[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 12/2/08
- Critics, public remain sceptical
- Calling for the people of Burma and the Ethnic Cease-fire groups to reject the Military-sponsored constitution
- The Saffron Revolution; a catalyst for freedom
- Burmese exile leader calls for referendum boycott
- Burmese military start gold mining operations in upper Putao
- Dissidents line up to fight Myanmar constitution
- Censor board warns journalists
- Myanmar NUP party welcomes referendum, election time table announcement
- USDA to organize referendum, election
- Gaps in Myanmar's democratic timetable
- Suu Kyi freedom vow
- Groups that led Myanmar's pro-democracy protests denounce Junta's polling plans
- Proposed roadmap to democracy will rubber-stamp regime authority
- Ban Ki-Moon renews call for inclusive constitution-making process in Myanmar
Critics, public remain sceptical
ACHARA ASHAYAGACHATand AP
Burma's surprise announcement that it will hold a vote on a new constitution this May and a general election in 2010 drew little enthusiasm yesterday from the regime's critics and the public.
The official announcements late on Saturday of the referendum and the election were the first moves by the government to set dates for stages of its so-called road map to democracy.
"The time has now come to change from military rule to democratic civilian rule," according to the announcement for the 2010 polls, broadcast on state TV and radio.
However, critics claim the long-delayed road map is designed to perpetuate military rule, not promote democracy.
The last election in Burma took place in 1990, but the military refused to hand over power to the winning party - the National League for Democracy (NLD) of detained Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been in prison or under house arrest for more than 12 of the past 18 years.
"This is certainly a step forward, but it is long overdue and is in itself insufficient to mollify either Burmese opponents of the military regime or the international community," said Trevor Wilson, a Burma expert at the Australian National University in Canberra.
The international community increased pressure on the junta to hasten political reform after it violently quashed peaceful mass protests last September, killing at least 31 people, according to a UN estimate. Thousands of people were detained.
Mrs Suu Kyi and other independent political leaders have not been consulted on the constitution or the election process. Her party reacted cautiously, noting the lack of detail on how the referendum would be carried out.
"The announcement is vague, incomplete and strange," NLD party spokesman Nyan Win said on Saturday night.
"Even before knowing the results of the referendum, the government has already announced that elections will be held in 2010," he said, implying the government was certain the draft constitution would be approved.
David Thaw, a spokesman for the Karen National Union (KNU), an ethnic rebel group based near the Thai border, said a May referendum would be too rushed, giving people little time to study the constitution.
In fact, he said, there was not much to cheer about the announcement.
"But people still have to live with it even if they don't like it," he said.
"The NLD has also called for reconciliation but there are still worries that there will be protests and the transition will not be smooth."
He wondered how rebel groups which have cease-fires with the junta - like the Kachin Independence Organisation, the New Mon State Party and the United Wa State Army - would respond to the constitution.
If they agree with the constitution they could transform themselves into political parties and contest the planned election, he said. However, he said, since these groups have called for some amendments to the proposed constitution, if their demands are not met it is unlikely they will endorse it.
Aung Naing Oo, a Chiang Mai-based political commentator, said the announcement meant the dialogue between Aung San Suu Kyi and the ruling State Peace and Development Council was dead and the junta has chosen to go its own way and continue with the road map. The announcements about the referendum and the election would only heighten political conflicts since people were barred from attending rallies, he said. Therefore, people would not be educated about the good and bad aspects of the constitution.
Aung Naing Oo predicted that Burma would fall into a state of great uncertainty, saying it remains to be seen if the people would boycott the process or confront the military directly.
Calling for the people of Burma and the Ethnic Cease-fire groups to reject the Military-sponsored constitution, designed to legalize the military dictatorship in Burma, in the upcoming referendum
The 88 Generation Students: Mon 11 Feb 2008
Calling for the UN Security Council to Intervene in Burma Immediately with an Effective Resolution
Ban Ki-moon's Visit to Burma Suggested, Targeted Financial and Banking Sanctions against Burmese Generals, Family Members and Crony Businessmen Required, Chinese Government's Pressure Requested
"Prepare for the worst", said Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, through her party leaders recently, as she was unhappy with the lack of political will of the Burmese military junta to engage in a meaningful and time-bound dialogue with democracy forces, requested by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, her party National League for Democracy (NLD) and ethnic representatives, and supported by the international community, including the UN General Assembly with its successive resolutions and the UN Security Council with its Presidential Statement dated 11 October 2007 . We have given her message serious consideration; she used the famous quote of her father, our independence hero U Aung San, who had warned the people of Burma to be ready to face the challenges before he left for London to demand an independence from the British in late 1940s.
On 9 February 2008, the military regime announced that it will hold a constitutional referendum in May this year and a general election in 2010. The military regime is once again trying to abolish the 1990 elections results and the election winning party status held by the NLD. The regime is attempting to legalize the military dictatorship with a sham-constitution. We believe that the military regime will use its security forces and its militias, USDA and Swan Arr Shin, to force the people to vote for its constitution and will also use any means possible, including force, to make its constitution approved in the referendum.
This is the declaration of war by the military regime against the people of Burma, who want to uphold the 1990 elections results and honor the will of the people. The upcoming constitutional referendum will be a major battle field between the military regime, who wants to rule the country forever, and the people of Burma, who want to be free from the military rule. We are ready to stand up to intimidation. We are ready to confront the Burmese military junta and its violence and brutality.
- We urge the people of Burma to reject the military junta's sponsored
constitution in the upcoming referendum. With rejection of its constitution,
we should tell the military junta to stop taking one-sided action and start
talking with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, election winning party NLD, MPs-elect from
the 1990 general elections and ethnic representatives.
- We also urge al ethnic political parties and organizations to oppose the
military-sponsored constitution, which does not meet the expectations of the
ethnic nationalities, who have been working for the equal rights and
opportunities among all ethnic nationalities.
- We also urge the UN Security Council to intervene in Burma effectively
without further delay, with a binding resolution, which will instruct the
Burmese military junta to engage in a meaningful and time-bound dialogue with
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, election winning party NLD and ethnic representatives
immediately, with intention to reach a negotiated political settlement.
Measures such as an arms embargo and travel ban against the Burmese military
leaders will be necessary to make the resolution stronger.
- We also urge the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to visit Burma as soon
as possible. He needs to meet with Gen. Than Shwe. The Secretary General
stated "the return to the status quo ante is not acceptable and politically
unsustainable" , he needs to deliver this message to the military regime in
Burma in person.
- We also urge the United States, Canada, Australia and European Union to
impose and extend targeted financial and banking sanctions against Burmese
military leaders, their family members and crony businesspersons effectively,
widely and in a coordinated manner.
- Finally, we urge the Government of China to play a more active role in pressuring the Burmese military junta to cooperate fully with democracy forces led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the United Nations, by terminating its one-sided action and starting to engage in a meaningful and time-bound dialogue with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, NLD and ethnic representatives. We hope that the Chinese Government will include the people of Burma in their "One World, One Dream", which is their proud slogan of the 2008 Beijing Olympic.
Tun Myint Aung
The 88 Generation Students
Yangon (Rangoon), Myanmar (Burma)
Announcement 2/2008 (88)
Date: 11 February 2008
The Saffron Revolution; a catalyst for freedom - May Ng
Mizzima News: Mon 11 Feb 2008
Ne Win, who was trained in fascism in WWII, warned in 1988 that 'when the army shoots it shoots to hit' those who dare to protest. And thousands of young protesters were killed in military firing during the 1988 uprising.
And again during the Saffron Revolution last September, Burmese soldiers shot and killed unarmed citizens including monks.
Mary P.Callahan, an expert on Myanmar military, wrote that, "after independence from Britain, the World War II practices of politics in Burma have made 'violence' 'the currency of power.'
Burma's post colonial operational failure, that included army mutiny, ethnic rebellion, communist insurgency, warlordism, and economic chaos, paved the way for the Myanmar Tatmadaw (Burmese army) which was modeled after the 1950s Yugoslav and Israeli armies. Callahan said that the Myanmar Tatmadaw came to use 'violence' 'the once despised coercive tools of colonials' not only to pacify but also to mould citizens into dependable defenders of the army state.
In 1956, the Directorate of Psychological Warfare presented the first draft of what became "the official ideology" of the post-1962 socialist government and the present day military regime.
Entitled "Some Reflections on Our Constitution," the paper recommended the review of constitutional flaws and adoption of a draconian "Anti-Subversion Ordinance," to give the government the tools necessary to crack down on its opponents, and allows any and all critics of the government and army to be treated as enemies of the state.
In September 1958 the army's Directorate of Education and Psychological Warfare circulated a critique of the fundamental tenets of the Union's Constitution. And by 1958 the Constitution was no longer sacred. With this, the Burmese Tatmadaw has created a choke hold on political power unrivaled in the world. And in this solution, citizens became barriers to the army's consolidation of political power and national sovereignty, concluded Mary Callahan.
An onerous British law, the Public Order Preservation Act, Section Five, was also resurrected to arrest as many as four hundred government critics, including Aung San's brother, U Aung Than. During 1958, the Press Registration Act of 1876 was amended and the 'Psywar' Directorate shut down five or six newspapers and imprisoned numerous editors, publishers. Today, the same scene is eerily repeated again in Burma.
Now, after over 45 years of army rule Burmese political power remains in the hands of 'the specialists in violence,' including members of the Tatmadaw, antigovernment armed forces, criminal gangs and paramilitaries, wrote Callahan.
And she continued that even "more menacing than the records of murderous militaries in Argentina, Chile, Guatemala, Indonesia, and the Philippines, is the comparative 'durability' of the Tatmadaw's command relationship with its society."
Since the 1962 military coup, the Tatmadaw came to dominate all levels of government, civil administration and commerce in Burma. The Defense Services Institute, DSI, was established in 1951 with the military officers in all key positions and began to run the most powerful business organization in the nation. By 1960, it included banks, shipping lines and the largest import-export operation in the country.
Again, in 1990, the military junta established the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited, or UMEH, which has grown into the largest indigenous firm, jointly owned by the government and retired and active duty defense services personnel. UMEH and a second military firm, the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC), hold interests in banking, gems, tourism, trade, real estate, transportation, power, iron and steel factories, and foodstuffs.
After the 1988 uprising China became a major economic and military supporter for the army junta. According to a Burma expert, Andrew Selth, one school of thought believes that small poverty stricken Burma will inevitably succumb to the pressures of its much larger neighbour, and effectively become a pawn in China's bid to achieve world power status.
It is also believed that China's position on the UN Security Council is seen by the Rangoon regime as an ultimate guarantee against action by the UN.
But Selth said that Burma has always been suspicious of China, and it may not be Beijing but the Myanmar generals that have the whip hand. Neither China nor anyone else can predict or manage the behaviour of the Myanmar generals. In addition, violence and coercion as a universal solution to all challenges to power has been encoded into the mind and the manual of Myanmar Tatmadaw long before.
In this approach, a massive military machine is believed to be necessary in Burma to protect foreign investments especially the planned gas pipelines into China, and also to encourage economic growth in Burma. Accordingly, China and Tatmadaw army both consider Burma's internal stability as vital to the survival of Burma's independence and the Myanmar military's sovereignty.
The Central Statistical Organization of Myanmar Economic Ministry reported that Burma's foreign direct investment totaled more than $750 million during the fiscal year that ended March 31, 2007. Out of which China, South Korea, Russia, Singapore and Britain invested in projects worth $752.7 million, mainly in the oil and gas sector.
While the monks and nuns are still in prisons and labour camps, businesses from China, India, ASEAN countries and the west are already lobbying for return to 'business as usual' with the military; often citing the half hearted western sanctions as failures. The NY Times recently commented that, only in a short time after the Saffron Revolution many countries appear to have lost enthusiasm for challenging the junta, either because they are more eager for contracts with Myanmar involving resources like oil and gems, or they fear creating instability in the region. It also said that China, India and the Southeast Asian nations are key, but Europe and America also have commercial interests there.
After some modest growth in the mid 1990s, Burma once again faces serious economic problems. The early onrush of foreign investment in tourism and small manufacturing industries has practically dried up as a result of poor economic management by the regime and the Asian financial crisis in 1997. Corruption has reached unprecedented levels and according to the Transparency International's 2007 Index, Myanmar ranks the lowest score of 1.4 out of 10, along with Somalia. And the world's energy crisis will worsen the economic burden of the poor and it will continue to threaten Burma with the possibility of another major uprising.
The decline of the Tatmadaw is also visible inside the army. Jane's Defense Weekly reported in 2007, that the Myanmar army battalions are poorly managed, resourced, and plagued by desertion, and suffer from false reporting, haphazard inspections, and poor record keeping; and that morale among enlisted ranks is low. High desertion rates and illness such as HIV or Hepatitis B too is taking their toll.
All of these factors have translated into erosion of discipline and lessening of personal commitment to the Tatmadaw's professionalism. To address these problems the regime has further isolated the armed forces from the rest of the population by creating a state within a state where the members of the Tatmadaw, their relatives and supporters became a privileged caste within the Burmese society. But this also increases the possibility of armed opposition from the alienated population while the dissatisfaction and active dissent within the army still remains.
According to Callahan, Myanmar armed forces are not the omnipotent, fully unified organization that contemporary political debate implies; and that the weaknesses probably account for the regime's unyielding behaviour, as much. But breaking the political deadlock between the opposition and the SPDC will only be the first tiny step in the direction of demilitarizing this polity. And Callahan warned that the removal of the handful of top generals and colonels from the government, and their replacement with elected officials, will not transform overnight the century old command relationship between state and society.
While policy disagreements and personal differences clearly exist in the highest circles of the Tatmadaw and favors are doubtless dispensed with some return in mind, according to Andrew Selth, the generals are unlikely to do anything to seriously threaten armed forces unity. The October 2007 Janes's Intelligence concluded that an emerging younger generation of military officers assuming control in the medium term will likely follow the same policies that have preserved the Myanmar Tatmadaw's sovereignty.
But since last September, anti-junta sentiment inside Burma and around the world has reached a new high especially because of the lawlessness of Myanmar Army, inside Burma. In January, the International Burmese Monks Organization declared that the horrifying crimes committed against the monks in particular have laid bare the false piety of the junta and the atrocities will have far reaching consequences.
Aung San Suu Kyi has recently warned that, Burma will now have to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best. In this climate, extreme violence may become the last and only resort left with which to resist the government's aggression. There has already been an incidence where a ruthless local official was beheaded and his head was mounted on a bamboo pole as warning to other cruel agents of the junta. If the majority of the people begin to take on a "do or die" attitude and start a violent revolt, not only the ruling dictators but also the entire military machinery will crumble and the future of Myanmar military will no longer be assured.
As long as Aung San Suu Kyi and the 1990 elected representatives are continued to be persecuted, the announcement of the 2010 elections will not help lessen the people's anger. In the aftermath of bloody Saffron Revolution, the generals may have lost the last opportunity to address their lack of legitimacy. Unlike Cuba, North Korea and Iran, the Myanmar regime did not come into power with a popular support from the people; and the crisis of legitimacy will continue to haunt the military junta.
Historian Niall Ferguson wrote in "Empire" that; the moral transformation that turned Britain from the world leading enslaver to the world leading emancipator of the African slaves began in a holy Trinity Church in England, with activists armed only with pens, paper and moral indignation. And at the end, the abominable slave trade was abolished in spite of the fierce oppositions from powerful vested interests.
Niall pointed out that "like all such great changes it had small beginnings."
The breathtaking Saffron Revolution of 2007 has united many Burmese people. If a small beginning can change three hundred years old slavery in the face of powerful interests, the monks' spectacular September uprising may yet be the most important 'catalyst for change' that has come to Burma.
(May Ng is from the Southern Shan State of Burma and the NY Regional Director for Justice for Human Rights in Burma. )
Burmese exile leader calls for referendum boycott - Lalit K Jha
Irrawaddy: Mon 11 Feb 2008
The leader of Burma's US-based government in exile has called for a boycott of the junta-announced referendum on a draft constitution and of elections planned for 2010.
Sein Win, prime minister of the National Coalition Government of Union of Burma (NCGUB), told The Irrawaddy neither a referendum nor an election would solve Burma's problems and would only legitimize authoritarian military rule.
Sein Win said the announcement of a referendum, to be followed by an election in 2010, could not be accepted while opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi remained under house arrest. The regime hadn't even started talks with opposition leaders and ethnic groups, he said.
By unilaterally announcing the planned referendum and election, Sein Win said, the junta had sent a message that it was moving ahead with its seven point road map. "This means that they do not want to take the opposition into confidence, and they are totally ignoring the 1990 elections. As such we are not confident of the next election," he said.
The Washington-based NCGUB was constituted and endorsed by representatives elected in the 1990 elections in Burma. Sein Win, a cousin of Suu Kyi, has led it since 1990.
Sein Win said the NCGUB also opposed the regime's plan for a referendum and election "because of the present situation when there is no freedom of media, and no rule of law. Under these circumstances, people should not take part in any of those processes."
The regime should hold talks with Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy, and with ethnic leaders, Sein Win said. Then, he added, "we will have our solution."
Sein Win said it was also time for the UN Security Council to give a stronger mandate to the UN Secretary-General's Office and the UN Envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, allowing them to play an effective mediatory role in bringing about an equitable solution to the political deadlock in Burma.
Some observers have speculated that Saturday's announcement may have been the result of pressure from China, concerned about a small but vocal movement to boycott the Beijing Olympics in August.
In a broadcast interview at the weekend, US first lady Laura Bush said China had not brought enough pressure to bear on the Burmese junta.
"They [China] have not pressed them enough tofor the regime to show any sort of movement," Bush told PBS.
"And, of course, they have continued to support Burma financially by buying natural resources," said Bush, who has taken a personal interest in the pro-democracy movement in Burma, especially since the September demonstrations.
Burmese military start gold mining operations in upper Putao
Kachin News Group: Mon 11 Feb 2008
Led by Putao based Burma's ruling junta's military strategic command commander Col. Khaing Soe, businessmen from the Lisu tribe have started gold mining operations in Naw Mung (Nomong), where the Rawang tribe mostly live. It is located in the upper reaches of Putao in Kachin State, northern Burma.
"There were no gold mining operations in Naw Mung area before. It was restricted to Putao and now it has come to our area. The commander Col. Khaing Soe is doing this without the knowledge of the Burmese military junta Northern Commander Maj-Gen Ohn Myint", said a resident in Naw Mung.
The gold mining operations were started in Kasang Hka (Kasang River), which is between Gumleng village and Kasang Dam village, five miles from Naw Mung. For the gold mining operations, the commander has sold six machine boats to the Lisu businessmen costing Kyats 150,000 (about US $ 122) per boat, the resident added.
The residents of Naw Mung are now worried about their environment because of the gold mining. There are 60 households in Gumleng village and 30 households in Kasang Dam village.
According to a local people, the Putao military strategic command commander Col. Khaing Soe has started gold mining operations in upper parts of Putao after he operated in the areas around Machyangbaw town.
The Putao District Forestry Department had done business by taking cane from the upper reaches of Naw Mung for two years. Later when the Northern Commander Ohn Myint found out it was closed.
In 2007, the Kachin Development Networking Group (KDNG) in a report "Valley of Darkness" said that after the ceasefire in 1994 between the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and the junta, gold mining sites increased to 31 in 2006 in Hugawng Valley.
On the other hand, there are gold mining operations in the area of the Mali-Nmai Hka confluence (Mayli Kha-May Kha Rivers), Myitsone, around the Danai (Tanai) Township and others areas as well in Kachin State, northern Burma.
Dissidents line up to fight Myanmar constitution - Ed Cropley
Reuters: Mon 11 Feb 2008
A referendum on an army-made constitution in Myanmar will be a "major battlefield" between the junta and a people wanting to be rid of military rule, the country's biggest dissident group said on Monday.
In a statement given to Reuters in the Myanmar-Thai border town of Mae Sot, the "88 Generation Students" named after a brutally suppressed 1988 uprising called on the former Burma's 53 million people to reject the charter in the May vote.
"The regime is attempting to legalize the military dictatorship with a sham constitution," said the group, whose leaders were jailed in last year's protests.
"This is a declaration of war by the military regime against the people of Burma."
The army, which has run Myanmar under various guises since 1962, announced the referendum on Saturday, saying it would be followed by "multi-party, democratic elections" two years later.
The elections would be the first since 1990, when opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won a huge landslide only to see the generals ignore the result. Suu Kyi has spent most of the interim under house arrest.
The NLD has called the junta's proposal part of a seven-step "roadmap to democracy" unveiled in 2003 "erratic" and highlighted the irony of announcing an election even before the result of the referendum.
Bo Kyi, a former political prisoner now living in Thailand, said that having been denied any chance of contributing to its creation, the NLD would be forced to reject a charter that appears to yield little ground to civilian rule.
Although not yet completed let alone published snippets in state-controlled media suggest the army commander-in-chief will be the most powerful figure in the country, able to appoint key ministers and assume power "in times of emergency".
Bo Kyi said the 88 Generation and, in all probability, the NLD would campaign for a no vote to tell the generals they could not get away with introducing reform on their terms only, to the exclusion of all other points of view.
"The main thing we want is to work together to solve the problems. We need dialogue. We want dialogue," he said. "We can conduct a campaign very easily. People who want change will help us."
UNDERGROUND "NO" CAMPAIGN
The timing of the announcement is particularly ironic given the generals' unrelenting crackdown on dissent in the wake of September's monk-led pro-democracy demonstrations which evolved from small protests against massive fuel price increases.
"If they are truly committed to democratic change, then they should create a democratic environment allow freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and freedom for all political prisoners," Bo Kyi said.
Given the constraints of campaigning in one of the world's most repressive states, most of the work will be done by word of mouth, distribution of leaflets and CDs, and dissident radio and television, he added.
According to the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners (Burma), nearly 700 people are still in detention as a result of the crackdown, in which the United Nations says at least 31 people were killed.
The whereabouts of around 300 prisoners are known, Bo Kyi said, but the others have simply disappeared into the Myanmar gulag. Rumors abound of internment camps on remote tropical islands in the Andaman Sea or the swamps of the Irrawaddy delta.
"If they are in prison, at least we know where they are. If they are in a secret place, they could be being tortured or even killed," Bo Kyi said.
(Editing by Michael Battye and Alex Richardson)
Censor board warns journalists - Nem Davies
Mizzima News: Mon 11 Feb 2008
The Press Scrutiny Board has called periodical and journal editors to their offices and warned them not to post uncensored articles and news on their websites.
The Director General of the Press Scrutiny Board, Major Tin Swe, separately called editors and publishers of 15 periodicals including Tharaphu (Crown) Magazine, Flowers Journal, Seven Days, Weekly Eleven, Fashion Image and People Magazine to their offices last week and cautioned them not to print uncensored material.
"The Censor Board warned us not to post uncensored articles and news on our websites, saying they would take action against those who violated the rules and this warning," a Rangoon-based reporter told Mizzima.
The directive and warning targets uncensored news, photos and forums posted on some journal and magazine websites, he added.
"There must be something behind this warning and directive. I think they gave us this warning because some blogs and bloggers are giving them some problems. We don't need to worry about this warning as we are posting only censored and authorized articles, photos and news on our website," an editor of a weekly journal told Mizzima.
The Press Scrutiny Board falls under the jurisdiction of Burma's Ministry of Information.
Myanmar NUP party welcomes referendum, election time table announcement
Xinhua: Mon 11 Feb 2008
The National Unity Party (NUP), one of the 10 main political parties in Myanmar, on Monday welcomed the government's announcements on the time tables of a nationwide referendum on a new constitution and a multi-party democracy general election.
U Khin Maung Kyi, Joint General-Secretary of the NUP, told the press on Monday that the party had participated in the national convention to work out the detailed basic principles for drafting the new constitution.
He said his party would support the democratic process and help have the new constitution adopted through the forthcoming referendum.
Maung Kyi also urged the people and all forces in the country to make the process a success.
The ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) made two announcements last Saturday, setting May this year as the time to hold a national referendum on the new constitution draft and the year 2010 for a multi-party democracy general election to "transform the administration of Tatmadaw (military) into democratic administration of the people".
The new constitution is being drafted by a government-formed 54-member State Constitution Drafting Commission since Dec. 3 last year, three months after the conclusion of years-long national convention to work out detailed basic principles for the new constitution.
According to the government's roadmap announced in August 2003,the new constitution draft is to be endorsed through a national referendum, then a general election will follow to produce parliament representatives and form a new democratic government.
The NUP, previously the Burma Socialist Program Party, won 3 million of votes and 12 parliamentary seats in the 1990 general election. The NUP has a total of over 300 party branches and more than 2 million members, according to the party sources.
USDA to organize referendum, election Wai Moe
Irrawaddy: Mon 11 Feb 2008
The Union Solitary and Development Association (USDA) will organize the Burmese referendum on the constitution in May and the 2010 general election, including the selection of some candidates across the country, say USDA sources.
Sources close to the USDA told The Irrawaddy on Monday that USDA members at the township and district levels will form local commissions to oversee the referendum voting and general election process.
The USDA will also recruit respected local people to serve on the referendum and election commissions, said a source who requested anonymity.
Later, the USDA will play a role in the selection of what appears to be state-backed candidates in the general election, he said.
"Some people will be selected to serve as commissioners," said one USDA member. "Some will be selected to be candidates in the 2010 election."
"The association is now looking for well-educated, respected, wealthy people to be candidates in the election," he said.
According to Khin Maung Gyi, the secretary general of the National Unity Party (NUP), the pro-junta USDA will transform itself into a political party in time to contest the 2010 elections.
The NUP secretary general told DPA news agency that he believed the 2010 elections would be free and fair, and could lead to an amnesty and the release of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Sources said most USDA members were surprised when the junta announced on Saturday that general dates had been set for the referendum on the junta-backed constitution and general election.
Htay Aung, a Burmese researcher in Thailand, said the regime originally created the USDA to serve eventually as a junta-backed political party. In addition, he said, the USDA has been a source for junta-backed thugs who were used most recently to suppress the pro-democracy uprising in 2007.
"The military junta will use the USDA as a political tool during the referendum and the election," said Htay Aung. "In November 2005, U Htay Oo, the secretary-general of the USDA, publicly said that if it is necessary, the association will be turned into a political party."
Senior USDA members recently met with grassroots members, in what may have been preparations for the referendum and election, said the researcher.
According to official documents, the USDA, formed in 1993, has 24 million members or almost half of the population of Burma.
"The military regime is confident it can win the referendum and election," said Htay Aung. "The regime thinks votes by USDA members alone can keep the generals in power."
According to The New Light of Myanmar, a state-run newspaper, the USDA's Htay Oo and Brig-Gen Kyaw Swe, the commander of the armed forces' southwest command, recently met with local members in Bassein as well as in Ngapudaw and Labutta in Irrawaddy Division.
Htay Oo also attended a USDA meeting on youth affairs in Naypyidaw on February 10.
In what is seen as a privileged perk for USDA members, the authorities recently gave the green light for state-approved cell phone licenses to be purchased by USDA members. The USDA also has been active in local state water supply projects and the registration process for identity cards across the country, work that is seen as enhancing its grassroots image.
USDA members held 633 seats, or 58 percent, at the National Convention which was convened in 1993 to prepare guidelines for the new constitution. The guidelines were finally approved in 2007.
Opposition group observers say that most USDA members are civil servants who were recruited by harassment and intimidation. It also includes teachers, students, business people and political activists.
Many Burmese view the USDA as principally an instrument of the regime that carries out violent acts against opposition activists and civilians. The group has paramilitary members who perform surveillance and search for dissidents in hiding.
USDA members played a key role in the bloody crackdowns during the 2007 uprising and in a deadly attack on Aung San Suu Kyi's motorcade in 2003, in which about 100 people were killed.
Gaps in Myanmar's democratic timetable - Larry Jagan
Asia Times: Mon 11 Feb 2008
Myanmar's top general Than Shwe has finally revealed his closely guarded plans for the country's political future: institutionalize military rule through a sham constitution and manipulated democratic elections.
The strategy was presented publicly over the weekend when Myanmar's military rulers announced plans to hold democratic elections in 2010 after holding a national referendum on a new constitution this May. The referendum represents the fourth step in the ruling junta's seven-step "roadmap to democracy", which was first broached in 2003.
"We have achieved success in economic, social and other sectors and in restoring peace and stability," a top leader in the junta, Secretary 1 Lieutenant-General Tin Aung Myint Oo, announced on the state-run radio and television. "So it is now suitable to change the military administration to a democratic, civil administrative system, as good fundamentals have been established," he said.
Than Shwe obviously feels the time is now right to move towards a form of civilian rule in order to appease international pressure and prevent further unrest within the country. Previously the military regime used its so-called "roadmap to democracy" as a delaying tactic when they came under international pressure to introduce political reforms.
"It seems that General Than Shwe has changed his mind and is no longer using the seven-point road map to buy time, but instead it is now central to his efforts to overcome both internal and international pressures," according to the Chiang Mai-based academic Win Min.
"Internally the generals may be worried about further mass unrest, and are using the promise of elections to cool people down and encourage them not to do demonstrate, but to wait and see," he said. "The junta promised elections after crackdown on the 8-8-88 mass movement for the same reason."
Than Shwe, keen to maintain his influence despite his failing health, has strategically killed several birds with one stone.
Within the military, he has clearly indicated to his number two, General Maung Aye, that he cannot hope to replace him as the country's absolute ruler. He has also effectively killed the United Nation's mediation role - as there is nothing left for the envoy Ibrahim Gambari to discuss. And his message to the detained opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, is that there are no viable options for her but to endorse the roadmap.
The move will please Myanmar's Asian allies - especially China, India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) - by coming up with a hard and fast timetable for political change. The junta first broached its "roadmap to democracy" over four years ago, but this weekend's announcement represents the first time that a timetable has been set.
"Than Shwe has been constantly considering all his options and examining all the possible scenarios in order to have a strategic plan which will ensure he retains power and protects his family's interests in the long-run," said a senior source in the new capital Naypitdaw who is close to the military leader. "For sometime the roadmap was a back-up strategy, but after the crackdown on the protests last year, it became the main option to keep political control."
The planned constitution, which critics have branded as a sham and unrepresentative of the country's pro-democracy constituency, is expected to be revealed in the next few weeks. More than a thousand military appointed delegates spent over 14 years in a National Convention process drawing up guidelines for the constitution.
Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party, which resoundingly won 1990 democratic elections which the junta annulled, was notably excluded from the constitution drafting process. "Without the participation of Aung Sann Suu Kyi, the NLD and the ethnic groups, the constitution is not credible and people will not accept it," said Zin Linn, a spokesman for Myanmar's government-in-exile made up of MPs elected in the 1990 elections.
Towards military democracy
So far little is known about the actual contents of the new constitution - except that it will essentially preserve military rule under the guise of a civilian government. Under the guidelines for the new charter drawn up by the National Convention, a quarter of the seats in the proposed parliament will be reserved for military appointees.
The president will come from the military, while key ministries, including defense, will be directly controlled by the military. The army would be allowed to set its own budget, without reference to the civilian government, and the army commanders would retain the right to declare a state of emergency and seize political power at any time for ill-defined reasons of national security.
"The junta's plans are for a nominal democracy, or as the military prefer to call it, 'disciplined democracy'," said the independent Burmese analyst Aung Naing Oo.
Moreover, few, if any, Western diplomats or political analysts believe that the referendum on the new constitution will be a free and fair process.
"Unless the regime revokes the regulation 5/96 [which prohibits criticism of the National Convention or the constitution with a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted], there can be no free debate about the constitution," an opposition leader inside Myanmar told Asia Times Online on condition of anonymity.
Rather than a secret ballot, analysts believe that the new constitution's ratification is likely to be accomplished through a series of mass meetings across the country overseen and controlled by the pro-military mass organization the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), which is run by Than Shwe's closest allies.
Ever since the National Convention first started discussing the guidelines for the new constitution in 1993, several senior government officials have hinted that USDA rallies would form the basis of the referendum process. In 1994, millions of Burmese citizens reportedly attended USDA-led mass rallies across the country to publicly support the work of the National Convention. Most of those in attendance, however, were coerced or bribed by the regime, according to many diplomats based in Yangon at the time.
"It's almost certain to be either a process of affirmation through mass meetings or a re-run of the 1974 constitutional referendum, when voters had a choice of putting their ballots either into a black box for 'no' and a white box for 'yes' under the gaze of the soldiers guarding the polling stations," says Australian constitutional lawyer Janelle Saffin.
What is even more certain is that international election monitors will not be allowed to scrutinize the referendum or the elections. Myanmar's charismatic opposition leader Suu Kyi - who has spent more than 12 of the past 18 years in detention - will constitutionally not be allowed to stand for election because she was married to the British academic Michael Aris and thereby considered a foreigner.
Although Than Shwe has previously told UN envoy Gambari that the NLD would be allowed to stand in the general elections, many analysts believe all the existing political parties, including the NLD, will be either barred or severely hobbled through official harassment. "The generals learned their lesson from the last elections in 1990; they will not repeat the same mistake twice and this time they have two years after the referendum to make sure the results meet their plans," Zin Linn said.
The junta's announcement notably comes at a time that the military regime is under growing international pressure to introduce political reform and involve Suu Kyi and the NLD in the process. The European Union and the United States have stepped up trade and investment sanctions against the junta after its brutal crackdown on mass anti-government demonstrations across the country last August and September.
Both the EU and the US have threatened even stiffer sanctions if there is no demonstrably progress towards political reform in the next few months. In the meantime UN special envoy to Myanmar Gambari has been trying in vain to return to the country to resume his mediation efforts between the opposition leader and the junta.
"The announcement may also mean the end of the Gambari process," said Win Min. "In effect Than Shwe is saying that there is no role now for the UN - the constitutional process has been laid out and will now take its course," he added.
It's still unclear if the junta's move was goaded on by China, which since last year has been quietly urging the regime to make concessions to the international community.
"Behind the scenes, China's leaders have pushed the regime to speed up the national reconciliation process," says one Yangon-based Asian diplomat. "China has been particularly worried that their support for [Myanmar] might adversely affect the Olympic Games in Beijing if the junta continued to defy calls for reform," he added.
International rights groups have called for a boycott of the Summer Olympics over Beijing's support for Myanmar's rights abusing regime. Yet while Chinese pressure may have been instrumental in the junta's decision to announce its new democratic time table, Than Shwe would not have moved unless he felt it was his best option to preserve his and his family's power and interests into the future.
"Without genuine dialogue between the key political actors - the military, the opposition and the ethnic groups - national reconciliation is an empty shell," said Myanmar analyst Aung Naing Oo. "The junta's announcement leaves the opposition groups no room in which to maneuver and so makes heightened tension inevitable," he said.
Larry Jagan previously covered Myanmar politics for the British Broadcasting Corp. He is currently a freelance journalist based in Bangkok.
Suu Kyi freedom vow
Deutsche Presse-Agentur via Bangkok Post: Mon 11 Feb 2008
Rangoon - Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is likely to be freed six months prior to a general election in 2010, a leader of the country's largest pro-government political party predicted Monday.
"The general election will be free and fair in 2010 and may lead to the release of Daw (Mrs) Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners under an amnesty," said National Unity Party secretary general Khin Maung Gyi.
Khin Maung Gyi told a press conference that the NUP, known for its close links with the military, expected Suu Kyi and other political prisoners to be released six months prior to the 2010 polls, but he forecast that her National League for Democracy (NLD) would not pull off another landslide as they did in 1990.
"The NLD won a landslide victory in the 1990 general elections but this will not happen again in 2010," he said.
The Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), a pro-military organisation with millions of members, will soon be turned into a political party to contest the 2010 polls, said Khin Maung Gyi.
On Saturday, Burma's ruling junta announced it will hold a referendum on a new constitution in May, to be followed by a general election in 2010.
The announcement was greeted with by scepticism the regime's many detractors, who see the move as a manoeuvre to deflect international pressure on the military to open a political dialogue with Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest since May, 2003.
The NLD won the 1990 general election with more than 80 per cent of the contested seats, compared with less than 10 per cent by the pro-military NUP.
Suu Kyi, the daughter of Burma independence hero Aung San, lost her right to contest an election for public office when she married British professor Michael Aris. Under Burma law, and the new draft of the constitution, she is ineligible, but the NLD party can do so.
The party was blocked from taking power by the military for the past 18 years, on the pretence that the country needed a new constitution before handing government over to civilians.
Burma will hold a referendum on the new constitution, drafted by a military-appointed convention to assure their dominant role in any future government, in May.
"The regime is attempting to legalise the military dictatorship with its sham constitution," said The 88 Generation Students, an anti-government group that has been behind recent protests, including the Buddhist monk-led demonstrations in September that ended in a brutal crackdown.
The 88 Generation Students group and other junta critics predict that the referendum will be rigged to assure a positive outcome, as it was in the country's last referendum of 1974 when the former constitution was approved.
Burma has been under military rule since 1962.
Some observers predict that the referendum will prove a flashpoint for more anti-government protests.
"The upcoming constitutional referendum will be a major battle field between the military regime, who wants to rule the country forever, and the people of Burma, who want to be free from military rule," said The 88 Generation Students in a statement.
Groups that led Myanmar's pro-democracy protests denounce Junta's polling plans
Associated Press: Mon 11 Feb 2008
Two of Myanmar's top dissident groups, one led by Buddhist monks, denounced on Monday the military government's plans for a constitutional referendum in May as an effort to perpetuate the junta's rule.
The All Burma Monks Alliance and the Generation 88 Students group, both major organizers of last year's big pro-democracy protests, said the government instead needed to hold reconciliation talks with the opposition party of detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and representatives of ethnic minority groups.
The student group described the government's plans as a «declaration of war by the military regime against the people of Burma,» using junta opponents' preferred name for the country. Last week, the government announced the May referendum and a general election in 2010. It was the first time it has set dates for specific steps in its so-called road map to democracy.
It said it was scheduling the general election because «the time has now come to change from military rule to democratic civilian rule. The move failed to win much applause from the international community, which questioned the junta's sincerity because its plans for democracy have so far failed to include Suu Kyi and other independent political voices.
We're frankly very skeptical. We're not persuaded that this is anything more than a cynical sham, said Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith.
Public reaction in Myanmar was generally lukewarm. Some felt it was a small step forward. I will vote for the constitution as it is better to have a constitution than not having any at all, said Tint Lwin, a 57-year-old university lecturer. Guidelines for a new constitution were adopted at a military-managed national convention last year and a government-appointed commission is now drafting the document. The guidelines would give the military a major role in politics.
Myanmar held its previous general election in 1990, but the military refused to hand over power to the winning party _ the National League for Democracy of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest or in prison for more than 12 of the past 18 years.
The international community increased pressure on the junta, officially called the State Peace and Development Council or SPDC, to hasten political reform after it violently quashed peaceful mass protests last September. The U.N. estimates the crackdown killed at least 31 people, and thousands more were detained.
We reject and denounce the SPDC announcements as they ignore the aspirations and wishes of the people and are an attempt to perpetuate the military dictatorship, said an e-mailed statement from the All Burma Monks Alliance. Most of Myanmar's 56 million people are devout Buddhists and monks are highly influential.
The Generation 88 Student group, most of whose leaders were arrested during and after last year's protests, accused the junta of «attempting to legalize the military dictatorship with a sham-constitution.
Its e-mailed statement said it believed the government would use any means possible, including force, to make its constitution approved in the referendum.
We are ready to stand up to intimidation. We are ready to confront the Burmese military junta and its violence and brutality, it said, urging people to vote against the constitution.
The group also asked the U.N. Security Council to pressure the junta for reforms, said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon should visit Myanmar as soon as possible and encouraged Western nations to increase financial sanctions targeting junta leaders, their families and associates. It also called for China, the junta's major ally, to apply pressure for reforms.
Proposed roadmap to democracy will rubber-stamp regime authority
Christian Solidarity Worldwide: Mon 11 Feb 2008
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has called the 'roadmap to democracy' announced by the Burmese military regime on Saturday a sham, which will serve only to 'rubber-stamp the authority of this brutal regime'.
The announcement was made on the evening news for state radio and television on Saturday 9 February 2008, and outlined plans to hold a referendum on the proposed constitution in May 2008 and a general election in 2010. This is the first timetable that has been outlined for a constitution and elections.
The draft constitution is being written by the National Convention, where the overwhelming majority of delegates are handpicked by the regime. None of the nine pro-democracy parties which took part in the 1990 elections and won 90 per cent of the parliamentary seats are included in the constitution drafting process. In addition no major representatives from the ethnic nationalities which make up 40 per cent of the population of Burma are included. Questioning or criticising the National Convention and communicating with the international media about the process are crimes under the regime's Order 5/96 and carry a 20-year jail sentence.
CSW is currently in the region on a fact-finding visit and has obtained fresh evidence of systematic and widespread human rights violations including forced labour, rape and torture. First-hand testimonies were obtained from Burmese monks who fled as a result of the September crackdown, Shan and Karen internally displaced people and refugees.
CSW's Chief Executive, Mervyn Thomas, said: "Far from being a positive development, this timetable will simply rubber-stamp the authority of this brutal regime. For there to be real change in Burma the regime must immediately release Aung San Suu Kyi and all the political prisoners, open all parts of the country to unhindered access for international humanitarian and human rights organisations and enter into meaningful tripartite dialogue with the National League for Democracy and ethnic nationalities. We call on the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki- Moon, to go in person to Burma to facilitate these steps as a matter of urgency. The world must not be conned by this sham."
For more information, please contact Penny Hollings, Campaigns and Media Manager at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on 020 8329 0045, email pennyhollings@... or visit www.csw.org.uk. CSW is a human rights organisation which specialises in religious freedom, works on behalf of those persecuted for their Christian beliefs and promotes religious liberty for all
Ban Ki-Moon renews call for inclusive constitution-making process in Myanmar
United Nations: Mon 11 Feb 2008
The announcement by the Myanmar Government that it plans to hold a constitutional referendum in May, and "multi-party democratic elections" by 2010, marks the first establishment of a timeframe for the implementation of its "political roadmap process."
In light of this announcement, the Secretary-General renews his call to the Myanmar authorities to make the constitution-making process inclusive, participatory and transparent in order to ensure that any draft constitution is broadly representative of the views of all the people of Myanmar.
In this regard, he believes it is now all the more important for the Myanmar leadership to engage without delay in a substantive and time-bound dialogue with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other relevant parties to the national reconciliation process.
The United Nations remains ready to continue to support this process with the cooperation of the parties concerned.
The Secretary-General believes this latest development also makes it essential that a visit to Myanmar by his Special Adviser, Ibrahim Gambari, be allowed to proceed without further delay.
Ibrahim Gambari is planning to be traveling to the region very soon. He is scheduled to visit Beijing 18-19 February, and intends to go from there to Jakarta and Singapore.
Asked about a request from the "Generation 88″ students that the Secretary-General visit Myanmar, the Spokeswoman said that the Secretary-General was aware of the group's statement, but added that no visit was planned at this point.