ASEAN: 50 Years and Beyond

February 8, 2016

ASEAN: 50 Years and Beyond

by Nunn Nagara

THE Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) enters its 50th year of operation this year, and many in the region sought to peek into what it would look like in another 50 years.

ISIS Malaysia held two days of brainstorming during the week in an international Track Two (non-governmental) roundtable in Kuala Lumpur titled “ASEAN in 50 Years” in the context of a rapidly changing world.

The discussions did not lack optimism: despite challenges, there was general agreement that ASEAN would still be around as a centenarian in 2066-67. This was not without cause. Evidently ASEAN today, upon growing steadily towards a formal Community, has stood the test of time.

ASEANn (1967) has endured and lasted better than its predecessors SEATO (South-East Asia Treaty Organisation, 1954), ASA (Association of South-East Asia, 1961) and Maphilindo (Malaya-Philippines-Indonesia, 1963).

ASEAN endured precisely because it was unlike its predecessors. With ASEAN, the sovereign nations of South-East Asia at last have a regional organisation fit for their purposes.

SEATO (Eisenhower-Dulles project) was a Cold War  of the West alien to South-East Asia. Its members were Australia, Britain, France, New Zealand, Pakistan and the US, with the only South-East Asian countries being US allies Thailand and the Philippines. Although without overwhelming contradictions, its small membership proved too limited for regional needs and it too died a natural death.

Maphilindo began as an emotional pan-regional appeal to ethnic identity, but in coming on the eve of the formation of Malaysia and being promoted by Indonesia and the Philippines which tried to pre-empt Malaysia, it was regarded as subversive to Malaysian territory and identity.

By 1967, Indonesia and the Philippines were under new leadership. Gen. Suharto replaced Sukarno and Marcos succeeded Macapagal, and Malaysia together with Singapore and Thailand worked with them to form ASEAN.

All member nations would have equal rights and privileges, and none would interfere in the internal affairs of the others including territorial integrity. In time, ASEAN would take in new members and acquire a higher international profile.

Among the questions raised at the Track Two ASEAN Roundtable was whether ASEAN would become an integrated regional body or remain an inter-governmental organisation in 50 years. Related to this was the question of whether it was better to have ASEAN as a supranational regional “superstate” or have it remain as an agglomeration of sovereign states.

Such discussions risk veering off at an tangent, as these artificial dichotomies have little to do with the real world. Such debates make intriguing academic discourses but are unrelated to the here and now.

Even the EU as the most developed regional grouping of states never considered replacing the national with the supranational. It is not a question of either national or regional, but both.

EU member countries, like those of ASEAN, see advantages in exercising their diplomatic clout and economic potential within a larger regional body – provided it does not preclude their core national prerogatives.It makes sense to develop common regional propensities to the fullest, or until it begins to compromise national sovereignty or interests. There is often a trade-off, and several EU states are already seeing some limits on certain fronts.

Ultimately, such dualities of national-supranational are false, misleading and distracting. It is like pitting the extreme of the free market against that of state control, when every economic system in the world is a combination of the two where both exist at all.

There was also a roundtable consensus that the nation state will continue to evolve, prevail, and remain significant as an arbiter of national and international policymaking.

Then the question becomes, to what extent would a South-East Asian nation evolve in 50 years? More to the point, what would ASEAN itself as a grouping of 10 or 11 countries including Timor Leste become by then?

Meanwhile, the identity of the nation state as formally defined continues to be eroded practically everywhere. Erosive factors include the growing influence of NGOs or CSOs, increasing multi-ethnicities and various other diversities, and territorial disputes that tug at the physical character of the state itself.

The operations of all regional institutions are limited and messy, and ASEAN is no exception. Yet, members choose to remain and non-members wish they could someday join.

ASEAN continues to experience centripetal forces tending towards coalescing inwards, as well as centrifugal forces pulling it apart. Global markets and major powers in the neighbourhood are responsible.

There are times when a member nation may feel tempted to drift away, thinking that its fortunes are better met outside ASEAN. Singapore once felt that way, followed by Indonesia more lately. But any (passing) sense of self-importance or regional frustration is soon overcome by the prevailing realities. As a Singapore policymaker once put it privately, it is not as if Singapore can just row away and join another region of its choice.

Beyond all the bubbly talk of a “borderless world,” geography is still important. It remains at the centre of geopolitics and geo-economics. Beyond the formal state, however, lies the “deep state” said to act as the ultimate determinant of policy direction above and beyond official channels and procedures. On a regional level, it can also apply to a transnational body like ASEAN.

Thus, a Deep ASEAN would act much like an ASEAN state, but on a regional scale and in the common collective interest of its member states. There are signs that a Deep Asean has taken root after the inclusion of the CLMV countries (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam).

Progress towards the regalia of a Deep ASEAN.however. has been slow. It took many years for the Secretary-General to acquire the status of an ASEAN government minister, then full regional coverage in its membership, then a formal legal identity with a Charter, with more developments set to come.

The extended powers that a Deep ASEAN offers member nations in representing their shared interests are also an attraction for them to compromise on some aspects of their national sovereignty to join.

Asean must then develop its legitimacy by broadening its internal constituency. This has come with moves towards a people-oriented ASEAN, then a people-centred ASEAN, and now with talk of a people-led ASEAN.

But “people” as an indeterminate mass is quite meaningless without being harnessed and honed into policy making form. Unless this is done through the appropriate political processes, improved people-to-people exchanges could mean little more than expanded tourism flows and enhanced student exchange programmes.

Another question raised was whether ASEAN had to include all countries in South-East Asia. The name “ASEAN” says so, its founding fathers said so, and it serves ASEAN’s legitimacy to do so.

There was also discussion and confusion over neutrality or non-alignment as an ASEAN imperative. ASEAN is, has been, and needs to be neutral or non-aligned in respect of the major powers – but not with the sanctity of international law which it must embrace.

ASEAN remains a minnow relative to the US, China, Russia and India – all of which have renewed or heightened their interests in this region. Asean members have no choice but to close ranks.

The major powers will keep ASEAN relevant and important, but only if ASEAN deals with all equally and impartially.

Bunn Nagara is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia. The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

Towards a New National Ethos NOW

February 6, 2016

Towards a New National Ethos NOW

by R B Bhattacharjee

The current generation of Malaysians have an extraordinary opportunity to chart new pathways for the country in light of the ground shift that is taking place in its political, social and economic spheres.

Currently, the multiple crises that are playing out on the national stage present a rather disturbing picture of the state of the nation – reflecting a breakdown in accountability, misallocation of resources, radicalisation of cultural norms and a growing ethical deficit. In total, the trend is distinctly downhill.

Nevertheless, while the near term will tend to be chaotic, it is important that we do not succumb to negativity but focus our energies on nurturing a vision for Malaysia that will put the country on a path towards excellence.

To achieve this, we will need to find inspiration to transcend the petty squabbles, narrow viewpoints and selfish instincts of self-serving pressure groups in our midst that have kept our nation in a constant state of anxiety.

It is clear that these divisive voices occupy a public space that is disproportionately large because opinion leaders with a more wholesome vision have not given life to a holistic worldview that all Malaysians can espouse as their own.

This then is our challenge today: can we supplant the narrative of the extremists with an ideal of a plural, tolerant and progressive society? Failure will mean condemning future generations to a dismal fate under the tyrannical control of self-appointed guardians of society.

So, it is not only vital to invest in the socialisation of a common, yet diverse value system, this generation has a solemn responsibility to succeed in that endeavour.

As societal transformation often occurs on an inter-generational time frame, a key challenge will be to plant the seeds of this new thinking in institutions that involve the young – particularly the educational system, sports organisations and youth movements.

A vital measure in this context is to reform the school environment to promote the concept of egalitarianism as a basis for a just society. This will require a mindset change at a fundamental level to create a new sense of national consciousness.

There must also be a readiness to reinterpret the intent of constitutional provisions on issues like the special rights of the Malays, among other things, to align prevalent views on the nation’s charter with universal concepts of human aspirations.

The terrain is fraught with perils including racial and religious sensitivities that can derail attempts to explore alternative pathways that are more conducive to Malaysia’s progress as a contemporary society in the era of borderless exchange and globalisation.

Yet, we must find the courage to venture into forbidding areas of our composite nationhood in order to lay to rest musty ideas about inter-ethnic relations and mutual suspicions about acculturation, hidden agendas and an assortment of other hobgoblins.

Difficult as it may seem to discard old ways of thinking about ethnicity and cultural differences, it is worth noting that many Malaysians already incorporate colour-blind practices in significant aspects of their lives.

Children who are enrolled into international schools, for example, experience diversity and multiculturalism as integral elements of their learning environment.

Similarly, employees in multinational firms imbue policies promoting equal opportunity and cultural sensitivity as part and parcel of the organisational ethos.

People working in fields like the health services, engineering, research and management benchmark their performance to international standards and protocols that are insulated from ethnic markers of any kind.

These examples show that a significant segment of Malaysians are already operating in a universal framework of values, and that the time is really overdue for a bigger swathe of the population to be co-opted into this broader paradigm.

What remains is to overcome the inertia of our current trajectory and steer the country away from its disastrous current pathway towards a national vision that is open to the best virtues of an interdependent new world.

Nothing would be more tragic for the nation than to remain shackled by its self-inflicted deficiencies instead of leveraging on its natural advantages to build a dynamic, open and forward-looking society.

To realise that potential, we must be ready to undo past mistakes and adopt a fresh ethos that all Malaysians would want to buy into.

To find our bearings again, we only need to reaffirm the best aspects of our diversity that promote our common well-being and discard those habits that divide and separate us. It really ought to be a simple choice.

Gong Xi Fa Cai to All around the World

February 5, 2016

Gong Xi Fa Cai 2016 to All

To Men and Women of Goodwill around the world, friends and associates in Malaysia, Cambodia, China (and Diaspora), ASEAN,and Australia.

Dr. Kamsiah and I wish you Gong Xi Fa Cai 2016. May you be safely united with family for your traditional dinner tonight. Drive and travel carefully.

Greetings from Us at The University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh

It is a great tradition, and may you continue this practice since the family is an important institution, particularly in today’s troubled world. It is home where we learn to respect our elders, acquire and reinforce our ethical values, engage in civilised discourse, and celebrate the dignity of difference. May we live in peace.

Traditional values are, therefore, not out of date. Why? Because peace and goodwill are what will be needed now as we face serious threats to our survival from global terrorism and our wanton disregard of our environment.

For this occasion, we have chosen to bring back music of 1950s. It was my teenage  years (Dr. Kamsiah was born 13 years later). Wow, that was decades ago.The songs you hear remind me of those years of innocence and bliss.

Growing up in Alor Setar, Kedah Darul Aman  in the ’50s together with Daim Zainuddin, Kassim Ahmad, Kamil Jaffar,  Col. Ismail, Razali Ismail, Yusof Bakar, Halim Rejab,  Mansor Ahmad, Martin Lim, S. Perumal, Veeriah, Muniandy, Rahman Rahim,, was wonderful because colour, race and religion did not matter to us. We were Malayans (and Malaysians) First.

We were 1People. We lived in peace and enjoyed all festivals–Ramadan, Christmas, Chinese New Year, Cambodian New Year, Wesak Day and others. But today, as Malaysians, we have become a divided people, conscious of our differences because our irresponsible political leaders and ulamas have chosen to use race and religion to separate us for power and influence.

There is no doubt that we made enormous economic progress. But that has led to an erosion of our rich cultural heritage and well grounded values. If that is progress, Dr. Kamsiah and I will have none of it.

So my friends,let  us work for peace and love our planet. Like it or not, we have no place else to go, at least until we can find  a livable alternative (s) in the galaxy. We wish you and family Cong xi Fai Cai and God Bless.–Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican

President Barack Obama to meet ASEAN Leaders

February 5, 2016

President Barack Obama to meet ASEAN Leaders@Sunnylands soon

by Simon Tay

ASEAN leaders will soon converge in the United States for a Summit with President Barack Obama. The Sunnylands summit, late into Obama’s last year in office, is a marker of the US pivot to the region. His administration should be credited with giving closer attention not just to giants such as China, Japan and India, but also to the 10 medium- and smaller-sized countries of the region.

It was Obama, after all, who inaugurated the US-ASEAN leaders’ meeting back in 2009 and evolved it into a series of summits. Choosing the Sunnylands venue for the upcoming US-ASEAN Summit, where China’s President Xi Jinping was recently hosted, symbolises a parity in US priorities.

If Washington can truly support ASEAN as the hub for the wider region, a greater sense of participation and less conflict can result. ASEAN’s members have inaugurated a community among themselves that, while far from perfect, shows greater economic cooperation and habits of peaceful cooperation.

Just in January, US Secretary of State John Kerry called for ASEAN unity while visiting Laos, the current chairman of the group. But reaching out to ASEAN can be read as being an effort in the context of controversies over the South China Sea, where China has claims to territories that overlap and conflict with claims by four ASEAN member states.

Very recently, US forces conducted a freedom-of-navigation exercise into waters that China claims. Military alliances in the region, especially with Japan and the Philippines, have also been re-emphasised. Many may therefore think that the US support for ASEAN unity is merely instrumental, a rallying call against Beijing.

To grow the US-ASEAN relationship on a broader and stronger foundation, there are things that can and should be done by the US, as well as things that should be avoided.

On the South China Sea, the US should support the ASEAN effort to negotiate a Code of Conduct with China, which will help to prevent tensions from escalating. But it must be a united Asean that leads on this, and the group’s position cannot be dictated by any single claimant to the disputed areas. Nor will it help if China seems confronted by the US and its allies.

Just as importantly, there are other areas in which the US should more actively promote cooperation. Climate change is one example. The Obama administration has made notable headway with Beijing and also established a dialogue with Indonesia, the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in ASEAN.

Following the landmark climate-change agreement struck at the Paris summit in end-2015, further effort should be made for cooperation between the US, China and ASEAN as a whole.

Pragmatism needed

There are also things that might negatively affect the group’s relations with the US. One of these is to over-emphasise democracy – no doubt a vital part of US foreign policy, but a practice among only some ASEAN countries.

After the military coup of 2015 in Bangkok, the US has cold-shouldered its erstwhile treaty ally, Thailand. US law mandates that some measures must be taken. However, these sanctions have gone further and unhelpfully so because if the current Prayuth Chan-o-cha government feels ostracised by the US, there is every reason for the considerable influence that Beijing has over Bangkok to grow further.

The Obama administration should instead balance its approach with a dash of another US characteristic – pragmatism. Look at Kerry’s January visit to Laos and Cambodia, neither of which are bastions of democracy.

Consider especially the US’s engagement with Vietnam. The latter remains a socialist-party state and one that has just selected its leadership through its own rather arcane and secretive process, rather than an open election.

Yet, rather than criticism, Vietnam has been brought into the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), the largest regional-trade accord in history that the Obama administration has pushed as the main economic pillar in its engagement with Asia. The TPPA illustrates how US initiatives can sometimes inadvertently undercut ASEAN unity.

The TPPA includes 12 countries in the Asia-Pacific, but only four ASEAN members – Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam. The trade pact has been heralded as a “new age” treaty that creates stricter requirements for deeper integration among nations. There are concerns, therefore, that the economic and trade effects fostered by the TPPA will be inconsistent with ASEAN’s own effort at developing an economic community with an integrated production base.

This is especially as the TPPA will connect those four ASEAN members more deeply with the US and Japan, while leaving others out. It would help if the US actively supports the ASEAN Economic Community, and encourages more Asean members to enter into the TPPA.

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo has already made this point publicly after his bilateral meeting with Obama late in 2015. There are signs, too, that the Philippines is keen on joining the TPPA.

A more important TPPA entrant would be Thailand. Even if a military-backed government is in charge, there is clear economic logic to support this. Of the three, Thailand’s economy is the most integrated with the rest of ASEAN and Japan.

Of course, joining the TPPA will not be easy. Even for the 12 governments already in the TPPA, the coming months will see if their domestic lawmakers are willing to ratify what has been negotiated. But discussions on new members can start in parallel as a key economic engagement with the ASEAN countries not already part of the trade pact.

To secure Congress support for the TPPA within the US itself, the Obama administration will no doubt argue that agreement is essential to the US’s pivot and widens its circle of friends in the region. Support for ASEAN unity, which the upcoming summit signifies, can and should be another reason.

To make US-ASEAN engagement work, the Obama administration must look not only at the South China Sea. US-ASEAN engagement must be built on a broader foundation on issues that are intrinsic to the group itself, and much will depend on whether the US can truly and pragmatically engage ASEAN’s diverse membership. – Today online, February 5, 2016.

* Simon Tay is chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, an independent and globally ranked think tank, and Associate Professor at the National University of Singapore Faculty of Law.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.

Hard Wiring Malaysia Inc.

February 4, 2016

Hard Wiring Malaysia Inc.

by Dr. Munir Majid

Given many present challenges and new commitments, it is time to take a relook at Malaysia Inc.

DURING his time as Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad introduced the Malaysia Incorporated concept  inspired by the practice in Japan when he took office in 1981.

The good idea did not always work well in practice as some businessmen took advantage of their close association with the Government – usually the political leaders like Dr Mahathir himself – to ram things down the official throat. There was also the opportunity of enticement that was not always avoided. In time Malaysia Inc. became discredited.

However, the need for official and private sector cooperation for the benefit of the economy is perennial. The good and the bad of it depends on the conduct of the parties – as in any association.

Given many present challenges and new commitments it is time to take a relook at how Malaysia Inc. could be hard-wired in the interest of the nation.

Of course, Malaysia Inc. has not quite gone away even if it may have been left to wander. At the strategic level of the macro economy various bodies exist or are formed to address the broad issues.

Dialogues between the government and private sector take place as a matter of course, whether fixed or ad hoc, like the budget dialogues and those called by International Trade and Industry Ministry.

Particular industry sectoral concerns are also heard and furthered. Industry groups and business organisations form themselves to lobby their cause. Some get very political and others very technical with different levels of success. Professional bodies too air their views or grievances to expand or protect their turf.

There is thus plenty of occasion for private sector representation with government and officials. This, however, needs to be taken to the next level of projecting or protecting particular Malaysian interests in specific contexts in a highly globalised world.

It is a pity the TPPA debate was polarised and became a stick with which to beat the government. This should not, however, obscure the fact there are some valid contra arguments which could do with closer examination, even if Parliamentary approval has been obtained for the TPPA to be signed.

The test of good government is to engage wider society for the good it wishes to achieve.

The government led by Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak has been under attack for so long for the 1MDB issue and the huge donation of money that went into Najib’s account that Malaysia is in grave danger of losing the plot.

Malaysia will continue well after Najib. Malaysians – the government, the officials, the private sector and civil society organisations – should look into that future and think about the welfare of Malaysia.

Even if political leaders are distracted and are concerned only with the short-term, governmental institutions must function with a sense of permanence and the strength of great professionalism.

Look at Thailand where the bureaucracy and the private sector and opinion makers have continued to perform despite the frequent and often violent changes of government. That country would have gone to the dogs without them.

With respect to the TPPA, it would be necessary for the bureaucracy in Malaysia to be strengthened by the establishment of a high level committee comprising officials, businessmen and professionals, and functional bodies, to monitor its impact on the Malaysian economy and society at large.

Additionally, given the nervousness caused by the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions, it would be a good idea to set up a national technical committee in the Malaysia Inc spirit to simulate situations where the country might be dragged to court or, indeed, where Malaysian investors abroad could protect their interests.

This technical committee could also prepare a calm and collected background paper on the ISDS to get the national mind round it.

A better hard-wired and effective Malaysia Inc machinery should also be formed in respect of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). I can think of at least two worthwhile committees: one to identify opportunities and the other the challenges, particularly for the small and medium enterprises.

From my experience with the ASEAN Business Advisory Council, I find specific, focused and project work to be of greater benefit than the big ticket meetings – the so-called dialogues – where often the most tangible outcomes are photo shoots with ASEAN leaders and ministers.

There is a lot of work involved in hard-wiring Malaysia Inc. Industry bodies and persons must be truly committed. It is necessary for private sector representative bodies to be strengthened with both financial and human resources.

The internal organisation and processes have to be less political and more technical. It is all too easy – and lazy – to play racial politics also in bodies purportedly of commerce and industry.

On the official side, there is often a rush of meetings which comes in through one door and goes out the other. There has to be a discipline of detailed record-keeping and scheduling which do not result in good effort being wasted.

I remember many, many hours put in for a report on Malaysian foreign policy and its institutional support, leading up to a meeting chaired by the Prime Minister, with specific decisions made and absolutely nothing followed up after it. That was a couple of years ago.

This kind of waste obviously is not only discouraging but also causes loss of faith in the process of cooperation in a positive Malaysia Inc. spirit.

There is thus the unavoidable need for leadership and good management. In Malaysia we want almost entirely to rely on the Prime Minister.

This results in the centralisation and personalisation we all too often complain about. What about the other ministers? What about industry leaders getting together and bringing a strong proposal forward to them? What about top civil servants engaging members of the private sector or civil society with an idea?

We cannot keep mouthing the same points about the economy or social problems – like Malaysia has great economic fundamentals or that we are a model multi-racial society – just to curry favour. It will not solve anything.

Malaysia faces many serious political, economic and social problems. We seem to be stuck with the political, which would certainly ensure we will come unstuck with the economic and social challenges. We have to address the two latter challenges as well.

The world does not wait on Malaysia sorting out its politics. Indeed the rest of us Malaysians not involved in politics must act, especially those in the private sector, to secure our country.

A strengthening of our increasingly weak sinews through really a quite modest proposal to hard-wire Malaysia Inc would be a good start.

Tan Sri Munir Majid, chairman of Bank Muamalat and visiting senior fellow at LSE IDEAS (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB ASEAN Research Institute.

Myanmar– The NLD’s Iron-fisted Gerontocracy

February 4, 2016

Myanmar– The NLD’s Iron-fisted Gerontocracy


This column was published in The Myanmar Times on Monday, 1 February 2016

Photo: AFP / Ye Aung THU 

All the speculation about who will hold the nation’s top jobs should come to an end this month. With newly elected legislators taking their Nay Pyi Taw seats, the specifics of further compromises between the National League for Democracy and the military will become clearer.

Before long, the speakers will pick up their gavels for the first time, the president and vice presidents will take up their palatial residences, and a clutch of new ministers will try to get to grips with their responsibilities. Nay Pyi Taw will hum with the fresh energy of a government with much to do.

It will be easy to get caught up in the surge of enthusiasm; the story of the NLD’s success is one for the ages. But the busy months since the November 2015 election have already revealed a lot that will temper expectations.

For a start, there is the degree of difficulty. Since its election triumph, the NLD has been quietly getting ready for power. There is no point in sugar-coating the task. They are finding it tough.

Unravelling decades of military rule was always going to prove a frustrating and inconsistent process. Nobody could pretend that there was a simple or fast way of re-engineering the political machinery to reflect the people’s will.

Last year, I wrote that the party of democratic struggle “needs to lift the standard” if it hopes to create a long-term platform for Myanmar’s success. For now, plenty of people are prepared to make excuses on its behalf.

Mistakes are inevitable. Old habits of blaming the military for every problem will be hard to break. Where possible, the NLD should try to learn from its missteps.

Yet one of the major issues confronting the NLD will be harder to explain away.The irony is that even at the best of times the NLD is far from a model of transparency or democratic management. The authoritarian instinct starts at the top, with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s iron grip on decision-making.

For the past quarter-century, she struggled, peacefully and with immense resolve, against the army’s dominance. There is no question about her courage, commitment or charisma.

The last five years have also required some adjustments in her personal approach, especially in Naypyitaw where she has got up close with senior military figures.

What has not changed is her requirement for intense personal loyalty and her need to remain the final authority. The NLD is her vehicle and, as its revolutionary leader, she makes no apologies for taking charge.

Whether or not this is good for Myanmar’s long-term development is not on the agenda for discussion. In any case, there is no short-term alternative. The hard electoral reality is that by cultivating such an intense following and an unrivalled personal aura, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has given the people something to believe in.

Under orders from the top, the NLD has been reluctant to share details about its plans, even with the voters who elected the party. Control of the appointment strategy has been severe, even paranoid. This cone of silence isn’t exactly a departure from old-style dictatorial practice.

Then when aspects of reputed NLD plans have dribbled into the press, the party has sought to crack down on speculation, seemingly unable to comprehend the extra interest that its secrecy creates.

A further problem is that almost nobody in the top party echelon has direct experience governing. The Central Executive Committee, stacked with veterans of the struggle for democracy, has a well-earned reputation for gerontocracy.

One of the only senior NLD figures with a track record of running a major component of government activity is U Tin Oo. A long-time fixture at the party’s high table, he was the socialist regime’s minister of defence and commander-in-chief until purged from those positions in March 1976, almost 40 years ago.

The old general, decorated for gallantry in battles against the Kuomintang, is still talked about as a potential presidential proxy if Daw Aung San Suu Kyi remains excluded from that high office. It would be a remarkable final chapter in U Tin Oo’s incredible career, but also a further indication of what ails the NLD.

For its future viability, the party will benefit from a historic injection of youthful vigour among its decision-making group. Party stalwarts have resisted this revitalisation, while deference to elders makes it hard for the young guns to have their voices heard.

Among the newly elected rank-and-file – who have already been told that they are expected to make up the numbers – the party’s strict discipline will be hard to maintain. Under these conditions, new problems will emerge.

What this analysis implies is that in its elitist culture, the NLD keeps to familiar patterns of hierarchy and subservience. With time, this might change. For now, it would be good to see strong signals that the party’s mandate will mean more democracy in Nay Pyi Taw.

Nicholas Farrelly is Director of the Myanmar Research Centre at Australian National University and the co-founder of New Mandala