Candidates Emerge for New ASEAN Special Envoy to Myanmar
By The Irrawaddy 9 February 2023
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)’s current chair Indonesia looks set to appoint a special envoy to help end the political crisis in member state Myanmar, which has been devastated since the military coup in 2021.
While Jakarta has yet to confirm an appointment, two candidates have emerged, sources said.
One is veteran Indonesian diplomat Ngurah Swajaya, a former ambassador to Singapore. The other is Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister of Maritime Affairs and Investment, Luhut Panjaitan, a former four-star army general.
Luhut is Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s right-hand man and dubbed “Mr Fix-it” for playing a leading role in the country’s vaccine drive and overseeing a high-speed rail project, among others.
He said last month that Myanmar’s military regime should give up power and allow someone qualified to run the country.
The appointment of an envoy looks imminent amid Indonesia’s move to set up an Office of the ASEAN Special Envoy on Myanmar, and the junta’s extension of military rule for another six months early this month.
Shortly after the coup, ASEAN adopted the Five-Point Consensus for peace which called for the immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar.
However, the junta has ignored the peace plan and refused to implement any of its five points.
Indonesia assumed the rotating ASEAN chair from Cambodia in December amid growing international criticism of the bloc’s failure to halt the killing in Myanmar.
ASEAN is accused of being toothless in its efforts to curb the violence of the regime, which has killed nearly 3,000 opponents of military rule in a brutal response to resistance that has included air strikes against civilians.
If appointed, the Indonesian envoy will follow Brunei’s second minister for foreign affairs, Erywan Yusof, and Cambodia’s Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn as ASEAN’s third special diplomat for Myanmar. The first two missions were failures. Brunei’s envoy was barred from visiting Myanmar by the regime, while Cambodia’s man was permitted entry on several occasions but not granted access to civilian leaders such as detained democracy icon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
Indonesia appears to have taken a tougher stance on the regime, declaring that as ASEAN chair and in line with the Five-Point Consensus, it will make every effort to help Myanmar out of its political crisis and prevent it from holding the bloc’s development hostage.
President Joko Widodo last year proposed to the bloc’s leaders that the ban on regime representatives attending major ASEAN summits be extended to all its meetings.
However, observers have cast doubt on the effectiveness of a new special envoy in resolving the crisis given the junta’s uncooperative nature.
Scot Marciel, a former US ambassador to Myanmar, said the problem isn’t the envoy.
“It’s the idea that anyone will be able to persuade the generals to stop killing people and open a genuine dialogue,” he said in a Twitter post.
He suggested that the bloc should instead spend time with the shadow civilian National Unity Government (NUG), which commands the loyalty of the vast majority of Myanmar people.
At its November summit, the bloc pledged to engage all stakeholders soon.
“Engagement would be done in a flexible and informal manner, primarily undertaken by the Special Envoy of the ASEAN Chair on Myanmar,” the leaders’ statement said.