[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 29/4/08
- Saffron Revolution renewed
- Security tightened in Myanmar amid rumors of anti-government campaign
- Suu Kyi's party launches Vote 'No' tour
- Junta adopts dubious means to win support for constitution
- Officials vote "Yes" on behalf of civil servant
- Overseas Burmese protest Constitution
- UNSC deadlocked on Burma
- Junta control the only sure outcome in Burmese vote
- Junta offers eye treatment for free
- Junta monitors Buddhist monasteries
- Suu Kyi party says Myanmar junta trying to force 'Yes' vote
- Generals' stomachs full while government starves
- Ethnic tension and minority perspective on Burma's problems
- Junta twists campaign slogan in Chin state
- Junta issues ID cards to Chinese citizens
Saffron Revolution renewed - By Larry Jagan
Sporadic street protests erupted in several Burmese cities over the weekend, as people prepare to go to the polls in May to vote on a new constitution. More than 50 demonstrators, led by some 20 saffron-clad monks, tried to make their way to the country's famous Shwegadon Pagoda in Rangoon on Saturday. Police prevented them from entering the temple and quickly herded them away.
The Burmese authorities have prohibited Buddhist monks from entering the historic pagoda precincts since the massive protests last September. Many other monks who planned to join the procession were detained while traveling on buses from the suburbs and other neighbouring cities to the protest.
There was another small protest at Rangoon 's Tamwe Bazaar. More than a hundred protesters also took to the streets in Sittwe, the capital of the predominantly Muslim province of Arakan in western Burma. There were also unconfirmed reports of small demonstrations in several other cities over the weekend.
Security forces are guarding most of Rangoon's monasteries, preventing monks leaving or entering the buildings.
This is the first signs of unrest since last years' Saffron Revolution was brutally suppressed. "More protests are expected in the coming days as the anger against the regime is rising," said Khin Ohnmar, a Chiang Mai-based activist with close links to the protest organisers.
The protests have been triggered in part by the government's planned referendum on May 10, and are certain to grow in the coming days before the poll.
The military regime is obviously nervous about the vote and is carefully orchestrating the referendum results. It is certain to announce that an overwhelming majority of the country has endorsed the charter, which will effectively allow the army to retain political control of the country for decades to come.
But there are growing signs that many in the electorate may in fact reject the constitution, although the authorities will undoubtedly manipulate the count.
What they cannot change, though, is the growing rage against the junta that is welling up again in all sections of Burmese society, especially among the country's clergy - who in fact have been banned from voting in the forthcoming referendum.
Burma's monks may have been crushed by brute force last September, but in the monasteries across the country there is simmering resentment and anger. One senior abbot admitted privately that next time the monks may need to take to arms if they are to overthrow the regime.
Hatred of the country's military rulers is also growing among the people on the street, increasingly burdened by soaring inflation. Even the middle classes in the main commercial cities of Mandalay, Moulmein and Rangoon are progressively more disaffected by the army's heavy-handed tactics and a collapsing economy.
Protests are ready to erupt again in the country's streets. "The country is a social volcano ready to erupt," a Burmese businessman said. "All it needs is a spark to ignite it."
But most diplomats in Rangoon are cautious about predicting fresh protests anytime soon, though they admit the causes of last year's massive monk-led demonstrations have not been addressed.
Prices are skyrocketing. Diesel and petrol costs, which sparked last year's protests, have risen again recently; cooking oil has more than doubled since the beginning of the year. Nearly 90% of Burma 's families spend more than 80% of their income on food alone. Malnutrition and poverty is growing alarmingly, as the military government spends massive amounts on arms and military hardware.
Despite this, Burma's reclusive and secretive leader Senior General Than Shwe is pressing on with his own plans to institutionalise military rule. The new constitution took the army more than 14 years to draft. Most details of the arrangements for the referendum are yet to be made known - and the actual constitution was only revealed to the public two weeks ago.
It is not being distributed but sold at 1,000 kyat, or the equivalent of a dollar, something an impoverished population, most of whom live on less than $2 a day, cannot afford. There are restrictions on public debate and criticism of the charter is banned, punishable by more than 10 years in jail. The Burmese media has been silenced; they have been ordered not to report anything about the "No" campaign.
But this has not deterred some from protesting already against the constitution, with the inevitable result that they have been locked up.
The main pro-democracy party, Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, has announced its opposition to the new constitution - partly as they were excluded from the drafting process but largely because it is undemocratic.
The president must be a military man, a quarter of the parliamentary seats will be nominated by the army chief, and the military reserves the right to oust any civilian administration it deems to have jeopardised national security.
The detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is effectively barred from political life because she was married to a foreigner, the eminent British academic and scholar of Tibet and Buddhism, Michael Aris, who died of prostate cancer in 1999.
"For the people who have the right to vote, we would like to encourage again all voters to go to the polling booths and make an 'x' ['no'] mark without fear," the NLD urged voters in statement released to the press last Friday. But they conceded the whole process was a sham.
"An intimidating atmosphere for the people is created by physically assaulting some of the members of the NLD," its statement said.
But while the odds seemed to be stacked against the pro-democracy opposition, all is not lost. Gen Than Shwe, 74, is seriously ill and losing his grip on the army. He reportedly suffers from chronic diabetes, hypertension and has massive coronary problems. He often has diabetic rages, and more recently has been showing signs of dementia and absent-mindedness, including not remembering instances where he had sacked officers, according to a Burmese medical source close to the family.
It now seems that Gen Than Shwe's days are numbered. His kidneys are failing and he has to undergo dialysis every day. He spends more than six hours a day resting, according to a military source inside the general's staff. "He is effectively dead," according to one Asian diplomat close to the old general.
To make matters worse, there are major rifts appearing within the army at the very top. Gen Than Shwe's immediate subordinate, General Maung Aye, is increasingly disaffected with his boss, feeling that he is allowing rampant corruption to bankrupt the country. He is particularly concerned about the use of an untrained and brutal paramilitary force, connected to the community-based mass organisation, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) that Gen Than Shwe personally created some 15 years ago to stir up public support for the military government.
It was thugs from this group which attacked Aung San Suu Kyi in northern Burma in May 2003, in what many believe was a concerted assassination attempt on her life. They also led the assaults on the monks last September.
The USDA, lead by hardline supporters of Gen Than Shwe, has been give responsibility for organising the May 10 referendum and will also to run the elections, which are likely to be held in two years' time.
Gen Maung Aye fears this group is going to get stronger after the referendum and effectively replace the army in running the country. He understands that the USDA's conduct and brutal tactics have tarnished the military's image. Many junior officers, the "Young Turks" as they call themselves, feel the same way. They are looking to the four top generals immediately below Gen Than Shwe to take action.
While there are no concrete signs yet of a possible "palace coup", there is already a new wave of demonstrations in the streets against the military government, which threatens to grow in the coming days before the polls open for the referendum. Most Burmese people see this as their first chance since the 1990 elections, which were overwhelmingly won by the NLD, to express their outrage at military rule.
During these uncertain times for the army, there is the possibility for things to change and to change rapidly. At the very least, there will be more protests against the government next month.
Security tightened in Myanmar amid rumors of anti-government campaign
AP: Mon 28 Apr 2008
Security has been tightened in Myanmar's largest city after rumors spread that pro-democracy activists would launch protests against an upcoming referendum on a draft constitution backed by the ruling military.
Riot police carrying batons were deployed Sunday at major road junctions and Buddhist monuments including Yangon's famous Shwedagon Pagoda, the site of many earlier demonstrations in the staunchly Buddhist country.
Dissidents in Myanmar and exile groups elsewhere have urged voters to vote against the constitution, saying it is merely a ploy to perpetuate more than four decades of military rule.
Voting ahead of the May 10 referendum by Myanmar citizens has already begun in some countries including Japan and Singapore.
In Tokyo, at least 230 Myanmar citizens held their own mock "referendum" outside the Myanmar Embassy, where official polls were also held for expatriates with the required official documents such as exit permits. The requirement effectively excludes most exiles and dissidents from the vote. The same rules applied to expatriate voters elsewhere.
A Myanmar man was arrested and 12 demonstrators were injured Saturday in a scuffle with Japanese police as about 150 Myanmar citizens and Japanese supporters demanded all expatriates be allowed to vote.
In Thailand, about 100 Myanmar activists also staged a peaceful demonstration in the capital, Bangkok, shouting slogans against the draft constitution.
University student Myo Myint Maung, 23, a spokesman for the Overseas Burmese Patriots a loose network of Myanmar activists based in Singapore said many were wearing caps printed with the word "No" on them.
"The draft constitution is for a sham democracy," the student said. "It's not for a true and real democracy as all the terms in the constitution are biased toward the military regime."
The new constitution is supposed to be followed in 2010 by a general election. Both votes are elements of a "roadmap to democracy" drawn up by the junta. The draft constitution guarantees 25 percent of parliamentary seats to the military and allows the president to hand over all power to the military in a state of emergency.
Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been under military rule since 1962.
Its government has been widely criticized for human rights abuses and suppression of pro-democracy parties such as the one led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for over a decade.
The ruling junta refused to honor the results of 1990 general elections won by Suu Kyi's party.
Last September, at least 31 people were killed and thousands more were detained when the military cracked down on peaceful protests led by Buddhist monks and democracy advocates.
Suu Kyi's party launches Vote 'No' tour - Wai Moe
Irrawaddy: Mon 28 Apr 2008
The National League for Democracy (NLD), the party of Burma's democracy icon, Aung San Suu Kyi, is taking its vote "No" campaign across the county even as the regime is warning opposition forces to cease anti-referendum efforts.
Win Naing, a NLD spokesperson, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that leading members of the party were traveling to other cities to explain the party's position on the constitution and the referendum.
"At the moment, we can campaign in at least five regions of the country - it is what we can do under the oppressive conditions created by the authorities," he said.
"The NLD also plans to monitor the voting in the country as long as we can," said Win Naing. "The party will also explain how to vote 'No' to the people of Burma through members in rural and urban areas. Our position is that people should vote against the unjust and undemocratic constitution in the referendum."
Kyaw Hsan, the minister of information and a central secretary of the Union Solidarity and Development Association, traveled to Sagaing Division in northern Burma on April 21, the junta's mouthpiece, Myanma Alin's reported on Monday. He called on local people to vote "yes" in the referendum and vowed the constitution would guarantee stability, development and democracy.
Meanwhile in Rangoon, the largest city in Burma, security was tightened by authorities.
"There are police in civilian clothes and uniforms along with Swan Ah-shin at bus stops in Rangoon both in downtown areas and outside of downtown," a student in Rangoon said. "Some of them were holding batons and some were holding guns."
Rumors were circulating that the authorities would set up CCTV cameras at polling booths to allow them to determine who voted "Yes" or "No," said a taxi driver in Rangoon. "So I am now thinking whether I should go to vote, because I don't want to vote 'Yes' but I don't want authorities to know how I voted."
Sources said vote "No" campaigns by dissident groups could be found across the city. "I saw a group of students distributing vote 'No' leaflets in Tamwe Township," said a shop owner.
One opposition group, The All Burma Federation of Student Union, released a statement on Monday supporting the vote "No" campaign and launched its own house-to-house, underground campaign across the country.
"There are more than 10 young organizations that are campaigning to vote against the constitution," said Tun Myint Aung of the 88 Generation Students group.
"Activists will try to monitor voting on May 10," he said. "Then everyone will know if the junta cheated and how they cheated."
The well-known comedians, the Moustache Brothers, are conducting a vote "No" campaign in their nightly performances in Mandalay, the second largest city, using a visual gag of crossing their arms over their chests, a tourist told The Irrawaddy.
"The military junta is doing its utmost to encourage everyone to vote 'Yes' on May 10 and endorse the constitution," says Par Par Lay, one of the Moustache Brothers. "But the Moustache Brothers would like everyone to know that they will vote 'No' in the referendum."
"This is a sham constitution that the junta is trying to force onto us," he says. "If we vote
'Yes,' democracy will never come to Burma."
Par Par Lay and Lu Maw, his fellow comedian, were both imprisoned for seven years during the 1990s. Par Par Lay was jailed again for more than one month during the 2007 civil uprising.
Junta adopts dubious means to win support for constitution - Mungpi
Mizzima News: Mon 28 Apr 2008
Notwithstanding the Burmese military junta's claim that it will hold the May 10 referendum in a free and fair environment, its activities on the ground and information leaked by insiders suggest that the junta is desperately resorting to various means, not all of it ethical, to win support.
The junta desperate to garner supporting votes is creating a fear psychosis by intimidating and coercing the people as it vigorously carries on with its campaign.
Intimidation and an environment of fear
In a campaign meeting held in Rangoon, a junta official who is the chairman of a township, told participants that for the convenience of voters, every vote is being registered with code numbers.
This coding system would help authorities trace the voters and the votes cast, thereby creating an environment of fear.
"In every ward, for everyone, votes are registered with code numbers against the name. It is for your convenience," the official said.
The official while explaining this method provided an example saying, "For instance, you are staying in a ward and you work for the whole day and you can come to the station only after your work. It would be tiring and difficult to find a card for you where your name is registered with a code. For this, we suggest you cast your vote in advance so as to avoid inconvenience."
Besides, the official said that policemen are to cast their votes in advance as they would be taking charge of security during the actual polling and that they will have no time to come to their respective booths to vote.
This clearly reveals that the junta has already planned polling in advance for its civil servants, which is against the universal norm of voting.
Win Min, a Burmese military analyst based in Thailand, shoring up this information said, "a reliable source of mine very close to the military said they [the junta] is planning to force civil servants, including university lecturers and school teachers, and possibly other USDA members to go for advance voting in front of senior military authorities' eyes."
"This is clear intimidation to vote 'Yes'. It's unacceptable since it violates the basic right to secret voting. It also shows that the authorities are worried that these civil servants are likely to vote 'No' if they're free to do so," added Win Min.
An official in Burma's second largest city of Mandalay, who has been appointed secretary of one of the polling booths told Mizzima that while the counting of votes will be conducted after the voting, the results will not be announced but sent to higher authorities.
"It now seems that the results will be declared only from Naypyitaw, though counting will be held in the polling booths," said the official, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal.
Sources in the military establishment said, Maj. Gen. Myint Swe, member of the ruling military council, communicated this information to a meeting of 600 people that included senior government officials and senior NGO representatives in Naypyitaw on April 9.
Sources said the junta in a bid to lure people to vote 'Yes' is also twisting its campaign slogans to mislead people.
Van Lian, chairman of Burma's largest opposition party - the National League for Democracy in Chin state's capital Hakha town, said authorities are explaining to villagers that 'Democracy could only prevail if they vote in favour of the draft constitution.'
"They [authorities] told villagers that 'if you don't like the military you should vote 'Yes' because approving the draft constitution will end military rule," Van Lian told Mizzima.
Van Lian said, In Chin state, northwestern Burma, most people do not like the military and therefore authorities are adopting this tactic to win supporting votes.
In one of the secret campaign meetings in Rangoon, the township chairman told participants that if the draft constitution cannot be approved in the referendum, the military will prolong its rule merely by saying that a fresh constitution needs to be drafted.
"We know the public does not like being governed by the military. If you don't like being governed by the military, you should vote 'Yes' in the referendum."
"But if you say 'No', the military will say they will re-draft the constitution and stay in power as long as it likes. So you should vote 'Yes' to prevent it from staying in power longer," added the official.
Officials vote "Yes" on behalf of civil servant
DVB: Mon 28 Apr 2008
A civil servant in Magwe division's Salin township who tried to vote in advance of the referendum was informed by local authorities they had already cast "Yes" votes on her behalf.
U Tar, a 1990 people's parliament representative for Salin township, said the woman was due to go on a trip and would not be in the township for the referendum.
"A female teacher who was due to go on an advanced teacher training program went to the township authorities and informed them she was there to vote in advance for the national referendum as she was going to be away on that day," U Tar said.
"But the township officials told her she didn't need to worry about it as they had already cast 'Yes' votes in advance for her and the other three people in her family."
U Tar strongly condemned the actions of the local authorities in denying the woman her right to vote in the referendum.
"This is not the normal procedure in a national referendum," he said.
"The government is doing whatever they want and abusing their authority. There is no justice here."
Overseas Burmese protest Constitution
AP and Irrawaddy: Mon 28 Apr 2008
Thousands of exiled and expatriate Burmese people have been gathering outside Burmese embassies around the world to express dissatisfaction with the military government's constitutional referendum.
Voting has already begun in some countries ahead of the May 10 referendum. While some were allowed into their respective embassies to cast their votes, others were turned away by officials.
The protests were mostly launched by Burmese nationals - both those who can vote and those with no voting rights in the referendum - at their respective embassies in several countries, including Canada, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, South Korea and Thailand.
The biggest demonstration was held in Singapore on Sunday where some 2,500 protesters - many wearing red t-shirts with the word "No" emblazoned on the front - gathered outside the Burmese embassy and protested against the draft constitution.
Sources in Singapore said that even some Burmese people who were invited to vote in the national referendum by the embassy were denied the right by authorities when they went into the embassy to vote.
Burmese nationals hold up their passports as a sign that they have the right to vote, gathered outside their country's embassy in Singapore to vote in a referendum on a draft constitution on April 27. (Photo: AP)
More than 40,000 Burmese people are currently living in Singapore, about 10,000 of who were officially invited by authorities to vote in the referendum, said sources.
The Burmese regime has stipulated that only citizens with legitimate documents, such as Burmese passports, can vote overseas, a ruling that excludes most political exiles and refugees.
Meanwhile, some 230 Burmese expatriates living in Japan staged a mock referendum on Sunday outside the Burmese embassy in Tokyo, criticizing the draft constitution as a ploy to keep the ruling junta in power.
The Burmese embassy had mailed letters earlier this month to more than 2,000 of its citizens in Japan, inviting them to vote on the proposed constitution in a two-day advance poll held over the weekend at the embassy, Japanese police and the foreign ministry said. However, fewer than 100 people had voted at the embassy as of Sunday afternoon, according to a count by the protesters.
About 100 Burmese citizens in Malaysia, including political activists, migrant workers and people from ethnic minorities, gathered in front of the Burmese embassy on Saturday wearing colorful traditional costumes displaying the word "No" and demanding the right to vote.
An estimated 500,000 Burmese people are living in Malaysia, about 180,000 of who possess legal documents. No official count for voters was available from the embassy.
About 100 protesters, including activists, migrant workers, students and ethnic minority people, gathered outside the Burmese embassy in Bangkok for about 30 minutes on Sunday.
The demonstrators, organized by the Joint Action Committee for Democracy in Burma, chanted slogans against the May 10 referendum. A statement from the umbrella committee for the dozen dissident organizations said the constitution was drawn up solely by pro-junta groups and would give the military great powers in any future government.
An estimated 360,000 registered Burmese migrants and 1.2 million unregistered migrants in Thailand were denied their voting rights.
Meanwhile, about 60 Burmese people in Seoul, the South Korean capital, gathered outside the Burmese embassy on Sunday to protest against the junta-written draft constitution, many wearing white shirts bearing the words "Vote No" and the logo of a cross. According to Yan Naing Htun, a Seoul-based Burmese activist, the protesters set up two artificial ballot boxes and urged people to vote "No" in the referendum.
In the United States, sources estimated that up to 100 people participated in the referendum in New York. It is estimated that the New York's Permanent Mission of Burma has some 500 registered voters.
The Burmese embassy in Washington, D.C. was the only other place in the US where Burmese citizens were able to vote in the referendum. Unlike New York, the voting process in Washington was opened for three days - Friday, Saturday and Sunday - from April 25 to 27.
Pro-democracy groups who were holding a protest outside the embassy claimed the turnout was very low. Out of the 1,500 registered voters, a little more than 150 people are believed to have cast their votes so far, with one day remaining.
Meanwhile, Kyaw Zaw Wai, a protester in Canada's capital, Ottawa, said that more than 100 Burmese citizens from Toronto and Ottawa, including ethnic Karen, Chin, and Arakanese people, protested against the constitution for three and half hours in front of the Burmese embassy in Ottawa.
Several supporters from Tibetan, Indonesian and Vietnamese communities in Ottawa also joined the demonstration to show their solidarity with the people of Burma, said Kyaw Zaw Wai.
Kyaw Zaw Wai said, "I believe we delivered a very strong message to the military regime."
(Lalit K Jha contributed to this article from New York.)
UNSC deadlocked on Burma - Lalit K Jha
Irrawaddy: Mon 28 Apr 2008
The Security Council remains deadlocked on a presidential statement on Burma even as diplomats of the 15-member UN body met last week for the second time in a month.
Diplomatic sources told The Irrawaddy that representatives from the Security Council member nations met on Thursday to discuss the second draft proposed by three permanent members - the United States, Britain and France.
A copy of the second draft obtained by The Irrawaddy reflects the urgency on the part of the three Western powers as time seems to be fast running out in the run-up to the May 10 referendum on the draft constitution, which is heavily loaded in favor of the Burmese military junta.
However, it appears that the two staunch supporters of the military junta - veto-wielding China and Russia - are in no hurry and continue to block any effort for a discussion or move to get the non-binding presidential statement passed by the Security Council.
With both groups apparently reluctant to change their respective stands, diplomatic sources said the next meeting on the US-proposed presidential statement would be held at the ambassadorial level.
However, it is not clear when the permanent representatives of the 15-member Security Council would be meeting on the issue of Burma.
While there is little change between the two drafts of the presidential statements except for the replacement of words here and there, the second draft circulated among the member nations last week urged the Burmese military government and all parties concerned to co-operate fully with the United Nations.
Given that the time is running out, the proposed presidential statement urges the Burmese junta to take on an "urgent basis," instead of a "timely manner" (as was in the previous draft)," concrete, meaningful steps" that result in genuine, "substantive" (added this time) dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi and all concerned parties and ethnic groups in order to achieve an inclusive national reconciliation with the direct support of the United Nations.
Except for these minor amendments, there has not been any change between the two drafts, which China and Russia have opposed.
Referring to the May 10 referendum, the draft statement calls on the junta to make the process all inclusive and credible by allowing full participation of all political actors, including Suu Kyi.
It reminds the Burmese regime of its commitment to have a free and fair referendum in which all parties will be allowed to participate on equal terms. The statement stresses that this commitment must be followed by action, including the guarantee of freedoms of expression, association and assembly in the political process leading up to the referendum, as well as independent monitoring of the vote counting.
Last week, the US ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, acknowledged that their efforts to send a strong message to the military junta had not yet been successful.
Expressing frustration at the Russian and Chinese vetoes, Khalilzad said, "The Council cannot be silent - should not be silent - in the face of what has happened and what has not happened."
Junta control the only sure outcome in Burmese vote - Khin Maung Win
The Nation (Thailand): Mon 28 Apr 2008
The Burmese State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) is working hard to obtain the maximum number of yes votes possible in its constitutional referendum on May 10.
Political temperatures are rising daily as the SPDC continues pressuring people to vote yes by arresting and harassing no-vote campaigners.
The militarisation of Burmese politics
Several provisions in the proposed constitution legalise the militarisation of Burmese politics. It would install a presidential system, like that of the United States, in which the president is the head of the executive and the state. Presidential elections in a presidential system are conducted in a democratic manner.
The SPDC's constitution, however, provides for a most undemocratic electoral method for president. The criteria for presidential candidates makes Aung San Suu Kyi and many prominent democracy leaders permanently ineligible.
The presidential electoral college would comprise three components: the National Assembly (the upper house), the People's Assembly (the lower house) and the army, members of which would be sitting in both legislative houses. Each of these three components would be able to nominate one candidate each. One of these three candidates would become president, and the remaining two vice-presidents. This means that the army can appoint at least a vice-president without going through any screening process. In addition, the commander-in-chief of the army also enjoys the rank of vice-president, making a "presidential club" of four - with two members directly loyal to the army.
The president has the power to appoint cabinet members with a rubber stamp from the legislature. When it comes to key ministries, including defence and the interior, the commander-in-chief makes the nominations. Exactly the same procedure applies to the appointment of chief ministers of regions and states and other executive bodies.
Artificial federalism - no solution to 60 years of ethnic conflict
A multiethnic state like Burma is suitable for federalism because it allows greater autonomy for ethnic states. Burma has had 60 years of civil war in which ethnic groups have been fighting for greater autonomy, which they argue is possible under a genuine federal system.
In response to unanimous demands from all ethnic groups, the constitution introduces an artificial federal apparatus. Formal division of power between the national government and local governments is also provided.
The key concept of federalism is the decentralisation of power by granting greater autonomy to state governments. The militarisation of politics by the Burmese army directly contradicts the principles of federalism. The appointment of entire executive bodies, including chief minister for regions and states by the union president, also goes totally against federal principles.
Ethnic states enjoyed a certain level of autonomy under the quasi-federal constitution of 1947, which was terminated by the military coup in 1962. The civil war that was triggered in 1948 indicates that the autonomy that ethnic groups used to enjoy is not sufficient, and raises the question of how even less autonomy, which is what they would have under the SPDC constitution, can bring an end to difficulties with ethnic groups.
Gradual change theory will not work
The regime's information minister, Maj-General Kyaw Hsann, has threatened that rejection of the constitution would result in the continuation of the current junta's rule for another 20 years. Some argue that endorsing the constitution and ending current military rule would be a starting point to break the current political stalemate and work towards gradual change.
The Burmese military never shows respect for the rule of law. It uses its despotic laws mainly to suppress the opposition and critics and prolong power. Is there any hope that an SPDC constitution would allow for gradual change? No.
For ordinary matters, the constitution can be amended when over 75 per cent of legislative members of both houses approve the amendment. Any amendment to the charter's so-called "fundamental principles", which includes provisions for the militarisation of Burmese politics, would require the support of 50 per cent of eligible voters and the approval of 75 per cent of the legislature. Getting 75-per-cent approval in the legislature would be impossible when an army bloc would be able to stop any such move.
A rigid constitutional amendment procedure is normal in most democracies, but such procedures are applied only when the constitution is the result of a participatory and democratic process. The SPDC's constitution works in reverse - the constitution it drafted might be approved by 25 per cent of eligible voters, and then the proposal to amend it would be so onerous as to be impossible.
Is the referendum legitimate at all?
Despite arrests and harassment targeting no campaigners and objections from independent observers, the regime is trying its best to pretend that the referendum is legitimate. However, the bottom line is that junta members will not allow a repeat of the 1990 elections when the vote went against them.
The junta is using a three-pronged strategy to ensure that they win this time: reducing the number of potential no voters, increasing the number of yes votes cast at whatever cost, and controlling the vote-counting process. (The regime has lost control of the media, as most Burmese receive information from exile sources like the Democratic Voice of Burma.)
No voting arrangements have been made for the millions of Burmese migrant workers in Thailand and elsewhere. Analysts agree that they would vote no if they got a chance. Millions of Burmese in conflict areas along the border are also in a similar situation. By excluding millions of such eligible voters, the junta hopes to reduce the potential number of no votes.
To increase the yes vote, the SPDC is forcing people under their total control to vote in advance. All armed forces members and security personals are now required to cast their votes in advance via an envelope. Procedures for advance voting - which is also happening in many foreign countries having big legal Burmese communities - allows the SPDC to determine whether ballots are yes or no as they wish.
The regime knows that they cannot blatantly lie, as they did in the 1974 referendum when they claimed having received 100-per-cent approval. They need only a narrow margin of valid ballots in their favour to announce that the constitution has been approved. However, there is no guarantee they will obtain even that. If that happens, they will steal the votes. Denying independent observers and choosing to announce the final results via the Referendum Commission at the capital were both decisions made to facilitate vote theft. According to regulations, the referendum is successful if more than 50 per cent of eligible voters cast their vote, and if 50 per cent of valid ballots are cast in favour of the constitution. This means that the constitution can be approved by as few as 25 per cent of eligible voters.
It is clear that the regime will announce that the referendum was a success. Therefore it would be a strategic mistake for those who oppose the constitution to boycott the referendum. This would only reduce the number of no votes.
Voter turnout may not determine whether this referendum is legitimate, but using a vote-counting procedure that allows the regime to steal votes would.
Khin Maung Win is the deputy executive director for the Democratic Voice of Burma.
Junta offers eye treatment for free - Hawkeye/ Lieng Lern
Authorities in northern Shan State are giving eye check and treatment for free in exchange for their support for the charter in the upcoming referendum, according to residents of Namkham, on the Sino-Burma border.
On 21 April 2008, officials from Namkham Township Peace and Development Council (TPDC) held a meeting at TPDC office. 30 headmen were in attendance.
At the meeting, local authorities ordered the headmen to disseminate the information to the people that anyone with eye problem would be treated free of charge for 4 days from 23-26 April from 9:00 to 15:00 at the city hall in Lashio Township.
On 23 April 2008, people who wanted to have their eyes treated were listed and transported to Lashio in cars hired by the local authority, said the source.
There were over 2,000 people who went to have their eyes treated from different townships such as Tangyan, Kyaukme, Hsipaw, Kutkai, Namkham and Muse.
"Only around 80 people were treated," said a local who wishes to be anonymous. "Our people from Namkham were over 200, but only 3 people had a chance to get checked and treated."
Some people got bored and went to private clinics, but almost all the clinics were closed.
Making it worse, people had to spend their own money for their travel fare when they went back home.
Junta monitors Buddhist monasteries
Mizzima News: Sun 27 Apr 2008
Burma Standard Time: 15:30 - Rangoon - Burmese military junta authorities in Rangoon have kept monks under surveillance. The movements of Buddhist monks are being monitored and certain restrictions have been imposed on their going out late at night, travelling, and receiving guests in the monasteries, sources in Rangoon said.
The junta's order to strictly monitor monks and their monasteries came even before the news spread that monks were planning to gather at the famous Shwedagon pagoda on Saturday.
A police officer in Rangoon, who requested anonymity, told Mizzima that they have been ordered to interrogate any monks they suspect on buses and on the streets, notwithstanding the traditional respect that Burmese people show towards monks.
Eyewitnesses said, security has been tightened with more troops positioned at the front gate of Shwedagon pagoda, a famous shrine used by protesting monks in September as a gathering point.
Suu Kyi party says Myanmar junta trying to force 'Yes' vote
AFP: Fri 25 Apr 2008
Aung San Suu Kyi's pro-democracy party said Friday that Myanmar's ruling generals were doing everything in their power to force a 'Yes' vote at a referendum on their proposed constitution next month.
The junta says approval of the charter in the May 10 vote will usher in multiparty elections in 2010, but pro-democracy activists say it simply entrenches the role of the military which has ruled since 1962.
In a detailed statement attacking the charter and the process by which the generals are trying to get it approved, the National League for Democracy (NLD) said the vote would fall well below international standards.
"The authorities are trying every way to make this referendum not free and fair," said a statement from the NLD, which is headed by detained Nobel peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
"For the people who have the right to vote, we would like to encourage again all voters to go to the polling booths and make an 'X' ('No') mark without fear."
The NLD and other pro-democracy groups in Myanmar have already publicly called on people to vote "No" on May 10.
The NLD said Friday that the polling process was open to vote fraud, citing a lack of transparency in the ballot count and the lack of a provision holding vote officials to account for any wrongdoing.
It said full details of the constitution were not given on state TV and press, people did not have enough time to study the 194-page law - which was only released on April 9 - and it had not been widely distributed.
France said Friday it hoped the referendum would be held under clear and transparent conditions.
"It is good that there is an election" but "it should be held under transparent, clear and democratic conditions," Human Rights Minister Rama Yade said during a visit to Cambodia.
While the junta's English-language newspaper the New Light of Myanmar extols the charter in bold headlines, the NLD said its organisers had been harassed, arrested and interrogated while trying to campaign against the constitution.
"From studying it, the referendum law and related procedures, we found there is no freedom and justice from the beginning," it said.
The proposed constitution reserves one quarter of seats in both chambers of parliament for military members, while some key ministries including home affairs would also be controlled exclusively by the army.
Aung San Suu Kyi would be barred from running for president under the new constitution because she was married to a foreigner.
While the constitution needs a simple majority to be approved, amendments must be approved by 75 percent of parliament, making it difficult for civilian lawmakers to pass amendments without military support.
The referendum will be the first balloting in Myanmar since 1990, when Aung San Suu Kyi led the NLD to a landslide victory that was never recognised by the junta.
She has spent 12 of the past 18 years under house arrest or in prison.
Generals' stomachs full while government starves
Mizzima News: Fri 25 Apr 2008
While Burma's top brass continue to line their pockets with kickbacks and self-bestowed financial rewards, the country's government is facing a burgeoning debt crisis.
Analysts and knowledgeable voices are in agreement that the top generals' persistent refusal to put governmental interests ahead of personal gain has created an economic environment inside the country where the government is no longer able to service its debts or undertake fundamental development projects essential to the state's wherewithal.
"The government is bankrupt and the generals have all the money," is the terse assessment of the situation from a foreign employee of an international non-governmental organization in Rangoon.
According to him, the government has been forced to unofficially push its fiscal end-of-year date back from the end of March to the end of June, in an apparent attempt at avoiding to have to settle debts with the private sector. While typically the government has circulated reminders to private businessmen to submit their receipts ahead of time in order to ensure funds are received, this year there were reportedly no such notices forwarded.
As the private sector continues to wait for their bills to be settled, complaints from businessmen anxiously awaiting payment are rapidly amounting.
In one example, the foreign aid worker reports that the biggest importer of Japanese tires informed him that the government still owes him a couple 100 million dollars from bills left unserviced.
Additionally, a large construction company states that it no loner receives remuneration for public sector projects undertaken, such as the construction of university buildings.
Throughout the country, the financial crisis within the ranks of the government is clearly visible with respect to infrastructure development projects.
Win Min, a Thailand-based analyst, suggests that the cessation of the Naypyitaw-Mandalay road construction project may be linked to the government's need to save financial assets in anticipation of the holding of country-wide elections in 2010. The uncompleted road project would then, presumably, be dumped on whatever government assumed power following elections.
A Burmese journalist in Rangoon concurs with this general trend, citing the reduction of government resources devoted to its electrical power project and the apparent fact that the government intends to soon sell off almost all state-owned property.
Yet despite the economic plight of the government itself, the financial coffers of the generals continue to amass wealth.
Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings, Ltd. (UMEHL), a principle receptacle of the junta's financial interests, continues to expand in revenue received even as the government sinks ever further into bankruptcy. Hardly any of the money received through the holding company is in turn circulated into the economy for governmental expenditure.
And the amount of money finding its way to UMEHL is by no means insignificant. A single transaction involving the sale of a new Toyota Landcruiser nets UMEHL, and the generals, approximately $380,000.
Ethnic tension and minority perspective on Burma's problems - Nehginpao Kipgen
Asian Tribune: Fri 25 Apr 2008
When exploring the probable solution for the Union of Burma's problems, any analysis based exclusively on the present political development is inconclusive. Burma has never been an ethnically and politically unified country since independence from the British in January 1948.
The history of Union of Burma starts at Panglong in southern Shan state on February 12, 1947, when 23 representatives from the Burman government, Chin hills, Kachin hills and Shan states signed an agreement in the presence of representatives from the Executive Council of the governor of Burma, to form an interim government.
Prior to the birth of Union Day, all ethnic nationalities were separate entities, and therefore, there was no question of minority or majority issues. Even today, ethnic nationalities of the seven states are majority in their respective states.
The successive Burman-dominated military regimes have been using Burmanization policy and forced assimilation to marginalize other ethnic groups. The concept of minority-majority is a deliberate move by the military to undermine the non-Burman ethnic nationalities.
Today, the term ethnic minority is widely used as a natural phenomenon by the international community to refer the non-Burman ethnic nationalities. For the sake of the audience, I will use the term ethnic minorities to describe the non-Burmans.
The military regime identifies "135 national races" of which the major ones are Arakan/Rakhine (7 sub-groups), Burman/Bamar (9 sub-groups), Chin (53 sub-groups), Kachin (12 sub-groups), Karen/Kayin (11 sub-groups), Karenni/Kayah (9 sub-groups), Mon (1 group), and Shan (33 sub-groups).
The 135 races are categorized primarily on dialectical variations. This classification is an attempt by the military to justify its centralized 'disciplined democracy' under the pretext of ethnic diversity. Ethnic minorities constitute over 30 percent of the total population. However, precise statistics is not available; the last census was in March 1983.
Burma's total land area is 261,970 square miles. Ethnic minorities occupy roughly two-thirds: Arakan/Rakhine state- 14,200 square miles, Chin state- 13,907 square miles, Kachin state- 34,379 square miles, Karen/Kayin state- 11,731 square miles, Karenni/Kayah state- 4,530 square miles, Mon state- 4,747.8 square miles, Shan state- 60,155 square miles.
Had not Aung San promised political equality and self-determination, the Union of Burma might never have been born. The Panglong agreement was aimed at establishing a federal government on the basis of equality and self-determination for all ethnic nationalities.
Aung San's assassination shattered the hopes of establishing a federal government: the constitution was hastily drafted on the model of a quasi-federal structure, categorically downplaying the visions of Panglong signatories. This mischievous turn of events became a source of lingering distrust between the Burman government and ethnic minorities.
There were frequent disturbances and political instability. The tension has been primarily between the military and ethnic forces, and not amongst the ethnic groups themselves. This explicitly clears any doubts of Burma plunging into a civil war.
Ethnic armed groups like the Karen National Union (KNU), the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and the Shan State Army (SSA), etc. rebelled against the Burman government for years. Although over a dozen of them have reached cease-fire agreements with the military, groups such as KNU and SSA are still fighting against the government.
The basic demand of ethnic minorities has been autonomy. After immense pressure and demands from the federal movement groups, U Nu, the first Prime Minister, agreed for a meeting in a so-called "federal seminar" in mid-February 1962. The volatile situation gave General Ne Win the opportunity for a coup d'etat on March 2.
In an attempt to pacify the longstanding grievances of ethnic minority groups in states and regions, self-administered areas (zones and divisions) are prescribed: five self-administered zones (one in Sagaing division and four in Shan state) and one self-administered division (in Shan state).
Historically speaking, ethnic Burmans have an attitude of chauvinism. There has been ethnic hatred for a long time, and dates back to the country's pre-independent era. One of the reasons for the rise of insurgency problems, after independence, was due to hatred and discrimination on the basis of ethnicity.
For example, in the mid 1940s, the Chins, the Karens and the Mons were looked down upon by the Burmans as if they were little better than barbarians or animals. The Karens were particularly despised by the Burmans, and were referred to as uneducated people, who feed on wild yams and small animals such as snakes, frogs, monkeys, etc.
Burmans aggression on the Karen people had begun before the British occupation of Burma. Similar aggression also happened to other nationalities, including the Arakans and the Mons who suffered miserably.
There has also been persecution and restriction on minorities, belonging to religions other than Buddhism. In one gruesome incident, an ethnic Kuki village called Nung Kam, a Christian village in Sagaing division, was bulldozed in the beginning of 1993 on the ground that the villagers refused to convert to Buddhism. After it was bulldozed, a new Burman village known as Saya San was built.
Chapter X of the 1947 constitution gave states a right to secede from the Union after 10 years of the constitution in operation. U Nu's invitation of Newin to form a caretaker government in 1958 was largely a premeditated political maneuvering to prevent the Shans and Karennis from seceding from the Union.
Contrastingly, chapter II of the military's new constitution says: "No part of the territory of the Union, namely regions, states and self-administered areas etc. shall ever secede from the Union." This is a plan to consolidate the military's iron-fist rule on ethnic minorities.
Ratification of the new constitution means nullifying the Panglong agreement. As long as Burma fails to honor the principles of Panglong agreement, the true spirit of Union Day will never be realized despite its observance for the past 60 years. Therefore, every nationality in the Union of Burma has the right to claim its pre-independent status.
While ethnic minorities waited years for a negotiated solution, the military on April 9 announced that it will hold a referendum on the new constitution on May 10, which will be followed by countrywide general elections in 2010. The constitution was made public just barely 30 days before the referendum.
With independent or international observers being barred from monitoring the referendum process, use of fraud and coercion has become a great concern. There are reports that citizens have been forewarned to vote only 'yes' in the upcoming referendum.
The military's constitution drafting process was undemocratic. Among others, the constitution was drafted by hand-picked delegates, excluding the opposition groups. No debate on the constitutional principles was allowed.
Moreover, 25% of seats in both houses (House of Representatives and House of Nationalities) are reserved for the military. Amendment of constitution requires the approval of more than 75% of votes, which could be construed as a design to perpetuate military dominance.
The voice of the main opposition party National League for Democracy, which won over 80% percent of parliamentary seats during the 1990 general elections, is virtually silenced. Not the slightest consideration is also given to a federal constitution drafted by Federal Constitution Drafting and Coordination Committee in exile.
The military has not announced any definitive plan on what to do if the referendum fails. During the 1990 general elections, the military expected to win under a free and fair voting process. The justification for nullifying the results was to have a constitution drawn first. We never know what excuse lies ahead if the upcoming referendum fails.
Even if the State Peace and Development Council is successful in advancing with its proposed roadmap, I am skeptical that it will bring a durable solution to the country's ethno-political problems.
To ethnic minorities, the struggle in Burma is fundamentally a two-stage process - (a) restoration of democracy and (b) political autonomy. Any democratic set-up sidelining ethnic minorities will not bring an end to decades' old political imbroglio.
Ethnic minorities have long advocated for tripartite talks involving the military, 1990 election winning parties led by Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic groups as endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly since 1994, but to no avail.
Meanwhile, the international community could consider a similar model of a six party talks on North Korean nuclear issue. Due to geographical proximity, enormous economic and diplomatic influence over Burma, China's participation is pivotal.
In the absence of a concrete mandate from the UN Security Council, special envoy Ibrahim Gambari's mission has become a symbolic exercise in futility. Although it may be naïve to even consider it, the swiftest way to bring change would be by military intervention, either by the United States or by the United Nations.
Western sanctions, without cooperation from neighboring Asian nations, are also not efficacious. The vacuum created as a result of sanctions has been filled by neighboring countries. Conflicting interests of two different approaches - sanction and engagement - will continue to prolong the survival of military regime.
So far, the military regime apparently has withstood pressures from the international community. Change from within the country is also unlikely to emerge without support and cooperation from elements within the military which has governed the country since 1962.
The Burmese opposition now basically has two choices to make - either to accept the military's seven-step roadmap as a step toward national reconciliation or take a hardliner stance to remove the military dictatorship by hook or by crook.
A long lasting solution to the conflicts in Burma needs the sincerity, honesty and participation of all ethnic groups. Different ethnic groups should be brought into confidence, and their legitimate demands should be looked into. This process of democratization has to be an inclusive approach.
Note: This paper was presented at a panel discussion on Burma/Myanmar: The Four Crises - Economic, Social, Political, and Ethnic Minority at Georgetown University, Washington, DC on April 23, 2008.
Nehginpao Kipgen is the General Secretary of Kuki International Forum and a researcher on the rise of political conflicts in modern Burma (1947-2004).
Junta twists campaign slogan in Chin state
Mizzima News : April 25, 2008
The Burmese military junta authorities are hoodwinking and misleading people into supporting the draft constitution during the referendum on May 10. In Chin state, northwest of Burma, it is urging people to vote 'Yes' in the referendum 'if they want democracy in the country,' local residents said.
Authorities in Chin state, led by Brigadier General Hung Ngai, Chairman of Chin State Peace and Development Council, have been pulling a fast one on locals by explaining that voting in favour of the constitution is the only way to put an end to decades of military rule and for the restoration of democracy.
"In Chin state most people, despite their ignorance, are against the military and would definitely vote against the draft constitution. So, it is possible that the authorities want to twist the campaign slogan," said Myo Min Aung, Editor of the Khonumthung News Group, who specialises in covering issues in Chin State.
Myo Min Aung added that authorities in several Chin villages and towns have conducted demonstrations on how the people should cast their votes by telling them that ticking or writing 'Yes' is the correct way of voting.
Despite the junta's vigorous campaign efforts, several people in Hakha, capital of Chin state, voted 'No' in a mock-referendum conducted by authorities on April 10, a local resident in Hakha said.
On April 10, authorities led by Hung Ngai conducted a mock-referendum, where authorities called about 150 people to vote.
Pu Van Lian, chairman of Burma's opposition party - the National League for Democracy in Chin State said, "I was told by one of the township officials, who participated in the vote counting, that when they counted the results, they found 'No' votes surpassing 'Yes' ballots".
In its aftermath, authorities started to accelerate the campaign with Hung Ngai personally going to towns and villages in southern Chin state including Matupi, Mindat and Kanpalet Townships, added Pu Van Lian.
Junta issues ID cards to Chinese citizens - Hseng Khio Fah
Junta authorities have provided temporary ID card to Chinese citizens presumably to get more support for the junta drafted constitution in the coming May referendum, according to sources from northern and eastern Shan State.
Thousands of Chinese citizens across Namkham, Muse and Panghsai townships in northern Shan State have received their white cards. "It is as if the military is not sure about the support of its own people for its draft charter," said an opposition source.
"By the look of things, it's likely the visitors (meaning Chinese) are going to become residents and vice versa," said an informed native who wishes to be anonymous. "Later they are going to control all the lands and economy like they do in Mandalay."
In order to get more support from the people in the May referendum, junta authorities had been issuing ID cards almost for free to people in Shan State. But Chinese and Thai citizens of Chinese origins were paying up to Y 1,000 ($ 150) in Mongla, opposite China's Daluo, and B 5,000 ($150) in Mongton, opposite Thailand's Chiangmai.
There were many temporary ID cards of different colors that the authorities had issued to the people such as pink, green and white. Wa, Kokang and people in areas of ceasefire groups don't' get access to hold pink or green cards, which are considered to be temporary citizenship cards. The white card cannot be used for evidence to prove one's citizenship, it is explicitly stated at the reverse side of the card.