Burma’s controversial election, its first in 20 years, is only days away.
|Kyaw Zwa Moe is managing editor of the Irrawaddy magazine. He can be reached at
As for The Irrawaddy, we see that the election will be held while pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest, more than 2,100 political prisoners remain in prison and some ethnic parties have been excluded from competing in the polls.
Therefore, we do not see this election as free and inclusive.
We also understand that the electoral laws issued by the military regime’s hand-picked Union Election Commission (EC) repress pro-democracy and ethnic parties while favoring the junta’s proxy party—the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). In circumstances where the laws purportedly restrict all parties equally, the USDP simply ignores the law in full knowledge that there will be no repercussions.
Therefore, we do not see this election as fair.
We also know that the junta’s main motivation in holding this election is not to bring democracy to Burma, but to legitimize military domination in the country’s future political arena under the guise of a parliamentary form of government. This comes 20 years after the same generals who are running the 2010 election ignored the results of the 1990 election in which Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide victory.
Therefore, we see this election as a sham.
We understand the motives of the opposition political parties that have chosen to contest the election, including pro-democracy parties such as the National Democratic Force—a breakaway party of the NLD—and the Democratic Party (Myanmar), as well as ethnic parties not associated with the military government.
First, they are attempting to win a handful of seats in parliament in hopes of beginning a process that they believe will ultimately lead to the achievement of the goals of the democracy movement. But we doubt the junta will allow them even the tiny space they desire, and the parliament will be dominated by military appointees and military officers-turned-politicians who will not compromise with the minority opposition.
Second, pro-democracy and ethnic leaders who are competing at the polls believe that a genuine national reconciliation will be able to solve the country’s problems and the election is the only alternative. But we don’t think this election will lead to the broad-based national reconciliation among the military, pro-democracy organizations and ethnic groups that is needed to solve the country’s decades-long political stalemate.
In fact, the opposite may be taking place in the run-up to the election. We have seen tensions between the military regime and armed ethnic cease-fire groups rise in the last few months as the regime has attempted to pressure groups into joining the junta’s border guard force (BGF).
Events surrounding the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) provide a good example. In response to the UWSA’s refusal to join the BGF, the junta decided not to hold the election in the four townships controlled by the UWSA. In Kachin State, the only Kachin party approved by the EC was the one backed by the junta. The other three were rejected, as well as the candidates close to those parties who wanted to run as independents. In addition, for the first time in the 16 years since the cease-fire agreement has been in effect, a state-run newspaper recently used the term “insurgents” in reference to the KIO, possibly signaling an end to the cease-fire.
Such discriminatory treatment of ethnic political groups will never lead to peace and stability in ethnic areas. To the contrary, the type of conflict between government troops and ethnic armies that has paralyzed the country’s development for decades may well increase.
Nevertheless, the election will be held on Nov. 7 at any cost—after all, the junta even pushed through the referendum on the 2008 Constitution in the wake of Cyclone Nargis.
So despite our skepticism, we will look to several factors surrounding the election for an indication of whether at least some progress has been made.
First, we will look to whether the majority of the pro-democracy parties such as the NDF, the Democratic Party (Myanmar) and the non-government allied ethnic parties win a high percentage of seats in the constituencies they contest. Second, we will look to whether Aung San Suu Kyi is actually released on Nov. 13, the date she is scheduled to be set free after 18 months under house arrest. Third, we will look to whether all of the more than 2,100 political prisoners—including ethnic leaders and former student leaders—are released.
Even here, however, history has taught us not to underestimate the ruling generals’ ability to manipulate events for their own benefit. And even if opposition groups have seats in parliament and Suu Kyi and other political prisoners are released, the new government, which most believe will be dominated by the junta’s current ministers and military leaders, will most likely use all means at its disposal, beginning with the 2008 Constitution, to muzzle and restrict them.
Recently, US State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley said: “We will watch events as they unfold in Burma and hope that the new government will take a different approach than it has in the past.” We are afraid that the US and the international community will fall into the junta’s trap by recognizing the results of this sham election.
Such a “different approach” referred to by Crowley must allow opposition voices to be heard in parliament and must include the release of Suu Kyi and the other political prisoners. If the international community recognizes the new government as legitimate before these things take place, it will be a betrayal of the 55 million people who live in Burma.
This article appears in November issue of The Irrawaddy Magazine.
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