[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 12/5/10
- Indian team to visit Myanmar for expediting power projects
- U.S. Diplomat Meets With Myanmar Opposition Leader
- US envoy warns Myanmar over NKorea arms
- Path of engagement with Burma
- Union Election Commission issues Notification No. 41/2010
- Faction of Myanmar’s opposition forms new party
- NDF Party to ally with pro-democracy, ethnic groups
- Military rule in civilian clothing?
- Parties aplenty, but can any challenge Myanmar’s junta?
- Burma’s imperfect polls offer the best hope for change
- Game over? No, not yet
- Political parties slam ‘rule-breaking’ PM
- No more ‘military government’
- Tensions rising between Myanmar’s military junta and the Kachin Independence Army
- Call to open Myanmar’s books
- Quintana says conditions not present for credible elections
- We must deny the military regime in Burma the legitimacy it craves
- Tight censorship on reporting USDP
- DKBA unlikely to reunite with KNLA
- Shan party allowed to register for elections
- Myanmar introduces visas on arrival for tourists
- Myanmar border trade hits 1.3 bln USD in 2009-10
- Than Shwe a predator, says media watchdog
- Myanmar junta members go civilian
- Japanese companies sign hydropower deal with Myanmar
- Breaking Burma’s isolation
- Burma’s ‘elections’ should not be recognized
Indian team to visit Myanmar for expediting power projects – Utpal Bhaskar
LiveMint.com: Mon 10 May 2010
Govt plans to revive the 1,200MW Tamanthi hydroelectric power plant and 642MW Shwezaye project
New Delhi – As part of India’s economic diplomacy initiative to engage Myanmar and counter China’s growing influence in that country, an Indian team will be leaving for the eastern neighbour on Tuesday to discuss building power plants and transmitting some of the electricity to India.
India plans to revive the stalled 1,200MW Tamanthi hydroelectric power plant and 642MW Shwezaye project on the Chindwin river, the largest tributary of the Irrawaddy river, Myanmar’s key commercial waterway. The memorandum of association for these projects are expected to be signed by December.
The delegation will comprise officials from state-owned firms NHPC Ltd and Power Grid Corp. of India Ltd (PGCIL), said a government official who did not want to be identified.
The visit is part of the Indian government’s exercise to improve diplomatic and economic ties with a neighbour that has rich deposits of natural gas. Myanmar has natural gas reserves of 89.722 trillion cu. ft (tcf), of which 18.012 tcf are proven recoverable reserves, or gas that can be easily extracted and tapped.
Sudhir Kumar, joint secretary, hydropower, in India’s ministry of power, who is part of this delegation, declined comment. S.K. Garg, chairman and managing director, NHPC, confirmed the impending visit and said: “Survey and investigation work are yet to be completed. No modalities have been worked out so far.”
“A transmission link for the evacuation of power is expected to be set up. We had submitted a report on the transmission of power around one-and-a-half years back,” a PGCIL executive said on condition of anonymity.
Tamanthi is in north Myanmar. Once completed, the project would help control floods and provide water for irrigation in the region. India would receive the bulk of the power generated. Myanmar has hydroelectric power potential of 39,720MW and an installed capacity of 747MW.
A power transmission link with Myanmar would also help towards a power inter-link of countries of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc), which groups India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and the Maldives. The Saarc grid envisaged meeting electricity demands and boosting economic and political ties in the region.
The embassy of Myanmar in New Delhi could not be contacted. Questions emailed to it bounced back.
The projects are integral to India for its engagement with Myanmar. India’s ministry of external affairs, or MEA, will underwrite as much as Rs40 crore in expenses to be incurred by NHPC on hydrological studies needed to develop the two power plants in that country. The ministry has funded the cost for additional investigations and the preparation of updated detailed reports for both the projects.
NHPC had earlier submitted reviews of feasibility reports for the Tamanthi and Shwezaye projects to MEA and the power ministry. Subsequently, the reports were accepted by the department of hydropower implementation of the Myanmar government. The feasibility reports of Tamanthi and Shwezaye were prepared by Switzerland’s Colenco Power Engineering Ltd and Japan’s Kansai Electric Power Co. Inc., respectively.
Analysts say that since inter-country deals are complex, they are best handled between governments rather than by commercial entities.
“We have similar plans with Nepal and Bhutan. However, in the case of Myanmar, the challenges are many, especially from the evacuation point of view,” said K. Ramanathan, distinguished fellow at The Energy and Resources Institute. “There are also geopolitical and technical challenges.”
U.S. Diplomat Meets With Myanmar Opposition Leader – Mark McDonald
New York Times: Mon 10 May 2010
Hong Kong — A senior United States diplomat met with the leader of Myanmar’s principal opposition party on Monday, three days after it was disbanded after refusing to register for an election it considered to be undemocratic.
The envoy, Assistant Secretary of State Kurt M. Campbell, spoke with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi early Monday afternoon, a Western diplomat said. The meeting took place at a government guesthouse near her home in Yangon, Myanmar’s principal city and the former capital.
Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has been detained for most of the past 20 years, mostly under house arrest at her lakeside home. She turns 65 next month.
In a statement Monday night, Mr. Campbell applauded Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi’s “compassion and tolerance for her captors in the face of repeated indignities.”
“It is simply tragic,” he said, “that Burma’s generals have rebuffed her countless appeals to work together to find a peaceable solution for a more prosperous future.”
Mr. Campbell also conferred Monday with some of the senior leaders of Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party — the “uncles” — including its former deputy chairman, U Tin Oo.
The party, the National League for Democracy, formally shut down last Friday rather than comply with onerous registration requirements and other election protocols set up by the junta. A senior N.L.D. official, Khin Maung Swe, said he has since formed a new party, according to a report in an online news portal, The Irrawaddy.
The government has said it will hold parliamentary elections this year but has not announced the date. The N.L.D. won the last elections, in 1990, but the results were ignored by the military, which has continued to rule ever since.
Mr. Campbell said Monday night that “what we have seen to date leads us to believe that these elections will lack international legitimacy.”
Mr. Campbell landed on Sunday in Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, where he told a news conference that the United States administration was “troubled” by the recent political developments in Myanmar that had led to the dissolution of the N.L.D.
Later on Sunday he proceeded to Naypyidaw, the capital of Myanmar, where he reportedly met with Foreign Minister Nyan Win; Information Minister Kyaw San; and U Thaung, a former ambassador to the United States who now directs Myanmar’s nuclear energy program as minister of science and technology.
Senator Judd Gregg, Republican of New Hampshire, sponsored a resolution that passed the Senate last week that denounced the junta and called for the release of Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners in Myanmar.
“I regret that the military regime in Burma continues to display a complete and total disinterest in positive relations with the United States, and credible and fair elections for the people of Burma,” Mr. Gregg said.
He added that the United States “expects the military regime to dramatically expand political participation and create an environment free from fear and intimidation before we will consider elections in Burma as anything but a farce.”
The United States and other Western nations have established a broad range of sanctions against Myanmar and the ruling generals.
US envoy warns Myanmar over NKorea arms
Associated Press: Mon 10 May 2010
Yangon – A top U.S. official visiting Myanmar warned Monday that its military regime should abide by U.N. sanctions that prohibit buying arms from North Korea, and also said the junta’s election plans lack legitimacy.
Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asia, read a statement to the press as he prepared to leave Myanmar after holding nearly two hours of closed-door talks with detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party was disbanded last week as a result of its refusal to register for the polls, slated for sometime this year.
He did not reveal details of their talks, but praised her nonviolent struggle for democracy.
“She has demonstrated compassion and tolerance for her captors in the face of repeated indignities,” he said. “It is simply tragic that Burma’s generals have rebuffed her countless appeals to work together to find a peaceable solution for a more prosperous future.” Burma is another name for Myanmar.
Campbell earlier held talks with several Cabinet ministers.
The U.S. envoy issued what appeared to be Washington’s strongest warning to date concerning Myanmar’s arms purchases from North Korea, which some analysts suspect includes nuclear technology.
A U.N. Security Council resolution bans all North Korean arms exports, authorizes member states to inspect North Korean sea, air and land cargo and requires them to seize and destroy any goods transported in violation of the sanctions.
Campbell said that Myanmar leadership had agree to abide by the U.N. resolution, but that “recent developments” called into question its commitment. He said he sought the junta’s agreement to “a transparent process to assure the international community that Burma is abiding by its international commitments.”
“Without such a process, the United States maintains the right to take independent action within the relevant frameworks established by the international community,” said Campbell.
He did not explain what the new developments were or what action the U.S. might take, though it has in the past threatened to stop and search ships carrying suspicious cargo from Pyongyang.
Campbell said that in talks with senior officials, the U.S. side had also outlined a proposal “for a credible dialogue” for all concerned parties to agree on how to conduct upcoming polls, the first since 1990. But the junta had instead moved forward unilaterally without consulting opposition and independent voices.
“As a direct result, what we have seen to date leads us to believe that these elections will lack international legitimacy,” he said. “We urge the regime to take immediate steps to open the process in the time remaining before the elections.” The exact date for the polls has not yet been set.
Campbell’s visit, his second in six months, came just days after the dissolution of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, or NLD, which won the 1990 election but was never allowed to take power.
The party considers newly enacted election laws unfair and undemocratic as Suu Kyi and other political prisoners would be barred from taking part in the vote and so declined to reregister as required, which meant it was automatically disbanded last week.
Suu Kyi was driven from her home in a three-car police motorcade to the nearby government guesthouse for the talks with Campbell. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has been detained, mostly under house arrest, for 14 of the past 20 years. Her freedom has been a long-standing demand of the United States and much of the world community, including the United Nations.
Campbell also voiced concern about the increasing tensions between the government and ethnic minorities that have long been striving for greater autonomy, but face sometime severe repression.
“Burma cannot move forward while the government itself persists in launching attacks against its own people to force compliance with a proposal its ethnic groups cannot accept,” he said. “The very stability the regime seeks will continue to be elusive until a peaceable solution can be found through dialogue.”
Campbell arrived Sunday and met with senior junta officials in the remote administrative capital of Naypyitaw before flying Monday to Yangon, the biggest city. Among the officials he met were Foreign Minister Nyan Win, Information Minister Kyaw San and Science and Technology Minister U Thaung Myanmar’s former envoy in Washington who is the point person for the U.S.-Myanmar engagement.
Relations between Myanmar, also known as Burma, and the U.S. have been strained since its military crushed pro-democracy protests in 1988, killing hundreds, possibly thousands, of demonstrators. Since then, Washington has been Myanmar’s strongest critic, applying political and economic sanctions against the junta for its poor human rights record and failure to hand over power to a democratically elected government.
Campbell, however, said he would continue a dialogue with all sides in Myanmar as part of a new Washington policy of engagement rather than isolation of the ruling generals.
Last year President Barack Obama reversed the Bush administration’s isolation of Myanmar in favor of dialogue with the junta.
Path of engagement with Burma – Wesley K. Clark, Henrietta H. Fore, Suzanne DiMaggio
Japan Times: Mon 10 May 2010
New York — The Obama administration’s decision to seek a new way forward in U.S.-Burma relations recognizes that decades of trying to isolate Burma (aka Myanmar) in order to change the behavior of its government have achieved little. As Burma’s ruling generals prepare to hold elections later this year — for the first time since 1990 — it is time to try something different.
Attempting to engage one of the world’s most authoritarian governments will not be easy. There is no evidence to indicate that Burma’s leaders will respond positively to the Obama administration’s central message, which calls for releasing the estimated 2,100 political prisoners (including Aung San Suu Kyi), engaging in genuine dialogue with the opposition, and allowing fair and inclusive elections.
In fact, the recently enacted electoral laws, which have been met with international condemnation, already point to a process that lacks credibility.
This past fall we convened a task force under the auspices of the Asia Society to consider how the United States can best pursue a path of engagement with Burma. We concluded that the U.S. must ensure that its policies do not inadvertently support or encourage authoritarian and corrupt elements in Burmese society.
At the same time, if the U.S. sets the bar too high at the outset, it will deny itself an effective role in helping to move Burma away from authoritarian rule and into the world community.
During this period of uncertainty, we recommend framing U.S. policy toward Burma on the basis of changes taking place in the country, using both engagement and sanctions to encourage reform. The Obama administration’s decision to maintain trade and investment sanctions on Burma in the absence of meaningful change, particularly with regard to the Burmese government’s intolerance of political opposition, is correct.
Yet there are other measures that should be pursued now. The U.S. should engage not only with Burma’s leaders, but also with a wide range of groups inside the country to encourage the dialogue necessary to bring about national reconciliation of the military, democracy groups, and non-Burmese nationalities.
Removal of some noneconomic sanctions that restrict official bilateral interaction is welcome, and an even greater relaxation in communications, through both official and unofficial channels, should be implemented. Expanding such channels, especially during a period of potential political change, will strengthen U.S. leverage.
To reach the Burmese people directly, the U.S. should continue to develop and scale up assistance programs, while preserving cross-border assistance. Assistance to nongovernmental organizations should be expanded, and U.S. assistance also should be targeted toward small farmers and small- and medium-size businesses.
Educational exchanges under the Fulbright and Humphrey Scholar programs and cultural outreach activities should be increased. These programs produce powerful agents for community development in Burma, and can significantly improve the prospects for better governance.
U.S. policy should shift to a more robust phase if Burmese leaders begin to relax political restrictions, institute economic reforms and advance human rights. If there is no movement on these fronts, there will likely be pressure in the U.S. for tightening sanctions.
If there is no recourse but to pursue stronger sanctions, the U.S. should coordinate with others, including the European Union and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, to impose targeted financial and banking measures to ensure that military leaders and their associates cannot evade the impact of what otherwise would be less-effective unilateral sanctions.
If a different scenario emerges, it should open the way for a much more active U.S. role in assisting with capacity building, governance training and international efforts to encourage economic reforms.
One priority should be to develop an appropriate mechanism for ensuring that revenues from the sale of natural gas are properly accounted for, repatriated and allocated to meet urgent national needs.
In adjusting its policy toward Burma, the U.S. must face reality with a clear vision of what its foreign policy can achieve. U.S. influence in Burma is unlikely to outweigh that of increasingly powerful Asian neighbors. Therefore, the U.S. should make collaboration with other key stakeholders, particularly ASEAN, the United Nations and Burma’s neighbors — including China, India and Japan — the centerpiece of its policy.
In every respect, conditions in Burma are among the direst of any country in the world, and it will take decades, if not generations, to reverse current downward trends and create a foundation for a sustainable and viable democratic government and a prosperous society.
The U.S. needs to position itself to respond effectively and flexibly to the twists and turns that a potential transition in Burma may take over time, with an eye toward pressing the Burmese leadership to move in positive directions.
* Wesley K. Clark, a former NATO supreme commander, is a senior fellow at UCLA’s Burkle Center for International Relations. Henrietta H. Fore is a former administrator of USAID. Both are cochairs of the Asia Society-sponsored Task Force on U.S. Policy toward Burma/Myanmar. Suzanne DiMaggio, director of Policy Studies at the Asia Society, is project director. © 2010 Project Syndicate
Union Election Commission issues Notification No. 41/2010
The New Light of Myanmar: Mon 10 May 2010
Nay Pyi Taw, May 7 – The Union Election Commission issued Notification No. 41/2010 today. The translation of the notification is as follows:-
The Union of Myanmar Union
Election Commission Nay Pyi Taw
Notification No. 41/2010
10th Waning of Kason, 1372 ME
7 May 2010
Permission granted to Kokang Democracy and Unity Party to register as political party
The Union Election Commission granted permission to the Kokang Democracy and Unity Party with its headquarters at No. B/6/137 on Dawna Street in Region 6 of Ward 2, Lashio, Shan State to register in accord with the Article 9 of the Political Parties Registration Law as of 7 May 2010.
The registration number of the Kokang Democracy and Unity Party is (4).
Union Election Commission
Faction of Myanmar’s opposition forms new party
Associated Press: Fri 7 May 2010
Yangon, Myanmar — A faction of Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition declared Friday it will form its own political party to contest Myanmar’s first elections in two decades, a day after the democracy icon’s party disbanded to boycott the vote it says will be flawed.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, which won Myanmar’s last election in 1990 but which the army never allowed to take power, declined to reregister for elections planned for this year, as stipulated by a new election law. The League says the laws are undemocratic and unfair, and its non-registration is tantamount to a boycott.
However, a group of League members who had disagreed with the boycott said they would form their own party called the National Democratic Force.
“We will form a new political party to continue our struggle for democracy and human rights,” said Khin Maung Swe, a former senior member of Suu Kyi’s party and a former political prisoner.
Whether Suu Kyi would play any role in the new party was not immediately clear but unlikely. She had previously called the junta’s election laws “undemocratic” and said she would “not even think” of registering her party for the polls.
Swe said he had earlier suggested the idea of forming what he called a “lifeboat party” to enable the League to circumvent the dissolution. “The idea was not accepted,” he said, but the faction decided to form one anyway.
Swe said the new party would register with the Election Commission this month. While existing parties had to reregister by May 6, new parties are given more time.
Roughly 80 percent of the new party’s membership would be from Suu Kyi’s former party, he said.
“We are going to continue our unending democratic struggle within the legal framework,” said Than Nyein, expected to serve as the new party’s chairman.
On Thursday, officials at the National League for Democracy tidied their desks and locked political files at their main office in Yangon, a quiet end to a party founded more than 20 years ago to challenge military rule.
Leaders and several members were seen Friday inside the headquarters. They are barred from holding political meetings there but have said they will continue working as a social movement.
Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for 14 of the past 20 years, was convicted last year of illegally harboring a visitor, an eccentric American who swam uninvited to her lakeside home. The conviction bars her from running or even voting in the election.
The government has not yet announced a date for the upcoming elections, saying only they will be held this year. The vote has been widely criticized as a sham designed to cement military rule.
NDF Party to ally with pro-democracy, ethnic groups – Wai Moe
Irrawaddy: Fri 7 May 2010
A former leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) who plans to form a new political party to contest in the coming election said the party will ally with other pro-democracy and ethnic parties to shape the pro-democracy movement.
“Our unfinished duty is to bring peace, democracy and development to the people of Burma,” said Than Nyein, a former NLD executive member and a leader of the new party. “For the cause, we will work together with other political parties including ethnic parties after we form the National Democratic Force (NDF) party.”
Than Nyein said the NDF would not rush to ally with other political groups until it had studied the nature of the campaign and the political parties.
“Our party would also avoid to contest in ethnic areas in favor of the rights of ethnic political parties to manage their affairs,” Than Nyein told The Irrawaddy on Friday. “Like the democracy issue, ethnic issues are also important for us.”
He said ethnic political issues should be resolved alongside democracy and human rights issues.
People should approach politics pragmatically, he said: “Sometimes when the things that we want can not happen, we need to think about other ways to achieve our main goal—how to contribute to society in a better way.”
Than Nyein and his former NLD colleagues will formally apply to register the new party within one month. The NLD was dissolved as a political party on Thursday after it decided not to re-register, saying the electoral laws are not fair. The laws banned NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other political detainees from running in the election.
As for Suu Kyi’s future political role, Than Nyein said she is still their party’s leader.
“At any time Daw Aung San Suu Kyi can come to lead us,” he said. “We always respect her.”
He said detained activists of the 88 Generation Students group who are now in their forties and thirties, such as Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi, are also welcome. “They are a new generation,” Than Nyein said.
After the election commission approves the NDF’s application, he said that many former NLD members are likely to join the NDF party, and the party expects to rely heavily on former NLD activists across the country.
Meanwhile, some former NLD leaders expressed caution about the role of the NDF.
Win Tin, a former colleague of Than Nyein who pposed NLD re-gistration, said that Than Nyein and other former NLD members within the new political party must be loyal to the people of Burma and respect Suu Kyi.
Some activist said they were concerned that the NDF could split dissident groups, which could affect the overall pro-democracy movement.
“We could see a big split among the opposition,” said Chan Tun, a veteran Rangoon politician. “I want to suggest that they seek unity and understanding. If you have the same goals, then it’s all right to use different tactics and approaches. I hope all the pro-democracy groups can avoid disunity, which would be the biggest blow for the movement.”
Than Nyein was a former student leader in the late 1950s and early 1960s. During the 1988 uprising, he was a physician in southern Shan State, where he led a pro-democracy movement. After the military coup, he was briefly detained.
In the early 1990s, Than Nyein and other NLD leaders close to Suu Kyi were sideline from the party because of the junta’s pressure. He said a number of his friends have died in prison. He was arrested several times during the past 20 years. His last detention was in 1996 for aiding Suu Kyi. He was released in September 2008 along with other NLD leaders such as Win Tin and Khin Maung Swe.
Military rule in civilian clothing? – Editorial
Voice of America: Fri 7 May 2010
Burma’s top military leaders recently resigned their posts and organized a new political party, a move possibly intended to run candidates in national elections later this year.
Prime Minister of Burma Thein Sein.Burma’s top military leaders recently resigned their posts and organized a new political party, a move possibly intended to run candidates in national elections later this year, the first since 1990.
The international community has been calling consistently for a return to representative, civilian rule in Burma. This action by some of Burma’s top generals, though, follows enactment of a restrictive election law that bars many political activists from running for office. The decision by General Thein Sein and some 20 other members of his cabinet to shed their uniforms raises more questions than it answers about Burma’s future.
Under a controversial new constitution drafted by the military government, a popular vote some time later this year will, Burmese authorities say, restore civilian rule for the first time since 1962. The generals see the election as a way to enhance their credibility at home and deflect criticism on their policies from the international community.
To accomplish this, Burma’s leaders would have to open up the political process. Instead, they restricted it with the new Political Parties Registration law and the constitution, which guarantees 25 percent of the seats in Parliament to the military even before the voting. Now, by leaving their military posts and forming the new Union Solidarity and Development Party, or USDP, Thein Sein and his “former” military colleagues could supplement the military’s 25% quota on parliamentary seats, enabling the military to retain control of the country under the guise of an open election.
The USDP has yet to announce its plans, and it is hoped that its intentions will soon be clear. To be credible, an open, free and fair election is essential, along with a chance to conduct a broad and serious dialogue with leading activists and various ethnic groups who deserve a say in Burma’s future.
Parties aplenty, but can any challenge Myanmar’s junta? – Martin Petty
Reuters: Fri 7 May 2010
Bangkok – Although dismissed by many as a sham to entrench five decades of military rule, Myanmar’s upcoming election is being taken seriously at home, with dozens of political parties queuing up to take part.
But what remains to be seen is whether any real force will emerge to challenge the iron-fisted rule of a military that seems determined to cling on to power.
The party seen as Myanmar’s only real hope for a democratic future was effectively disbanded as of Friday when Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) opted not to register for what it said were “unjust” polls — a move that angered many of its supporters.
A breakaway NLD faction announced just hours after the deadline that it would enter the election under a new political entity called the National Democratic Force (NDF) — assuming the army-appointed Election Commission agrees to allow it.
But if the NDF or any other pro-democracy parties emerge, their leaders will have big shoes to fill now the charismatic, long-detained Suu Kyi, the icon of Myanmar’s democracy struggle, has clearly stated her opposition to the long-awaited polls.
The NLD won the last election, in 1990, by a landslide but was denied the chance to rule by a junta that used unexplained constitutional technicalities to keep the NLD out of office.
Many experts and people on the ground believe the window of opportunity for an opposing force to win the support of Myanmar’s people and replicate the NLD’s 1990 feat is fast closing.
The break-up of the NLD could lead to a fractious and divisive opposition, with those intending to challenge the military and its proxies more likely to face off with each other.
“We’ll have to wait and see how well the real, genuine pro-democracy parties can work together,” said Aung Naing Oo, a Harvard-educated Burmese academic based in Thailand.
“The problem is the NLD wasn’t strategically deconstructed. The hardliners and moderates who have been through thick and thin might undermine each other. Some may go underground and that’s a recipe for confrontation.”
The prospect of a clumsily-formed and bickering opposition plays right into the hands of the generals, who unlike 1990, appear to have hatched a clever plan to retain control of the country at all levels.
The armed forces drafted a constitution in 2008 and ensured it passed a referendum, granting its commander-in-chief more power than an elected president and allocating control of key ministries, like justice, defence and interior, to the military.
And it looks as if it will get its hands on the “civilian” side of the new democratic Myanmar too.
At least 20 ministers from the junta, including Prime Minister Thein Sein, resigned from the military last week to become civilian politicians, although as is typical with Myanmar, their parties remain a mystery.
A party known as the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) has attracted wide attention on state-controlled television, prompting accusations the junta has hijacked a social development organisation to use as its vehicle for parliamentary politics.
The USDA appears to be modelled on Indonesia’s powerful Golkar Party and claims to have 24 million members — about half of Myanmar’s population.
A total of 30 groups have applied to become political parties and more may join before the June 6 deadline for new parties to register for the election, a date for which has yet to be set.
Only four of 10 existing parties have applied to run, three, including the National Unity Party (NUP) — the runner-up to the NLD in 1990 — comprise former members of the Socialist Programme Party, the political arm of the military junta that seized power in a 1962 coup before its dissolution in 1998.
Regardless of who wins, most analysts believe parliamentary politics will be a sideshow given the military’s ministerial and budgetary powers and its allocation of 25 percent of the national assembly and a third of senate seats to serving generals.
“The generals don’t want a repeat of the 1990 election and its clear they won’t share power with anyone,” said Aung Zaw, editor of the Thailand-based Irrawaddy magazine.
“Any idea that this election can change the political landscape is wishful thinking. Members of parliament won’t have the power or numbers to go against these military dinosaurs.”
(Additional reporting by Aung Hla Tun in Naypyitaw; Editing by Alex Richardson)
Burma’s imperfect polls offer the best hope for change – Roger Huang
Jakarta Post: Fri 7 May 2010
Burma is at an important juncture this year as its first election in 20 years approaches.
Well known for its charismatic opposition leader, Aung Sang Suu Kyi, and the ruling, military-dominated State Peace and Development Council, it comes as no real surprise that a series of recently announced electoral laws would effectively prevent Suu Kyi and other political dissidents from participating in the upcoming election.
Irrespective of the wave of criticism the electoral laws attracted from pro-democracy forces and foreign governments, it seems clear that the multiparty election will take place with or without the participation of non-junta-supported parties. This includes the main democratic opposition, the Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy, providing a serious challenge to the NLD and other political stakeholders.
Regardless of the mockery that the 2010 Burma election may make of the democratic process, it would be an even bigger blow for the country if no genuine opposition participates. Under the new laws, NLD will face dissolution as a legal entity if it continues with its current plan to boycott the election.
Despite the undemocratic clauses of the 2008 Constitution on which the 2010 election is based, it will essentially allow a pseudo-civilian government to be formed after the election. This will include the reintroduction of a parliamentary system in Burma, albeit with 25 percent of the seats guaranteed for the military. Despite the unfair practices and challenges any opposition may face, the election also provides an opportunity for opposition groups to challenge the SPDC, by competing for seats against junta-backed proxy parties.
Hundreds of genuine democratic enthusiasts not affiliated with the NLD will still be eager to run in the election. Some may succeed in the polls even in the face of open intimidation and junta manipulation.
By participating in the election, even without Suu Kyi’s approval or the NLD’s involvement, opposition groups may garner enough support to become viable players in the Burmese political landscape. Additionally, from within the SPDC-ascribed framework, opposition politicians will finally have a “legitimate” platform to push for gradual political liberalization, and perhaps even more important, address key pragmatic social and economic concerns of the state when the parliament finally convenes after a hiatus of several decades.
For the last two decades, the NLD and the international community have continued to condemn and dismiss the SPDC. However, continued isolation, Western sanctions and moral condemnation of the generals have done little to sway the junta’s position. Such policies have in fact only strengthened the junta’s resolve to develop the Burmese state at their own pace and on their own terms.
Irrespective of what Suu Kyi stands for, and the noble sacrifices she and others have made in their demand for a democratic Burma, the reality is that Western support and continued focus on Suu Kyi and the NLD, along with their sanctions, have failed to influence the ruling junta.
Participating in the election within the constraints set by the junta may seem like kowtowing to the military regime and falls far short of the international norms in upholding a credible democratic process. However, for a nation that has been plagued by civil war, ethnic tensions, factional politics and bureaucratic inefficiency ever since its independence, participation in the election is perhaps the only viable option at present for any constructive development.
Suu Kyi will remain an important figure for the future of Burma, whether as a living martyr or as a figure for peace and reconciliation in a more politically relaxed Burma. However, the political realities of today’s Burma suggest that pragmatism must prevail over abstract notions of democracy and simplistic moral positions. For the betterment of the Burmese populace, gradual, incremental political changes will be more constructive than continued absolutist positions that insist on vague and unrealistic goals aimed at immediate “democracy” in the Burma state.
As former Burmese UN Secretary-General U Thant reportedly once said, “Governments, systems, ideologies come and go, but it is humanity which remains.” Similarly, in order for Burma to move beyond its current political impasse, strict dogmatism must be abandoned by the NLD and other oppositional stakeholders. As long as the democratic forces survive the 2010 electoral games, hope will remain for Burma.
East Asia Forum
* Roger Huang is research development officer at the Center for Asian Pacific Studies, Lingnan University, Hong Kong.
Game over? No, not yet – Aung Zaw
Irrawaddy: Fri 7 May 2010
Like it or not, Burma’s politics will remain black and white, with no prospect of becoming “multi-colored,” as in neighboring Thailand.
The decision by Burma’s main opposition party and outright winner of the 1990 election, the National League for Democracy (NLD), not to reregister signaled that political divisions remain deep.
Aung Zaw is founder and editor of the Irrawaddy magazine. He can be reached at aungzaw@....
As the NLD held a final gathering this week at its Rangoon headquarters before its forced dissolution, Burmese people and the dissident community inside and outside the country hotly debated the future of the party, the democracy movement as a whole and, of course, the roles of Aung San Suu Kyi and other party leaders.
Many pragmatists, revolutionary activists and even members of the “pro-election” camp have sympathy for the NLD and Suu Kyi and want them to continue the fight. Some of the criticism of the NLD is based on sympathy because the critics want to see the party adopt a better political strategy and tactics and to become savvy.
Since its foundation in 1988, the NLD has never been able to function as a political party, operating rather like a quasi semi-underground social movement. Many of its leaders, including Suu Kyi, have been detained for long terms of imprisonment or house arrest.
Although the NLD emerged the winner of the 1990 election, the result was not recognized by the regime, which then decapitated the party and imprisoned many of its members.
The regime ruthlessly and brutally played a black and white game, and with the dissolution now of the party the junta may feel it has achieved its objective. But I am not so sure.
Suu Kyi and party leaders have repeatedly said that they would never turn their backs on the people or renounce the struggle for democracy. They have vowed to keep the visible signs of the party—its banners and placards—on view, perhaps provoking a crackdown.
Political and social instability will undoubtedly increase before we see a better Burma.
Suu Kyi will continue to be an influential leader regardless of whether or not she remains under house arrest or heads a political movement. She and other prominent activists now in prison should be released and resume their involvement in the opposition movement.
The new government (a “wolf in sheep’s clothing?”) will have no choice but to continue to face the fundamental challenges presented by a still formidable Suu Kyi and her calls for political dialogue, the embattled democracy movement, radical activists, unpredictable political strife, thorny ethnic issues and the restless, armed ethnic rebels.
International support for Suu Kyi and the pro-democracy movement, while not expected to increase dramatically, will remain strong. The struggle is not over. With or without the NLD, the desire for change in Burma will remain the same.
The upcoming election (apparently more like a selection than an election) is unlikely to change the dynamics of the current civil-military relationship because the regime wields a unilateral and coercive policy instrument. We may see a less evil and more sophisticated government take power but fundamentally meaningful changes are unlikely to come to Burma.
The issues of ethnic minorities, human rights violations, political prisoners, forced labor, internally displaced persons, refugees and the millions of migrants stranded in neighboring countries won’t be solved.
The ethnic issue will continue to confront the new government because the Burman-dominated military regime doesn’t understand the aspirations of the ethnic minorities and why they took up arms in the first place.
Snr-Gen Than Shwe once famously declared at a cabinet meeting: “Let them [the ethnic minority groups] smoke as many 555 cigarettes as possible. Let them drink as many Black Label [whiskies] as possible. As long we have peace it is fine.”
Ethnic leaders aren’t fighting for 555 cigarettes and Black Label whiskey, however. Without a solution of ethnic issues, there can be no political transition in Burma.
Internationally, the military’s absolute control of key areas in the future government indicates that Naypyidaw will remain a pariah, lacking credibility and legitimacy. Burma will continue to be a problem child in the region and beyond.
Sanctions will remain in place, although the West, particularly the US, will find more creative ways to penetrate Burma and the new regime. The clandestine military relationship between Burma and North Korea will continue to draw the attention of the West and neighboring governments.
Of course, there is no lack of wishful thinkers and spin-doctors, saying things they don’t believe in for the sake of maintaining the status quo for their donors or just to undermine Suu Kyi and the democracy movement.
Indeed, some naively believe there will be a new landscape after the election. Any new landscape, however, will be just a facade—even Snr-Gen Than Shwe’s change from military uniform to civilian suit won’t disguise his true clown’s costume.
Than Shwe and his team should not be underestimated, however. They have a raft of “Plan Bs” in order to hold on to power at all cost. They don’t care how many more activists die in prison or in ethnic conflicts. They are unmoved by the plight of refugees and internally displaced people.
Than Shwe and his road map may deceive sections of the foreign community and some regional leaders suffering from “Burma fatigue.” But the people of Burma are not deceived—they’ve had enough of the hell that is Burma today and they want change.
Political parties slam ‘rule-breaking’ PM – Aye Nai
Democratic Voice of Burma: Thu 6 May 2010
A number of parties competing in Burma’s elections this year have said the formation of a new political party by prime minister Thein Sein violates Burma’s own domestic laws.
According to the Political Party Registration Law, unveiled in March, government employees are barred from setting up their own political parties. Thein Sein, who last week stood down from his military post but remains prime minister, has announced that he will head the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which recently registered for the polls.
The USDP sounds eerily similar to the government-proxy social organisation, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), although no concrete link has yet been verified.
If there is a link, then the party would be guilty of political corruption because the USDA is financed by the government.
“During the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League era [1945 to 1962], the law prohibited government workers from setting up political parties and standing for the elections,” said Thu Wei, head of the Democracy Party. “However, the prime minister’s position back then was not recognised as a government employee, so we are not yet clear what the law now is.
He added however that it was “completely inappropriate” to use the USDA’s name. “We dislike and do not accept this,” he said. “This is unfair and cunning, and is meant to confuse people during the elections. If such a party becomes the government, lies and wrongdoings will continue.”
Ye Htun, brother of the prominent Burmese politician Aye Lwin and head of Union of Myanmar 88 Generation Student Youths party, said that Burma was dealing in “messy politics”.
“Today’s election laws were written by the current military government who are like the referee on the pitch,” he said. “Now the referee is bringing his own ball into the game, play the game himself, and he will shoot it into the goalpost that he himself positioned. This is quite pointless in politics.”
Khin Maung Swe, spokesperson for the National League for Democracy (NLD), which today marks its termination as a political after refusing to run in the elections, said that if Thein Sein was still receiving a government salary, then his new role as USDP head would be illegal.
Much of the international community has condemned the election laws, which effectively block the NLD from participating and appear to be a ploy aimed at keeping the military government in power. More than 25 parties have so far registered for the elections.
No more ‘military government’ – Nayee Lin Let
Irrawaddy: Thu 6 May 2010
Naypyidaw: The War Office in Napyidaw has issued a directive for state-controlled media not to describe the Burmese government as a “Tatmadaw government,” according to military sources. Tatmadaw, in Burmese, means “military.”
A high ranking officer said that on April 26, state-owned media such as newspapers, radio, television run by the Defense Ministry and Information Ministry were given instructions not to use the term.
Burmese soldiers sit alert in a car escorting Snr-Gen Than Shwe from a military parade marking the country’s 65th Armed Forces Day at a parade ground in Naypyidaw on March 27. (Photo: Getty Images)
“This instruction is aimed at the government led by PM Thein Sein,” said the officer. “Many high-ranking army officer have already resigned from their army positions in order to set up a political party and to become candidates in the upcoming election. In that case, if you continue to use the term ‘Tatmadaw government,’ it won’t be relevant. So, the media must use the term ‘government of the union of Burma.’”
The instruction was issued after the resignation of selected army officers who will join a state-backed political party to stand as candidates for seats in parliament, said the officer.
The term “Tatmadaw government” has been widely used in regime-controlled media after the military coup since 1988.
According to an army veteran, after April 26, there are no army officers in the structure of the current government and the military government has been transformed into a civilian government.
“If you use the term tatmadaw government, it won’t be relevant with the current government. So you are not allowed to use the term,” he said.
Under the current government, there are 38 ministries. In the cabinet, there are 39 ministers and 39 deputy ministers.
It was reported last week that Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein and other key members of the ruling junta have registered a political party to contest the upcoming general election.
Thein Sein and 26 other leaders had registered the party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), at the Union Election Commission in April. The 26 other party leaders were not identified but are known to be current ministers and deputy ministers.
A list of army officers who resigned:
Gen Htay Oo, agriculture and irrigation minister
Lt-Gen Soe Thein, Industrial (2) minister
Gen Thein Swe, transportation minister
Brig-Gen Lun Thi, energy minister
Gen Aung Min, railway minister
Brig-Gen Tin Naing Thein, economy and trading minister
Gen Soe Naing, hotel and tourism minister
Gen Hla Htun, finance and taxation minister
Brig-Gen Thein Zaw, communication minister
Brig General Thuya Myint Maung, minister for religion
Gen Khin Aung Myint, minister for culture
Gen Tin Htut, minister for cooperative
Col Thein Nyunt, minister for border areas development
Col Zaw Min, minister for electricity (1)
Gen Khin Maung Myint, minister for construction and electricity (2)
Brig-GenThuya Aye Myint, sports minister
Brig-GenKyaw San, information minister
Brig-GenThein Aung, forestry minister
Gen Maung Oo, home and immigration minister
Brig Ohn Myint, minister for mining
Gen Maung Maung Swe, social affairs minister
Brig-Gen Maung Maung Thein, husbandry and fishery minister
Gen Lin Maung, auditor-general
Brig-Gen Aung Thein Lin, mayor of rangoon
Brig Phone Zaw Han, mayor of mandalay
Lt-Col Khin Maung Kyaw, industrial (2)
Gen Kyaw Swar Khine, industrial (2)
Col Thuyein Zaw, national planning
Col Nyan Htun Aung, transportation
Brig Tin Htun Aung, labor
Brig Aung Myo Min, education
Brig Than Htay, energy
Brig Aung Htun, economy and trading
Brig Aye Myint Kyu, hotel and tourism
Col Hla Thein Swe, finance and taxation
Gen Thein Htun, communication
Brig Thuya Aung Ko, religion
Brig Myint Thein, construction
Brig Win Sein, immigration
Col Tin Ngwe, border area development
Brig Win Myint, electricity (2)
Brig Bhone Swe, interior
Brig Kyaw Myint, social affairs
Col Maung Par, deputy mayor of Rangoon
Tensions rising between Myanmar’s military junta and the Kachin Independence Army
Jane’s Intelligence Weekly: Thu 6 May 2010
Tensions are rising between Myanmar’s military junta and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), as the latter continues to reject transformation into a border guard force.
Not all anniversaries are to be celebrated; 28 April marked a year since Myanmar’s government proposed to integrate some 20 ethnic insurgent ceasefire groups into the Tatmadaw (armed forces). Despite a year of negotiations, agreement on the proposal seems no closer.
The border guard force (BGF) initiative coincides with the military government’s (State Peace and Development Council: SPDC) efforts to secure the participation of these groups’ political wings in elections designed to formalise the military’s control over the government.
Weaker ceasefire groups have had little choice but to comply with the Tatmadaw’s demands. However, stronger groups have reacted obstinately to the initiative. One of these is the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which remains a formidable military group. A spokesman for the KIA’s political wing, the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), told Jane’s it boasts 25,000 personnel, including between 7,000 and 8,000 ground troops. These figures may be exaggerated, but the group can also draw on its 7,000-strong militarised youth wing.
Visiting the KIA’s headquarters in Laiza on 16 April, Jane’s was told why the BGF initiative is seen as unworkable. According to the proposal, each BGF unit would be commanded by three majors, including a commander and vice-commander drawn from the ethnic armies and an intelligence-cum-administrative officer from the government’s army, significantly restricting the group’s autonomy. The KIA’s independence would be further compromised by the integration of 29 other officers and non-commissioned officers from the army into each of the 326-strong units. Subordinated to the Tatmadaw’s directorate of militias and border guard forces, the BGF units would be inferior to infantry battalions.
As an incentive, the Tatmadaw promised the KIA salaries, provisions and armaments. However, the proposal would retire soldiers over the age of 50 and sideline senior KIA commanders. The proposal also omits any mention of the KIO, which governs the Kachin State Special Region 2.
In an attempt to resolve the ongoing dispute, 16 meetings between the SPDC and KIO have taken place, but these have achieved little. The KIO’s initial counter-proposal to the BGF was to rename the KIA as the Kachin Regional Guard Force and jointly govern Kachin state with the new government. The SPDC rejected this on the basis that the BGF was modelled on international practices, and that the creation of autonomous ethnic forces would restore a system of administration that had failed under the previous U Nu government.
In later meetings, the KIO invoked the 1947 Panglong Agreement, which gave ethnic areas on the periphery of the state internal administrative autonomy. In response, the northern commander Major General Soe Win declared: “The age of Panglong has been cancelled and it is gone now.”
Following the last meeting in April, the KIO proposed informally that the entire BGF issue be set aside for resolution under the new government, and that it neither participate nor interfere in the elections. The SPDC spurned the offer.
Finally, on 15 April, the KIA dispatched a letter to Naypyidaw acknowledging that it would accept a role within the Tatmadaw, but only on the basis of equality as part of a union army. On 23 April, the two sides agreed to continue their dialogue.
Against this background of uncertainty, a series of recent bomb explosions have highlighted increased military tension. On 15 April, three bombs exploded in downtown Yangon. According to the state-run newspaper New Light of Myanmar, the incident killed 10 people and injured 170. On the same day, a bomb blast also occurred in the town of Muse at the main border trade gate with China. Although no one has claimed responsibility for either blast, several of the ceasefire groups have indicated that if fighting resumes they will wage urban warfare.
Two days later, 27 bombs exploded at a controversial hydropower project north of Myitkyina. The project has been a source of tension as it will displace 60 Kachin villages. Government officials are publicly linking the BGF issue and these bombs. On the morning of the explosions, the SPDC-supported Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) reported that unexploded ordnance at the site resembled KIA-manufactured bombs.
The KIA vehemently denied any involvement in the bombings when speaking to Jane’s. However, several weeks before, the USDA revealed that authorities had arrested a man in possession of 32 remote-controlled bombs. According to their account, the man confessed he had attended a two-day training course in explosives organised by the KIA, which had dispatched him and 49 other underground operatives with small stipends and dozens of explosives.
Amid growing tensions, the two sides appear to be at loggerheads. The SPDC remains resolute, while the KIA position requires either constitutional redrafting or their exclusion from the process, neither of which the SPDC wants to accept. A resumption of hostilities is possible, but undesirable for all parties. The SPDC is likely to forge ahead with elections and resolve the status of the ceasefire groups later. However, without a settlement the country’s deep-rooted ethnic problems will only fester.
Call to open Myanmar’s books – Brian McCartan
The Asia Times: Thu 6 May 2010
Bangkok – A new international campaign aims to encourage oil and gas giants Total and Chevron to reveal the extent of payments they have made to the Myanmar government over the past 18 years. New oil and gas pipelines are slated to come online in the next few years and rights groups allege Myanmar’s oil and gas industry serves to prop up the rights-abusing military regime.
EarthRights International (ERI), a Washington DC-based human-rights and environmental organization, announced the campaign at a press conference in Bangkok on April 27. A statement for the campaign was signed by more than 160 labor unions, investmentfirms, academics, non-government organizations and policy makers, including former Irish president and head of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, Mary Robinson, as well as former Norwegian prime minister Kjell Magne Bondevik.
The statement calls for France-based Total, Chevron of the United States, and Thai state oil company Petroleum Authority of Thailand Exploration and Production (PTTEP), to reveal the amounts paid to the junta in fees, taxes, royalties and benefits since the sta
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