The Military’s Role in Asean Nations – The Irrawaddy

BANGKOK — Most of Southeast Asia has experienced military rule at some stage since the colonial era ended, and the political role of the region’s military institutions has shaped and influenced politics right up to the present day. The often-decisive interventions of the military in national politics have restricted the development of democracy, freedom of speech and human rights in many countries. In 2008, of the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), only Indonesia was deemed a fully free country by the US-based Freedom House, an NGO that monitors democracy and human rights. Implicitly, a behind-the-scenes power-brokering process played by powerful military elites in Southeast Asian countries is a key factor in inhibiting democratic development across the region. At a September conference at the Institute for Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, these issues were discussed by scholars examining civil-military relations in Burma, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines. In Southeast Asia, Burma stands out, however, due to the longevity of military rule and the entrenchment of the army in all sectors of society and the economy. ISIS Director Thitinan Pongsudhirak remarked that in 1960, Burma was a democracy, having the highest GDP per capita in the region and with a relatively-advanced economy and noted education sector. However, these days, the entrenchment of military rule is so thorough, it is more appropriate to use the term “military-civil relations,” according to Win Min, a Thailand-based Burmese scholar.