Southeast Asian democracy at the crossroads

Oct 26, 2016, 08:00 am

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The Thai popular uprising of Oct 14, 1973 against the military dictatorship./ Source: Wikipedia

By AsiaToday reporter Jina Koh – On October 6, 1976, scores of students who protested against the return from exile of former military dictator Thanom Kittikachorn were brutally killed by Thai state forces inside the campus of Thammasat University.

After 40 years, Thailand barred entry to Hong Kong 'Umbrella Revolution' leader Joshua Wing, who was scheduled to speak in Bangkok about the student massacre.

Democracy is at the crossroads in Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

Thailand's army, which seized power in coup in 2014, is violating the fundamental rights of the people, while Indonesia's President Joko Widodo (also known as Jokowi) is showing a careful attitude towards the mass killings of 1965-1966. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is stamping on human rights with his brutal war on crime.

Although an memorial ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of the student massacre took place on Oct. 6 in Thailand, no explanation for the past affairs has been offered by the country's current junta. This tragedy is not mentioned in Thailand's history books, since the military has conspired with successive governments to hide the truth about the massacre.

Just like Thailand, it seems that Indonesia doesn't want to reveal the brutal massacre. Indonesian government has not yet given any official apology for the massacre of more than half a million people between 1965 and 1966 by the Suharto regime. Although being the first President to be elected by popular vote, Jokowi has not yet shown an enthusiastic attitude concerning the eyes of the military which still exercises its influence.

In a political column for The Diplomat, Global Voices editor Mong Palatino pointed out that the military rulers of Thailand and Indonesia are aware of the past, but they remain silent in order to control the people's views about the past.

In some countries, historical revisionism is being done like in the Philippines today where the government is denying corruption under dictator Ferdinand Marcos regime and his fear tactics, and even praising him instead.
The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) is established to try the most responsible members of the Khmer Rouge./ Source: Wikipedia

These countries are focusing on economic stimulation in an attempt to hide the wounds of the past and conciliate their people. Indonesia's economy is on the rise with its steady investment in infrastructure, tax amnesty policy, and growing foreign investment. Indonesia's economic growth will reach 5.1% this year, 5.4% in 2017, and 5.5% in 2018, according to a recent release by Nikkei and Japan Center for Economic Research.

Philippine President Duterte visited China on Oct. 18-24 and secured around $24 billion worth of economic cooperation. He is seeking for cooperation with his Japan visit on Tuesday, and his plan to visit Russia this year. Although his scare tactic is criticized by the international community for violating human rights, many Philippine people are giving him support for his feisty pace.

Along with economic growth however, clarifying the truth about the past is also one of the challenges that should be resolved by politicians. The establishment of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) under the agreement between Cambodia and the UN is a good example. The court convicted Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, the two most senior surviving leaders of brutal Khmer-Rouge regime where nearly 2 million people were brutally killed, guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced them to life in prison in 2014.

Indonesia has also held a conference to seek reconciliation and testimonies for the 1965-66 massacre in April this year. In May, the government formed a team to investigate mass graves that are suggested as evidence of the massacre.

Bejo Untung, head of the Research Foundation for 1965 Murder Victims (YPKP), told AFP, "I feel the government is serious. There's willingness to resolve issues from Luhut Panjaitan's (Indonesia's Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister) side, not to burden the next generation with the past."

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