’t like the Indonesian army’s story of reform and yielding to civilian authority.”