April 15, 2010

MYANMAR: Seeking legitimacy out of an election


Guest Column by Dr. Tint Swe

(The views expressed are his own)

Everybody will agree that legitimacy comes out of an election and that a referendum truly reflects public opinion. The Burmese military regime is not so naïve as it has orchestrated a referendum to legitimize the controversial constitution in 2008 and will be conducting an election a few months from now.

The big question is of credibility - openness and fairness for the drafting of a new constitution the junta took 13 years and the elected representatives of people were just 5% of those who participated in the national convention. The joint proposals of the ethnic delegates were rejected. No one was allowed to drop the mandatory guideline that was to guarantee supremacy of the Army in all affairs of the country forever. But the appointed committee declared that the constitution was being officially written. The referendum was deliberately held even while tens of thousands were killed by a devastating cyclone. It was announced that the constitution was approved by over 94% of votes though vote counting was not done in public, leave alone numerous reports of vote rigging.

When it comes to election in Burma the United Nations and the international community including even China and ultimately ASEAN are calling for inclusiveness. Needless to say it means participation of Aung San Suu Kyi.

However the military generals do not want to risk losing the election this time. In the 1990 elections when the junta barred Aung San Suu Kyi to contest and had put her under house arrest, to mtheir colossal surprise the National League for Democracy (NLD) won. So this time they have not only put her under house arrest but also to block the NLD to contest the election. So are all ethnic parties such as Shan, Arakan and Mon which got peoples’ mandate in 1990.

Accordingly the so-called laws of the upcoming election were meticulously drafted. All those who have strongly opposed them are made illegal to contest and also to be a member of a political party. Among them are leaders of all major parties which won the 1990 election, the highly respected ethnic leaders, the acclaimed student leaders, hard-hitting human rights activists and influential pro-democracy campaigners. In 1990 election a person who was under house arrest could submit an application to contest. In 2010 he or she can’t even be a member of a political party. This can’t be seen as legal evolution in Burma.

Not only the restricted laws but also the playing field is lopsided. The military officers and high ranking officials have been in the election campaign well before the others. They have the power, the money, the weapons and the media. The ministers instructed all government employees of their ministries to vote for them. The commanders order soldiers and civilians to do so. Factories are constructed just to fund their campaign. Import-export licenses are awarded for the same purpose. Advance voting in the presence of senior officers is a secret key to secure the votes for them as was done during the referendum in 2008.

Recently Burmese ambassador to New Delhi admitted at a BIMSTEC seminar held in Shillong that the junta has asked for military assistance and India has agreed. Be sure that the weapons will be used not for anti-India insurgents but for Burmese ethnic ceasefire groups which are under tremendous pressure to transform into border guards before the election. That is one of the reasons the regime is taking time to announce the date of the election.

There is 100% censorship and all political campaigns are strictly controlled and monitorned.

This time the junta will make Burma election something like American style. A candidate can spend 1 crore Kyats for his or her campaign. A candidate has to deposit 3 million and a political party has to pay 5 million for registration. A short time ago the regime increased the earnings of employees by adding 20,000 per month flat and a casual worker now gets 1,100 Kyats (1 USD) daily. This has made registration by non-pro-military parties difficult.

Tens of thousands of illegal foreign migrants from India (40,000 Manipuris), Bangladesh (100,000 Rohingya) and China (uncountable Yunnanese) have been given identity cards to vote for them.

After NLD’s courageous decision of 29-3-2010 to boycott the elections, the military junta will have to implement the Plan B. For that reason the USDA, the notorious Burmese Brown Shirt is yet to transform as a political party. To show the world, the junta will encourage a couple of dozens of parties to register. There will be full colors such as different ethnic banners, former 8888 students and ex-NLD members. Naturally there will be a few democrats who do want democracy and lack strategic long-term view of how to topple the dictatorship. They want to cash on this opportunity that was come after two decades for political participation.

No country is to be blamed. The 20-year experience tells that the international community as well as some Burmese people repeatedly underestimated the military dictators.

NLD won in the 1990 election not only because of Aung San Suu Kyi but the people saw NLD as the only party which could force 26-year old rule of Burma Socialist Program party out of power. Now, NLD will be absent in 2010 election and the people see none others who can put an end to the 20-year old dreadful military rule. So it is quite likely that the people will disapprove and stay away from the election of 2010.

(Dr. Tin Swe is an elected member of Parliament from Burma from the NLD now living in F-15, Vikas Puri, New Delhi and can be reached at his mobile- 981-000-3286, e-mail drswe01@gmail.com)

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