JAKARTA, Indonesia (UPDATED) - Southeast Asian leaders have no objection to Myanmar's request to chair the 10-member ASEAN bloc in 2014, as long as it continues making progress towards democracy, Indonesia's president said on Sunday after the group's latest summit.
"ASEAN leaders do not object in principle," Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said at his closing news conference. "But Myanmar, which is a focus of world attention, is expected to continue progress on democracy so when it becomes chair it does not generate negative views."
A communique issued at the end of the 2-day ASEAN leaders' summit in Jakarta said: "We considered the proposal of Myanmar that it would host the ASEAN summits in 2014, in view of its firm commitment to the principles of ASEAN."
It added that ASEAN leaders supported the "steady progress and political developments in Myanmar" after it held general elections and formed a new government in March, calling the ballot "successful."
A previous draft communique said ASEAN had already "consented to the proposal" to chair the bloc in 2014. The final draft, and Yudhoyono's comments, suggest a final decision will be made at a later date.
Myanmar held elections earlier this year to switch from military to civilian rule, leading the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to push the United States and Europe to drop sanctions against it.
But many observers dismissed the election as a sham that has kept the generals in power behind the scenes.
Any decision to allow Myanmar to chair ASEAN would provoke protests from Western governments and rights groups, and would complicate efforts by ASEAN to work more closely with the United States and the European Union.
Rights group Human Rights Watch sharply criticized ASEAN's apparent readiness to allow Myanmar's 2014 presidency.
"This is unfortunately a decision of political convenience over political principle, and indicates once again that human rights is not a priority for ASEAN," Phil Robertson, the HRW's Asia deputy director, told Reuters.