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The right to respect but not protect
Publication Date : 25-04-2012
Since the oath-taking controversy in Myanmar is about being able to say what one wants to say, this article doesn't want to buck the trend.
Here's my take on what the people who matter may want to say to one another if there was no hindrance of diplomatic etiquette and political correctness.
Imagine a Skype conference between a senior Washington official, a National League for Democracy (NLD) spokesman and a top European Union representative.
White House official: What on earth is going on over there?
NLD spokesman: We are not taking the parliamentary oath. It's as simple as that.
White House official: I know. But tell me why you can't "protect" the Constitution while you can "respect" it. What's the difference? Correct me if I'm wrong, but if you respect something, don't you naturally want to protect it?
NLD spokesman: Respect can also mean to acknowledge the existence of. We essentially want to say we accept that the Constitution is there and we can't do anything about it, but we are not willing to die in defence of the charter.
White House official: It's great to be idealistic. But if to be symbolic about the charter is so important, why did you participate in the election, which was held under the auspices of this Constitution to begin with?
NLD spokesman: Go to Thailand and ask why the Pheu Thai Party wants to write a new Constitution. They've won power under a Constitution they hate. Don't you see a bigger irony there?
EU representative: Don't bring Thailand into this. Your boycott of parliament opening almost puts egg on our faces. We were easing sanctions against your country, for God's sake.
NLD spokesman: With all due respect, sir, it seems to me that the whole sanctions lifting, high-profile visits and singing of Myanmar's praises have more to do with the junta. You bought what the junta told you would happen. It has little to do with us.
EU representative: As if you didn't buy what the junta told you as well. You competed in the election.
NLD spokesman: Do you want me to recount how many Thein Sein cheerleaders from your part of the world have jammed our hotels? You gave us the signals.
EU representative: You did, too. Your leader Aung San Suu Kyi said that easing of sanctions would help reformers in your country. Are you now saying you don't need our money?
NLD spokesman: It depends on where your money ends up.
White House official: Knock it off, you two. Myanmar can't fail. That's our bottom-line. Do you understand? If dictatorship prevails, we'll all lose.
EU representative: We'll just re-impose sanctions.
White House official: And make us all look like a bunch of fools? Let's get serious. We're in too deep now. The whole world is divided into those who believe us on the bright future of Myanmar and those who are ready to laugh if the junta is taking us for a ride.
NLD spokesman: Show us you are serious then. Tell the junta to change the parliamentary oath. Tell them change it or five more years of sanctions.
White House official: That would give many investors heart attacks. Come on. Just say the oath and forget about it. Nobody takes any oath seriously anymore. Besides, you can change it later when you get majority control of Parliament. When the time comes, you can get Thai advice on how to do it.
NLD spokesman: The Thais aren't even sure they can do it without bloodshed.
White House official: That's the whole point, don't you see? Thailand is Exhibit A of what happens when people can't compromise. Don't repeat your neighbour's mistakes.
NLD spokesman: You have to be stubborn to get democracy. If we obey the parliamentary rules and say the oath, we lose already. A pledge of allegiance is a big deal. At least it is in your country.
EU representative: Whatever pledge you take, the military can come in and say you're done. If that happens, it won't matter whether you protect or respect the Constitution.
White House official: True. Just ask Thailand.
NLD spokesman: They have problems because they don't really care about their Constitution. They don't think of their charter in terms of common values; they just change their highest law back and forth to serve themselves and neutralise enemies.
White House official: Are you telling us it's different in Myanmar? What if you manage to write your own Constitution in the future and a minority bloc in Parliament doesn't accept it?
NLD spokesman: We'll just tell them to respect it. Case closed.
White House official: Or we are back where we started. Haven't you read The Wall Street Journal today? Its editorial says you can't afford the politics of symbolic grand gestures. They even suggest that with sanctions easing and you flip-flopping, the junta might be laughing all the way to the bank and go back to persecuting the opposition again.
NLD spokesman: You guys bet on the junta, not us. Now your stakes are our responsibility, eh? Tell me, how did it go from fight-the-junta-and-we-are-behind-you to try-to-get-along-with-the-junta?
EU Representative: You ran in the election; that's how.
NLD spokesman: We didn't do that so we could swear we will die protecting the Constitution. We did it so we can condemn it.
White House official: You mean respect it?
NLD spokesman: Whatever.