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747[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 26/3/10

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    Mar 26, 2010
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      1. UN Chief to Burma: Create conditions for free & fair elections
      2. Party literature cannot criticize military
      3. NLD between a rock and a hard place
      4. Divided opinion on NLD party registration
      5. Junta prepares to take on the ethnic militias
      6. 15 more parties to register
      7. Burmese Army wraps up first phase of militia training in Kachin State
      8. A lack of independence, impartiality
      9. Suu Kyi ‘opposes election role for her party’
      10. Opposition to sue Myanmar junta over election laws
      11. Worries spread regarding NLD split
      12. Political parties begin to register in Naypyidaw
      13. New Mon Party to join election
      14. Tata Motors to build heavy truck plant in Myanmar
      15. Asean should take a stand on Burma
      16. Burma’s long, hard road to democracy
      17. China comes to junta’s rescue again


      UN Chief to Burma: Create conditions for free & fair elections – Margaret Besheer
      Voice of America: Thu 25 Mar 2010

      U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the government of Burma must create conditions that give all stakeholders the opportunity to participate freely in elections, if the vote is to be viewed as fair and credible.Mr. Ban spoke to reporters after a meeting of his so-called Group of Friends of Myanmar, the other name by which Burma is known.

      He said the 15 governments which make up the group discussed developments following the military government’s announcement earlier this month of the new election law.

      The law has raised international concerns because one of its provisions prohibits anyone serving a prison term from voting or being a member of a political party.

      That would effectively ban National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners from participating in the general election.

      No date has been set for the vote, which would be the country’s first in 20 years.

      Mr. Ban said the electoral law and the overall electoral environment so far fall short of what is needed for an inclusive political process.

      Speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends, Mr. Ban said they urged the elections be inclusive, participatory and transparent.

      “We encourage all parties to work in the national interest,” Mr. Ban said. “The government must create conditions that give all stakeholders the opportunity to participate freely in elections. This includes the release of all political prisoners – including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi – and respect for fundamental freedoms.”

      Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been in detention for 14 of the last 20 years, has said she is opposed to her party registering for the vote, but that the NLD (National League for Democracy) must decide for itself whether to participate in the election.

      Mr. Ban said if that is her genuine belief, then “we have to respect it.” But he expressed some reservations, saying he did not know the circumstances surrounding her statement.

      On Wednesday, the U.N. Security Council had its first briefing on Burma in more than six months. British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said many council members expressed their concern about the electoral laws, which he said appeared to target Aung San Suu Kyi and her opposition party.



      Party literature cannot criticize military: Junta
      Mizzima News: Thu 25 Mar 2010

      The Burmese military junta, which has rolled out harsh electoral laws for political parties, making it difficult for many to contest, has now come up with rules for political parties while printing their pamphlets, books or election-related printed matter.Elections have been declared for this year but no date has been announced yet.

      The announcement on party literature on March 17, says parties have to register for printing election-related matter with the government under the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Act.

      For permission to print, the political party needs to seek permission from the country’s notorious Press Scrutiny and Registration Board (PSRB) within 90 days after they register with the Election Commission. The party literature cannot criticize the military and the present regime, the announcement says. The printed material cannot disturb “law and order and tranquility” of the nation, it added.

      Moreover, a political party has to deposit 500,000 Kyat (USD 500) for permission to print. The amount will be fully or partially forfeited by the PSRB if a party violates the stringent rules announced.

      The 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Act prohibits publications or materials that go against the interests of the government. The penalties for violators of this Act range from the banning of an article to seven years in jail.



      NLD between a rock and a hard place – Aung Naing Oo
      Irrawaddy: Thu 25 Mar 2010

      Once again, the unmatched power and influence Aung San Suu Kyi, detained leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), holds over her party may have shown their genuine impact—this time on the NLD’s approach toward the planned general election.The NLD’s central committee is due to meet on March 29 to decide whether or not to contest the election, but Suu Kyi made her own views on the issue crystal clear on Tuesday, saying the party should not register under the recently promulgated election laws.

      On March 20 (Decision Time Approaches for NLD), I wrote in The Irrawaddy: “If her (Suu Kyi’s) preference [whether or not to contest the election] is made known to the central committee members before the voting, it may sway them towards the direction she chooses.”

      The day before Suu Kyi made her position known, NLD Spokesman Khin Maung Swe announced that the party’s central executive committee had agreed that the central committee should leave the final decision to Suu Kyi and party Chairman Aung Shwe.

      Despite the weight of Suu Kyi’s rejection of participation under current conditions, party Chairman Aung Shwe is known to be in favor of the party entering the election. But for now the party’s decision seems to be skewed towards not contesting.

      Three possible scenarios remain open for the party, although all bring problems and likely divisions. Although the choice appears to be straightforward—a simple “yes” or “no” to participation in the election—it is an extremely complex matter.

      Scenario-1: The NLD decides not to contest the election

      This is the most likely scenario now. In this case, the regime-drafted election laws require the party to disband.

      Pragmatists or moderate factions are then likely to form a political party or two of their own and contest the election under a new banner.

      The formal abolition of the party will create radicalism among those who remain loyal to it. Undoubtedly, the disbanded NLD will become an underground grouping and find a way to get back into the political arena.

      Operating outside the legal and constitutional framework, it is likely to join forces with other opposition groups, both inside and outside the country, to discredit the military. Such action will lead to a head-on confrontation with the Burmese junta and its loyalists, especially following a decision evidently influenced by Suu Kyi’s preference not to contest.

      The NLD is not an underground organization, however, and its strength is not in mass mobilization. So the party may find itself in uncharted territory with aims that may be elusive if not entirely unrealized—unless it can persuade the Burmese to take to the streets and force the junta to renegotiate the terms of the Constitution.

      If it cannot find political rhythm in underground movement the party is likely to eventually collapse under relentless pressure from the junta, which will surely mount a harsh repressive campaign against the party remnants.

      In addition, 20 years of struggle have shown that a mass anti-regime movement cannot succeed without at least the tacit support of some key elements within the military.

      Most importantly, the promulgation of unjust election laws was clearly designed with the purpose of forcing the NLD to opt out of the election on its own volition.

      All in all, this scenario will play into the trap junta leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe has set up for the party. Besides, it may not provide the party with a strategy designed for all members with different views to follow. And unlike the Burmese junta, the NLD has not thrived in conflict, which would be prolonged if the party failed to contest the election.

      Scenario-2: NLD decides to participate, in the interest of survival

      This possibility seems a long shot now. Ostensibly the NLD would have less than 60 days from its registration to complete the task of nominating its election candidates.
      The NLD’s strategy in the past 20 years has been to focus on its survival as a legal entity. If this remains its primary preoccupation, the party may try to adopt a step-by-step strategy. A first step would be to register so as to maintain the party’s legality. It would then continue debating the broader strategy, giving it some breathing space.

      If it wants to focus only on its legal survival, the party has two options. The first is to field only three candidates in the election, meeting the minimum requirement for any registered party—a half-boiled strategy. But the law also requires a party, at the time of registration, to inform the Election Commission (EC) early on whether it intends to contest throughout the country or just in one specific area, such as a state or region.

      Once it declares its intentions to the EC and says that it will only contest in three constituencies, the party cannot change its mind. But the catch here is that if the party loses in these constituencies, it will likely face the axe and be abolished. To avoid this danger, the party would have to field and win in more than three constituencies in order to make sure that it remains legal in the post election period.

      The second option, if the party is concerned only about its survival, is to get registered and prepared, and to make the decision before the end of the party registration period. This is also not without problems because voters may punish an undecided party. There is also a possibility that the EC, under the direct orders from the regime, might squash party registration at the last minute, citing irregularities in the registration process.

      In this case, hard liners within the party will be proven right and the party may go back to the same confrontation mode similar to the first “not to contest scenario.” Under this scenario, emotion will run even higher and a sudden confrontation with the junta is likely.

      In this scenario, taking a decision to “half participate” may seem a viable option for a short period of time, but in the long run the NLD would be losing an opportunity to take a decisive party stand on the issues at hand. And, unlike in 1990, the party does not have the luxury of time to prepare for the election, and leaving the final decision to the last minute may not be a good tactic.

      Such a strategy could also make the voters believe that even though the NLD is a party of national calibre, the party only works for its survival and fails to put the interests of the voters and the nation first.

      Scenario-3: The NLD decides to contest the election

      In this case, the party will have to disown its detained leader Suu Kyi and all other party officials and members currently serving time in prison. The party expelled Suu Kyi and Tin Oo in 1989 under pressure from the junta, so taking a similar step this time should not be problem because she could be reinstated after her release from house arrest.

      However, even if party Chairman Aung Shwe decides to enter the election it will upset the hard liners within the party. As a result, the divisions within the party will come to the fore.

      Some disillusioned members might then resign although they would not become idle. They might be radicalised because of their belief that the party had abandoned its principled approach to democracy of the past 20 years and especially against the wishes of Suu Kyi.

      Such a situation would create an acrimonious relationship among former comrades, and lead to the two camps undermining each other in the fight for democracy.

      Under this scenario, contesting the election seems to be a good strategy for the long run. But there is a risk that it does not provide enough options for all with different takes on the election.

      If the NLD does not know how to deal with those members who disagree with the party’s decision to contest the election and takes drastic actions, the resentful hard liners may undermine any meaningful work the party will embark on after the election.

      Ideally and acting according to the principles of democracy, the minority party officials who lose to the majority in favor of participating in the election should go along with the decision.

      However, under the conditions where stakes are high and injustice glaringly apparent, and especially when the minority realizes that they are confronted with only one choice, making a rational choice or cooperating with the majority is unlikely.

      In summing up, the NLD is caught between a rock and a hard place, with problems, dissatisfaction and disappointment present on whatever path it chooses. And whatever the choice, the party is likely to be deeply divided.

      Yet somehow, the party must develop an all-inclusive strategy, allowing the engagement of moderates as well as hard liners to engage. Otherwise, the risk is that the NLD will follow the examples of its predecessors, such as the acrimonious split of the parliamentary-era Anti-Fascist Peoples Freedom League, which partly paved the way for the final and long-lasting entry of the Burmese military into the political arena.



      Divided opinion on NLD party registration – Ba Kaung
      Irrawaddy: Thu 25 Mar 2010

      On March 29, more than 100 National League for Democracy (NLD) party leaders from across the country will meet at the party’s Rangoon headquarters to discuss whether to register the party under the junta’s election law. Though Aung San Suu Kyi has publicly said she is against her party registering, the party leadership remains divided. Longtime Suu Kyi supporter Win Tin, 80, who was released in September 2008 after more than 19 years in prison said he would probably retire if the majority decide to register. Khin Maung Swe, 67, a leading party official who spent 14 years in prison supports registration and joining the election even though this means the party must expel Suu Kyi under the junta law. Both spoke to The Irrawaddy on the party’s future.

      Win Tin

      Question: Could you give us three specific reasons why you are for or against party-registration?

      Answer: If we register the party, we have to expel Daw Suu and other detained party leaders. The details of the party registration laws are not clear about whether Daw Suu could rejoin the party after her release and it would be up to the election commission. The second reason is that if we register the party we have to vow to protect the junta’s Constitution, which we have repeatedly said is unacceptable. The third factor is that after registration, we will have to police the “illegal” activities of party members and warn them they will be expelled if they continue those activities. This will guarantee that no one in the party will dare express his ideas at the risk of imprisonment.

      Q. What will happen to the NLD if it decides to contest the elections? And what if not?

      A: If the NLD decides not to contest the elections, two things can happen. Either the NLD will cease to be a valid and registered party or the regime will outlaw the party, causing it to lose its identity and party flag. The dignity of the party will increase immensely when we show we are not giving in to the junta’s unjust law. We will also have a broader space to operate with the public because we will show that the principles the party stands for are more important than its mere existence.

      Q. Can the NLD expect to gain another landslide victory like it did 20 years ago if it decides to contest the election?

      A: The 1988 uprising led by students was one of the main causes which gave the NLD a landslide victory in the 1990 elections. Party leaders like U Aung Shwe only got onto the political stage because of the 1988 uprising. In addition, the military was politically quite weak at the time. The situation is totally different now: we are tied up by various laws and if the party contests the election, there is little or no chance for us to win a majority of seats, much less an overwhelming victory.

      Q. How do you foresee the post-election scenario in Burma?

      A: This election ensures that two major groups will operate in parliament at different levels: one will be composed of military officers and the other members of multiple political parties made up from business cronies like Tay Za backed by junta groups such as the Union Solidarity and Development Association [USDA] and Swan Arr Shin [a government-organized paramilitary group that suppresses political dissidents]. Besides, the three candidates for the Presidency election will be nominated by the military representatives of the bicameral parliament, but we don’t know the procedure for their election [The presidency electoral law will be drawn up later, according to the constitution.] Moreover, the formation of the government will be in the hands of the future President who can appoint either members of parliament or non-elected persons as cabinet ministers. If the president selects members of parliament from a political party, they can’t represent their party in the government because they not only have to resign their parliamentary seats but they also have to refrain from party activities.

      Khin Maung Swe

      Question: Could you give us three specific reasons why you are for or against party-registration?

      Answer: First, I wish to make it clear that we have no intention of marginalizing Aung San Suu Kyi, who is an icon in Burmese politics. But the reason we wish to register the party is because we want Daw Suu to be able to continue to play in the political environment when she is released five or six months later. That’s why we need a political party. Secondly, we believe that only by struggling in the legal fold will it be possible for us to fulfill our pledge to democracy, to work for changes in the constitution and national reconciliation. Thirdly, in that process, we don’t wish to divide our party members into different groups in contradiction to the party policy of maintaining unity. As there is no viable exit option [if NLD does not register], we don’t support not registering the party because we don’t want to be the historical culprits blamed for letting the party die.

      Q. What will happen to the NLD if it decides to contest the elections? And what if not?

      A: If the party participates in the election, it can become a competitive force in the future parliament, contributing to a check-and-balance system in politics that will be in the interests of people. Without political opposition, we will only be left with a sort of one-party political system. If we don’t join the election, the people will lose a great party born of the 1988 uprising and faithful to the struggle for democracy, and the people will not have a party to vote for in the election.

      Q. Can the NLD expect to gain another landslide victory like it did 20 years ago if it decides to contest the election?

      A: I am not sure about a landslide victory, but the party still has the potential to become a competitive force in the parliament.

      Q. How do you foresee the post-election scenario in Burma?

      A: With military supremacy continuing in the post-election era notwithstanding, the rigid centralization we have today will disappear. By that, I mean the different governmental departments will no longer be under the control of a single person. The legislature will be in a position to change inappropriate laws, including the unjust election law. The more than 75 majority requirement only applies to amendments of the Constitution, which is where the 25 percent of seats reserved for the military will be most significant. But parliament will still have the power to pass bills addressing human rights abuses and socio-economic issues in our country.

      A Survey of NLD Officials on the 2010 Election
      By THE IRRAWADDY


      The National League for Democracy now faces a critical choice and must make a historic decision on whether it will re-register as a political party and contest the Burmese election or face dissolution. The NLD will discuss the issue on March 29 in a meeting of the party’s central committee at its headquarters in Rangoon. The Irrawaddy is now surveying the opinions of NLD officials at the township level. Click here to see result.



      15 more parties to register – Kyaw Thein Kha
      Irrawaddy: Wed 24 Mar 2010

      Fifteen parties have confirmed that they will register for this year’s election.The parties will join two other political organizations—the Union of Myanmar Federation of National Politics (formerly known as the Union of Myanmar National Political Force) and the 88 Generation Student Youths (Union of Myanmar)—that registered on Monday to contest the election.

      Four of the parties planning to register previously belonged to the National Political Alliance (NPA), a group consisting of nine small political parties that was formed after the Burmese junta announced its election law on March 8.

      Under the law, all parties must register by May 7.

      Two of the four former NPA members, the Demo NLD and the Reconciliation Research and Analysis Study Group, will register together as the United Democratic Party. The new party plans to contest nationwide.

      The two other former NPA members will contest the election regionally. The Nationalist NLD (which, like the Demo NLD, includes former members of the NLD) will contest in Mandalay Division and the Union of Myanmar National Force Arakan State will contest in Arakan State.

      So far, nine parties have told The Irrawaddy that they will contest nationwide, while another six parties say they intend to run in their respective regions.

      The following parties have registered or plan to register to contest the election nationally:

      1. Union of Myanmar Federation of National Politics (registered)
      2. 88 Generation Student Youths (Union of Myanmar) (registered)
      3. National Unity Party
      4. National Political Alliance
      5. Union Democratic Alliance
      6. Democratic Party
      7. Union Solidarity and Development Association (expected to form more than one party)
      8. United Democratic Party
      9. Peace and Diversity Party
      10. A party formed by Phyo Min Thein (the name of the party hasn’t been announced yet)
      11. A party formed by self-described “Myanmar Bengalis” (the name of the party hasn’t been announced)

      The following parties will contest regionally:

      1. Kachin State Progressive Party
      2. The Union of Myanmar National Force Arakan State
      3. Mon National Democratic Front
      4. Karen People’s Party
      5. Nationalist NLD
      6. Scientific National Politics Party, based in Maymyo (Pyin Oo Lwin)

      The following parties contested in the 1990 election but have not yet registered for this year’s election:

      1. National League for Democracy
      2. National Unity Party
      3. Shan National League for Democracy
      4. Union Pa-o National Organization
      5. Shan State Kokang Democratic Party
      6. Mro or Khami National Solidarity Organization
      7. Lahu National Development Party
      8. Union Karen League
      9. Kokang Democracy and Unity Party
      10. Wa National Development Party

      The NLD will decide on whether to register or not on March 29, but the party’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has already stated that she is not in favor of the move. The NUP, which ran as the main junta-backed party during the 1990 election, said it has decided to contest the election and will register next week.



      Junta prepares to take on the ethnic militias – Thilo Thielke
      Der Spiegel: Wed 24 Mar 2010

      After years of relative peace, Burma’s military junta is trying to break the power of guerilla armies in the drug-infested Golden Triangle. The ethnic armies may end up posing a greater threat to the regime than the democracy movement and its icon Aung San Suu Kyi.The village of Doi Tailaeng, on Burma’s border with Thailand, has been transformed into a military camp. For hours, columns of uniformed fighters have been marching through this outpost of the rebellious Shan people, which feels oppressed by Burma’s majority ethnic group, the Burman. There are several thousand rebel soldiers in Doi Tailaeng, and they have just completed their military training. The dust rises under the boots of the recruits. The Shan national festival is solely a show of power.

      The militia fighters repeatedly point their guns at the sky and fire salvos into the clear mountain air, accompanied by the deafening noise of drums and fanfares. At the end of the parade, a Buddhist monk blesses the rebels of the “Shan State Army – South” with holy water.

      For years, the Shan State Army (SSA) has been waging a desperate and costly guerilla war against the Burmese army. The SSA consists of about 10,000 fighters, waging war against the Junta’s vastly larger army of 400,000 soldiers. “We are preparing for new battles,” says Sao Yawd Serk, 51, the leader of both the Shan State Army and the movement’s political wing.

      Until now, it has only been the remoteness of this mountainous border region that has kept his men from being wiped out. Other rebel groups have also doggedly kept up their struggle against the clique of generals in the new Burmese capital, Naypyidaw, including the Karen National Liberation Army and a handful of militia organizations fighting for other ethnic groups.

      Fragile Peace

      Most of the country’s other ethnic minorities and their fighters signed a truce with the government in 1989, in return for being granted extensive autonomy in their regions. They were also permitted to keep their weapons and go about their business, which includes growing opium, producing methamphetamines like Crystal Meth and operating casinos in the border region near China.

      The warlords are running a profitable business in the Golden Triangle, but the fragile peace has come at a high price. Within the last three years, the amount of land devoted to growing opium has grown by almost 50 percent, to 31,700 hectares (78,300 acres). Pills produced in Burma are now flooding the rest of Southeast Asia.

      These drug revenues are then used to fund powerful armies. The militia representing the Wa ethnic group, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), which formed in 1989 after the collapse of the China-backed Communist Party of Burma, is estimated at about 25,000 combat-ready troops.

      But now the fragile peace is at risk. The junta plans to hold an election this year and use it to cement its power. Foreign observers and critics in Burma say the election will be a farce. For example, the country’s election laws, which the junta has fashioned in its favor, expressly prohibit Aung San Suu Kyi from participating in the election. The 64-year-old Nobel Peace Prize Winner has been under house arrest for years.

      The ethnic minority armies operating in Burma’s border regions could now prove to be a much bigger threat to the government than Burma’s icon of freedom, Suu Kyi. The government has given the militias an ultimatum: Either their fighters allow themselves to be voluntarily integrated into the regular border troops, thereby partly submitting to the command of the Burmese army, or the army will disarm the militias by force.

      Unequally Matched Adversaries

      So far few of the many combat groups have indicated a willingness to give into the junta’s demands. For most, integration into the border troops would amount to capitulation. As a result, two unequal sets of adversaries face off in the largely impenetrable jungle regions of the northeast, eying each other warily. The junta is apparently serious about its plans to break up the groups of armed ethnic fighters.

      Under the pretense of removing an illegal weapons factory in the region inhabited by the Kokang people near the Chinese border, the army attacked its militias in August 2009 and drove about 37,000 Kokang into neighboring China. Since then, a warlike state has prevailed in this part of Burma, and it now threatens to expand into a guerilla war between unequally matched adversaries, a war that could last for years and that no one can win.

      The leader of the SSA, Yawd Serk, is openly preparing his troops for new battles. From his command post in the mountains, he has a good overview of the surrounding terrain. The rugged mountains along the Thai border form a natural and almost impenetrable fortress. Not far away, trenches permeate the green hills, while the Wa army lurks behind the hills.

      “Perhaps we will be fighting the government together soon,” Yawd Serk says hopefully. “We know that the Wa military leaders are itching for a fight.”

      *Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan



      Burmese Army wraps up first phase of militia training in Kachin State
      Kachin News Group: Wed 24 Mar 2010

      With the Border Guard Force issue yet to be resolved and tension mounting, the first phase of the 11-day militia training in Kachin State in the north was wrapped up by the Burmese Army after the junta announced the electoral laws on March 8, said local residents.The militia training to the first batch called the “1/2010 militia basic combat battle training” was given by Burmese Army trainers to 80 residents of Tatkone quarter, one of the largest ethnic Kachin quarters in Kachin State’s capital Myitkyina, local trainees told Kachin News Group.

      The training began on March 8, the same day that the junta released the electoral laws and was concluded on March 19, the trainees said.

      All trainees were Kachin men and they were forced to join the Burmese Army’s basic combat training by local military authorities reluctantly, they added.

      During the training period, the civilian trainees were especially trained in basic combat like soldiers with machine guns, said eyewitnesses.

      The second phase of militia training for local civilians is also underway in different quarters in Myitkyina, said local residents.

      In Puta-O, the remote and landlocked town in northern Kachin State, the Burmese Army is preparing to give the same basic combat training to local civilians, said Puta-O residents.

      Burmese soldiers trained the “basic combat battle training” to Kachin civilians in Myitkyina in Kachin State, northern Burma before the countrywide elections in this year. Photo: Kachin News Group.

      In Bhamo late last year, civilians from each quarter and village were forcibly assembled in the guise of “reserved firefighters” but they were given basic combat training by Burmese military trainers, said residents of Bhamo.

      Local members of the junta-back Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) in Myitkyina and Bhamo also have to take basic combat training from the Burmese Army, said members of USDA in the two cities.

      In Kachin State, the junta forcibly recruited local civilians in the name of “reserved firefighters” and they were given basic combat training since the Buddhist monk-led anti-junta demonstration in 2007, according to local sources.

      People in Kachin State believe that the junta is preparing for an offensive against the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the last remaining Kachin ceasefire group which has refused to transform its armed-wing to the junta-proposed Border Guard Force.



      A lack of independence, impartiality – Kay Latt
      Irrawaddy: Wed 24 Mar 2010

      The election will definitely be held sometime in 2010, but the jury is still out on how we should look at the election: as opportunity or as a rigged process.The Burmese regime has now issued five laws related to the election including Election Commission regulations and Political Parties Registration laws, which are revisions of the 1990 electoral law. Already, international bodies and governments around the world have condemned the laws as short of international standards and lacking in credibility for a free and fair election.

      The governments of the United States, Canada, Britain and even Asean governments such as the Philippines and Indonesia view the laws with deep disappointment, saying the election will not be credible.

      Why don’t they accept the election laws? First, there’s the issue of the independence of the Election Commission. Each member of the commission was handpicked by the junta.

      Many people believe the commission will favor the regime in making its decisions and wielding authority.

      The previous election commission which supervised the 1990 election was formed by the former socialist government before the military coup in 1988. After the military coup, Gen Saw Maung, the coup leader, appointed election commission members and said the military would not interfere in its work.

      The commission was granted the right to draw up the electoral law independently. The commission publicly issued a draft law and invited political parties and the public to comment. The commission then revised the draft law and submitted it to the junta which issued it on May 31, 1989, one year before of the date of the election.

      The new election law was drafted by the generals unilaterally without public input. Closely affiliated with the regime, the Election Commission chairman was a member of the junta’s Constitution drafting commission, and he also served as a military judge advocate general.

      Internationally, an election commission is an organization which has various duties including collecting voter lists, examining candidate applications, announcing the list of candidates, conducting polls, counting and tabulating votes, with additional functions such as boundary delimitation, voter registration, the registration of political parties, electoral dispute resolution and civic and voter education.

      Moreover, such commissions can regulate the conduct of political parties and candidates during the election process.

      Among the key responsibilities is the registration of political parties. The commission may deny the registration of a political party, such as the National League for Democracy, if the party includes political prisoners as members or leaders, such as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

      Through her lawyers, Suu Kyi recently remarked that the law should not be aimed at one particular person or organization, a charge alleged by many international groups and governments.

      Parties or candidates can also be denied registration if the commission determines that they owe allegiance to a foreign government, are subjects of a foreign government or who are entitled to enjoy the rights and privileges of a subject of a foreign government, or a citizen of a foreign country. Again, the commission’s decision is final.

      The commission can also deny registration to a party or candidate that obtains and uses directly or indirectly financial support, land, housing, buildings, vehicles or property from government or religious organizations or organizations of a foreign country.

      Chapter (11) of the electoral laws grants the commission the authority to postpone the election in constituencies on the ground of natural disaster or security. The commission can also move a polling station to a safer location.

      After the election, the commission is authorized to form a complaint body, which will hear accusations if a candidate is accused of violating election laws, and then make an appropriate ruling.

      Analysts worry that with such wide-ranging authority and discretionary power, the Election Commission could directly affect the election’s outcome in favor of the regime because of the commission members’ lack of independence and impartiality.



      Suu Kyi ‘opposes election role for her party’
      BBC News: Tue 23 Mar 2010

      Burma’s detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi opposes her party registering for forthcoming elections, her lawyer has said.
      Nyan Win said Ms Suu Kyi told him the National League for Democracy (NLD) should “not even think” of taking part under what she called unjust laws.

      Burma’s leaders say they will hold the first polls in two decades this year.

      They recently enacted election laws which prevent key figures – including Ms Suu Kyi – from taking part.

      The laws have been widely criticised. The US called them a setback for political dialogue in the country.

      The NLD is due to meet on 29 March to decide whether to participate in the polls – for which no date has yet been set.

      Leaders excluded

      The NLD won the last elections in 1990 but was never allowed to take power. Ms Suu Kyi has spent much of the past two decades in some form of detention.

      According to Nyan Win, Ms Suu Kyi said that she would allow the NLD to make its own decision despite her opposition.

      “She will never accept registration under unjust laws, but her personal opinion is not to give orders nor instructions to the NLD,” the lawyer quoted her as saying.

      The laws, published earlier this month, state that parties cannot have any members with criminal convictions. This rules out many of the NLD’s top leaders – including Ms Suu Kyi – who have been jailed on political charges.

      If the NLD does choose to register for the polls, it must exclude its highest-profile personnel.

      The laws also ban members of religious orders and civil servants from joining political parties. Buddhist monks were the driving forces behind anti-junta protests in 2007.



      Opposition to sue Myanmar junta over election laws
      Associated Press: Tue 23 Mar 2010

      Yangon, Myanmar — Myanmar’s highest court Tuesday refused to accept a lawsuit by Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party seeking to revoke laws that bar the detained leader and other opposition members from taking part in the country’s first election in two decades.
      Lawyer Kyi Win said the Supreme Court refused to accept the lawsuit, saying it did not have power to handle such a case.

      It was unclear what steps if any the party would next take in its efforts to quash five election-related laws the ruling military enacted earlier this month that set out rules for this year’s vote.

      One law prohibits anyone convicted of a crime from being a member of a political party and instructs parties to expel convicted members or face de-registration.

      The lawsuit was largely symbolic since Myanmar’s courts invariably adhere to the junta’s policies, especially on political matters.

      The National League for Democracy’s general secretary and one of its founders, Suu Kyi was convicted last year on charges of violating her house arrest when an American man swam uninvited to her lakeside property. She is serving an 18-month term of house arrest and many top members of her party and ethnic-based parties are in prison. Under the new laws they would be barred from the vote.

      “We are taking the legal step against the electoral laws as they are unfair and the laws are a violation of human rights, personal rights and organizational rights,” said Nyan Win, a party spokesman, before the attempted lodging of the lawsuit against the ruling State Peace and Development Council.

      The polls will be the first since 1990, when Suu Kyi’s party won a landslide victory. The junta ignored the results of that vote and has kept the Nobel Peace laureate jailed or under detention for 14 of the past 20 years.

      The junta says the new laws have formally invalidated the results of the 1990 election because the election law under which those polls were held was repealed by the new legislation.

      The elections are part of the junta’s long-announced “roadmap to democracy,” which critics deride as a sham designed to cement the military’s power.

      No vote date has been set and the NLD has not decided whether it will take part. The party will decide Friday whether to officially register, the first step toward participating in the elections.

      The party has also written a letter to junta leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe asking its leaders be allowed to have a meeting with Suu Kyi to discuss future policies.


      Worries spread regarding NLD split – Phanida
      Mizzima News: Mon 22 Mar 2010

      Chiang Mai – Fears are the ranks of the National League for Democracy (NLD) could fracture following a contentious debate within party leadership on whether the party should re-register or not. Aung Shwe, Chairman of the main opposition party, reportedly proposed re-registration at a March 15th meeting at party headquarters in Rangoon in order to secure the party’s survival.

      However, the debate remains hotly contested as to whether or not Burma’s primary opposition party should re-register with an eye to possible participation in the 2010 elections.

      “The party could split into two factions owing to discussion on whether to participate in the election or not. The party should negotiate with the SPDC [Burmese junta] and within party membership as well. I believe the leadership can make a correct decision,” said Khin Nyunt Mu, Secretary of the NLD’s Women’s Affairs Working Group in Pegu Division.

      All political parties must register with the election commission within 60 days from March 17th according to the recently enactednld-office-ygn1 Political Party Registration Law. At present there are ten political parties remaining from the 1990 general elections, including the NLD.

      The NLD has to date reiterated its intent to stand by its Shwegondaing Declaration, which calls on the military junta to release all political prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi, a review of the 2008 constitution, recognition of the 1990 general election results and commencement of a dialogue aimed at national reconciliation.

      The Declaration echoes ideas debated and agreed upon by political prisoners during the course of the 1990s, which outlined perceived conditions relating to the release of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

      Khin Maung Swe, a Central Executive Committee member of the NLD, said the party should re-register, with the envisioned release of Aung San Suu Kyi providing for a readily available base of leadership.

      “While we have not yet made clear a decision on whether to join the election or not, it is critical for the party to re-register. If we accept we are united with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, there must be a political party. When she is released she will definitely come to join us,” argued Khin Maung Swe.

      However, sources close to the NLD said there is a division within the top 20 members of the party’s leadership, with Chairman Aung Shwe, Khin Maung Swe and Dr. Than Nyein heading a pro-registration faction opposed by the likes of Win Tin, Nyan Win and Ohn Kyaing.

      As the decision appears deadlocked at the Central Executive Committee level, half of whose members remain incarcerated, the party has called for a March 29th meeting of the 100 Central Committee members to assist in deciding the matter.

      If the NLD leadership chooses to enter the election, contends Khin Saw Htay of the NLD’s Women’s Affairs Working Group in Magway Division, “they would thereby default on their longstanding claim for the results of the1990 elections to be honored.”

      “In the case of making a decision for the party on whether to join in the new election or not, every Central Committee member must show their courage. I worry they will vote pro-election since they are in fear of arrest. If so, I denounce them for the sake of ending the military dictatorship,” she said.

      Today, NLD members from Meik-Hti-Lar Township in Mandalay Division sent a letter to party headquarters proposing an open voting system in making the decision.

      “A person should openly stand for his or her political position. I call on them to openly state their position,” remarked Myint Myint Aye, a party member downgraded to ordinary party member status due to a violation of party regulations in February of this year.

      She faults party leadership for a lack of preparation to the present crisis.

      Tin Oo, Vice-Chairman of the NLD, himself recently released from house arrest, has yet to make any public statement regarding party re-registration. But he has stated he will stand together with Aung San Suu Kyi no matter her decision.

      According to election laws, prisoners are not allowed to stand for election, let alone be members of political parties. Aung San Suu Kyi is currently serving an 18-month sentence for purportedly harboring an American man who gained illegal access to her lakeside compound in May 2009.



      Political parties begin to register in Naypyidaw – Ko Htwe
      Irrawaddy: Mon 22 Mar 2010

      Two political parties—the 88 Generation Students of the Union of Myanmar (GSUM) and the Union of Myanmar National Political Force (UMNPF)—were the first to register on Monday to participate in the planned general election.Representatives of the two parties traveled from Rangoon to the Burmese capital, Naypyidaw, to register at the Election Commission office there. The GSUM was the first to hand in its registration application.

      UMNPF Chairman Aye Lwin told The Irrawaddy on Monday: “Our country lags behind in comparison to others. I feel we have a chance to solve that problem in a political way.”

      The UMNPF and the GSUM have close associations. Aye Lwin’s younger brother, Ye Htun, is expected to be named chairman of the GSUM.

      The GSUM is distinct from the original 88 Students Generation group led by prominent former students—including Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi—who are now in prison.

      Aye Lwin, a 46-year-old former political prisoner, started his own political group in 2005. His close contacts with regime officials (he had a meeting with Rangoon’s mayor, Maj-Gen Aung Thein Lin, five months ago) have made him unpopular with young activists, who accuse him of accepting substantial financial support from them.

      Several other parties say they will register before the 60-day deadline expires. Democratic Party leader Thu Wai said his party’s central executive had decided on Sunday to send a representative to Naypyidaw to register.

      Han Shwe, executive member of the National Unity party, said: “Our party will also register within the fixed date.”

      A number of ethnic groups also say they are preparing to register as political parties.

      Manam Tu Ja, joint chairman of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), who resigned to form the Kachin State Progressive Party (KSPP), said the KSPP would register before the annual Water Festival in April.

      Shwe Ohn, a prominent Shan leader said his party, whose name has not yet been confirmed, also intended to register within the next 10 days.

      The newly promulgated election laws require parties to pay a registration fee of 300,000 kyat ($300) and 500,000 kyat ($500) for each candidate fielded in the election.



      New Mon Party to join election – Lawi Weng
      Irrawaddy: Mon 22 Mar 2010

      The Mon will officially announce a new political party on March 31 to represent the Mon people in the election, according to Mon sources, who added that the new party was formed last year in Moulmein and has a name and a written constitution.Speaking with The Irrawaddy on Monday, Min Soe Lin, a committee member of the new Mon political party and an executive member of the Mon National Democratic Front (MNDF), said: “The new party has a five-member advisory board and a 15-member committee that includes three Mon Buddhist monks.”

      Min Soe Lin was one of five MNDF representatives who won seats when the party ran in the 1990 election. After the election the junta disbanded the party and arrested at least four of the elected representatives including Min Soe Lin, who was sentenced to seven years in prison.

      The new party is ready to register and participate in the election, he said, but after a meeting on March 15, they decided to delay making an official announcement until after the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), announces on March 29 whether they will participate in the election.

      “If the NLD doesn’t join the election, four committee members including myself will not join the new party because we disagree with the 2008 Constitution,” he said, adding that 11 committee members would remain.

      The new Mon political party currently comprises some former central committee members of the New Mon State Party (NMSP), which is the Mon armed wing that entered a ceasefire agreement with the junta in 1995, the MNDF and other respected community leaders in Mon State.

      Two executive members from the MNDF will join the new political party, according to Mon sources.

      Mon leaders are divided on whether to participate in the election, meanwhile.

      Those who don’t accept the 2008 Constitution view the election as a sham and say it will not be free and fair.

      Nai Hang Thar, the secretary for the NMSP, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the new constitution denies fundamental ethnic rights and will allow the military to hold onto power.

      “The junta are holding an election because their main political goal is to supersede the 1990 election result that gave the NLD victory and legalize their military rule,” he said.

      Other Mon leaders believe the election could offer an opportunity and they will continue to fight for Mon freedom in the new Burmese parliament even after the junta takes 25 percent of the seats.

      The NMSP announced last year that it will not participate in the election. The NMSP leaders believe that they must maintain their armed wing because Burma is controlled by a military government.

      To avoid increasing tensions among its members, however, the NMSP leaders said they would allow members to resign and join the new Mon political party if they wished.

      Mon leaders believe that letting the NMSP maintain its armed wing to continue the potential for armed struggle while the new Mon political party takes the fight to the democratic stage is the right strategy.

      Many Mon observers in Mon State, meanwhile, say they do not trust the junta to hold a free and fair election and they don’t believe the new Mon political party will gain any freedom for the Mon people.

      Sources in Moulmein said the new Mon political party including former NMSP central committee members are currently working together mobilizing youths in Mon State for the election in 2010.



      Tata Motors to build heavy truck plant in Myanmar – Nikhil Gulati
      Wall Street Journal: Mon 22 Mar 2010

      New Delhi –Tata Motors Ltd., India’s biggest auto maker by revenue, said Monday it has signed a pact with Myanmar Automobile & Diesel Industries Ltd. to set up a factory for making heavy trucks in the Southeast Asian country.The factory at Magwe in Myanmar is expected to be operational during January-March 2011, Tata Motors said.

      The factory will have an annual capacity to make 1,000 vehicles and can be expanded to 5,000 a year, it said.

      The company didn’t give any financial details, but said the project will be funded by a line of credit from the Indian government.



      Asean should take a stand on Burma – Editorial
      Bangkok Post: Mon 22 Mar 2010

      As the general election in Burma, still scheduled for “sometime this year”, draws ever closer, it is time for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to seriously consider a review of the grouping’s famous policy of non-intervention. Especially after the recently announced election laws. There are few experienced Burma watchers who hold out much hope that the elections will do much to break the military junta’s grip on power or bring about a more hopeful situation for its people.One of the election laws requires that the National League for Democracy (NLD) expel its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, because she is serving a suspended sentence under house arrest.

      Even more distressing, UN special envoy Tomas Quintana, who visited Burma last month, told the UN Human Rights Council that the elections due this year could not be credible, because the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) had failed to remedy human rights abuses including the recruitment of child soldiers and the jailing of more than 2,000 prisoners of conscience.

      Mr Quintana has recommended a UN inquiry into whether war crimes and crimes against humanity are being committed there.

      It appears that as the election approaches increased tensions are developing between the government and a number of ethnic groups.

      An Associated Press report on Friday quoted the general secretary of the Karen National Union (KNU), Zipporah Sein, as saying at a news conference in Bangkok that the ”risk of armed conflict between powerful ethnic minority groups and the military regime is at its highest level in more than two decades as contentious national elections loom on the horizon”. The KNU’s military wing, the Karen National Liberation Army, is Burma’s largest ethnic army, and has for some time engaged in fighting against Burmese troops, which it says is strictly to protect Karen civilians. Independent reports from human rights organisations and the UN confirm that the Burmese army is attacking and deliberately targeting civilians.

      There are reports that other armed ethnic groups like the Kachin Independence Army and groups which have signed ceasefire agreements with the government, such as the Wa State Army and the New Mon State Party, are also preparing for a possible war.

      In these areas the rising tensions are due in large part to a government plan to transform the armed ceasefire groups into a Border Guard Force under its control.

      While in more normal circumstances this may be a good idea, the history of mistrust between the government and most of these groups probably makes this an impossibility under such short notice.

      Zipporah Sein, the first woman leader of the KNU, has said: ”The military is sending troops to the areas of the ceasefire groups and they are ready to fight if attacked. So the tension is rising between them.”

      Individually, many influential people within the region, including some government leaders, have spoken out against the situation in Burma in the run-up to the election, but Asean has officially remained silent.

      Failure to articulate a principled stand on the Burmese government’s flagrant disregard for accepted international election standards of inclusiveness and transparency, and even more importantly, on the many apparent human rights violations, could seriously hurt Asean’s credibility in the international community. Moreover, such a failure amounts to a refusal to make the attempt to restrain the SPDC from one of the few quarters which may have real influence on the Burmese leadership.

      This applies also to China, which continually blocks efforts in the UN Security Council to put pressure on Burma. Most recently this was done when British Prime Minister Gordon Brown requested an emergency meeting to discuss the Burmese electoral laws. Also last week, China’s representative to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva said there has been an improvement in Burma’s human rights performance despite recent statements like the one coming from Mr Quintana.

      It is important for Asean and China to realise that any short-term gains from placating Burma may be far outweighed by the consequences of allowing the SPDC to continue in its present course.



      Burma’s long, hard road to democracy – Achara Ashayagachat
      Bangkok Post: Mon 22 Mar 2010

      Burma might need three or four more elections before it could have a working democracy, but it has to start with the first election, according to leading dissidents.But many activists remained unconvinced, saying the general election is intended only to whitewash the entrenched military rule.

      Harn Yawnghwe, executive director of Brussels-based Euro-Burma Office, said there was nothing much the outsiders could do – Asean and China strictly hold on to the non-interference principle while the US seemed to be obsessed with Afghanistan, Iran and other concerns.

      But it did not mean that these countries were not involved.

      “Asean will eventually accept the election, no matter what the results will be, hopefully not blatantly,” said Mr Harn, of Shan ethnic, at Chulalongkorn University’s public forum Monday on “Myanmar/Burma – Domestic Developments and International Responses.”

      Inside Burma, there also seemed to be very limited options, “Certainly, the military will not allow people a lot of chances and they will not bring about democracy, but people inside the country needed to maximize the chance of having its first election in two decades,” said the senior Shan dissident.

      The election law has already stipulated that if political parties or politicians boycott this election, the running candidate would automatically win, no matter what.

      “The ethnic groups have to participate in this election, and they are doing so. Burma might need a few more elections before we could see some working democracy,” Mr Harn said.

      Aung Naing Oo, a Burmese student leader during the 1980s, said the general election would open room for newcomers, unknown faces of various minorities in political scenes, and these candidates, although most of them had military backgrounds, should not be considered in a negative light.

      “Inside the limited narrow choice of work, many ethnic people inevitably join the military. But these people are not necessarily evil. They are not stupid but well-educated—so they should be better than the blatant military SPDC,” said Mr Naing Oo, who advocated engagement with the Burmese junta.

      He told a strong audience this morning that election would lead to long term prospect for bottom-up democracy, “This is a step that you must take, there’s no other way. We might need another 3-4 elections before we can see some positive light,” said the Chiang Mai-based analyst.
      However, Khin Omar, coordinator of Burma Partnership, said the people inside Burma needed a really inclusive, transparent process that respects the rights of all peoples of Burma, not the current restricted environment.

      “The key mechanism through which the junta has guaranteed its continued grip on power is the 2008 constitution that cements their authority in the three branches of government,” said Ms Omar.

      While new regional an

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