PHNOM PENH—Expressing optimism and appreciation for the new path of democratic reform that Burma (Myanmar) has taken, President Benigno Aquino III on Wednesday joined other leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) at a two-day summit here in calling for the lifting of international sanctions imposed on the country.
“We really have to show the people who are reforming in Myanmar that the road they chose is the right road. There has to be a reward,” Mr. Aquino told reporters.
The President was equally elated at prodemocracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi’s winning a seat in parliament for the first time in the historic April 1 by-elections that all Asean leaders have hailed.
“We want to minimize the disruptions. We want to accelerate that phase of progress for them that shows them, ‘Wow, we should have done this 10 years ago. We would have already achieved x amount of progress by now,’” he said.
At the end of a two-day summit here yesterday, leaders of the 10-member Asean called for Western countries, including the European Union, to lift punitive sanctions imposed on Burma now that it has embraced democratic reforms.
Flurry of praise
Burma was represented at the gathering by President Thein Sein, who received a flurry of praise for the recent reforms in his poor Southeast Asian nation, most recently Sunday’s by-elections won by Suu Kyi and her party.
The appeal for sanctions to be lifted would first be relayed to the EU, which punished formerly military-ruled Burma for massive human rights violations, according to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Until recently, Burma was the black sheep of Asean, with other member countries repeatedly reprimanding it for its failure to move forward on a promised roadmap to democracy, including the freeing of Suu Kyi from years of house arrest.
“This is a tremendous change in the dynamics nowadays,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said. “Normally the Myanmar issue is discussed as a problem but now it’s seen as very much different.”
“Certainly there was no condemnation, there were lots of commendations,” he said.
Evidence of democratization
Mr. Aquino said following the successful holding of elections, the world has “seen ample evidence that there is intense dedication for increasing democratization” in Burma.
“That tells us maybe we should be helping them, share our experiences, share our resources, share our knowledge, ease their transition into that and make that democracy work for them,” he said.
By doing so, Burma “becomes more inclusive” and that would result in “more stability for the benefit of all,” he said.
Mr. Aquino said he had the chance to speak to the Burmese president during the summit to offer his suggestions. He said he found Thein Sein, though much older than him, “to be very patient” and ready to share “their perspective.”
The Burmese president said things have “calmed down” in his country from the situation before in which there was so much conflict, he said.
No advice for Suu Kyi
Mr. Aquino said he was especially glad at the election victory of Suu Kyi whom he said his late mother, former President Corazon Aquino, had admired.
“We hope that it will lead to a more and more participation and vibrant democratic practices in Myanmar,” he said.
Asked what advice he could give her, the President said he did not need to give her any advice as “I think she did the right thing from the start.”
He said Suu Kyi’s followers will have many expectations from her now that she has successfully joined parliament.
“I think the leveling of expectations should be addressed to the followers so that they don’t lose hope, you know, the hope that they are headed to something better,” Mr. Aquino said.
The weekend vote will fill just 45 vacant seats in the country’s 664-seat Parliament but took on a historic significance because of Suu Kyi’s presence. After two decades as a political prisoner, Suu Kyi won a victory that marked a turn in her political career and for the country as it emerges from a half-century of military rule.
The Election Commission confirmed late Tuesday that Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) took 43 seats, losing only in distant Shan state to an ethnic Shan party candidate. In one constituency, the NLD candidate was disqualified before the polls and the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party won. With a report from AP