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[Readingroom] News on Burma - 24/8/10

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    Veteran Myanmar politician says govt party to win Numbers stacked against Myanmar opposition, party leaders say Burma suspends visas on arrival before election
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 24, 2010
      1. Veteran Myanmar politician says gov’t party to win
      2. Numbers stacked against Myanmar opposition, party leaders say
      3. Burma suspends visas on arrival before election
      4. Junta sets new BGF deadline for ethnic armed groups
      5. State censor bans use of bamboo-hat logo
      6. Two major Indonesian banks to open offices in Myanmar
      7. Burma-Timor Leste forge closer ties
      8. Election results will be predictable
      9. Is Burma on the verge of transformation?
      10. Myanmar lays down stringent campaign rules for November election
      11. Rights to assemble and canvass for Hluttaw candidates
      12. NLD election boycott official
      13. The end of the DKBA?
      14. Myanmar’s politics and economy: A new day beckons, sort of
      15. U.S. to Back Human-Rights Inquiry in Myanmar
      16. Obama wants Burmese rulers to face UN war crimes investigation
      17. Upholding the Responsibility to Protect in Burma
      18. Human rights law is the only thing that will frighten the generals
      19. TUC calls for Barclays to come clean on Burma
      20. Breakaway party expects to field 100 candidates in Myanmar polls
      21. 4 new private banks open in Myanmar’s new capital
      22. Judge criticises US over ’soft’ fine for Barclays Bank
      23. Political parties face old foes of time and money
      24. Death railway in Burma’s Shan State
      25. Burma to lease over 100,000 acres of Arakanese land to Vietnam
      26. Constitutional truth or trick?


      Veteran Myanmar politician says gov’t party to win
      The Associated Press: Mon 23 Aug 2010

      YANGON, Myanmar — A veteran politician contesting Myanmar’s upcoming elections said Sunday the political party backed by the ruling military junta will easily win the most seats because challengers face financial and other handicaps.
      Thu Wai, chairman of the newly formed Democratic Party (Myanmar), said the challenger parties can field candidates in less than half of the national and regional constituencies.

      But the junta’s backing gives the Union Solidarity and Development Party, led by Prime Minister Thein Sein, access to money and a national presence, and the party is widely expected to receive the most votes.

      The Nov. 7 elections are the first in impoverished Myanmar in two decades. The National League for Democracy party of detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, which overwhelmingly won the last elections in 1990 but was barred by the military from taking power, has decided to boycott the polls.

      “By creating obstacles to other political parties before the election, it won’t be necessary to cheat or rig votes in the election as the USDP is getting the upper hand. Thus voting (itself) will be free and fair,” Thu Wai said.

      All candidates contesting the polls must pay the Election Commission a deposit of 500,000 kyat ($500), more than half a year’s salary for an average schoolteacher.

      Thu Wai, 77, is a longtime democracy activist and former political prisoner. His party’s executive secretaries include former Prime Minister U Nu’s daughter Than Than Nu, former Prime Minister Ba Swe’s daughter Nay Yee Ba Swe, and Cho Cho Kyaw Nyein, the daughter of a former deputy prime minister.

      Thu Wai said that out of the more than 1,100 seats in the national parliament and regional parliaments, other political parties may be able to field candidates in just 500 constituencies, leaving more than half uncontested.

      “Since the Election Commission has given us only two weeks to submit the candidate list, our capacity to field candidates has been greatly reduced, as we are short of cash and time,” said Thu Wai, adding that his party may be able to field around 100 candidates, though it had planned on more.

      Some 47 political parties have registered to contest the elections and so far 41 have been permitted.

      Election laws passed ahead of the voting have been criticized as undemocratic by the international community. They effectively bar Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi and other political prisoners – estimated at more than 2,000 – and members of religious orders from taking part in the elections. Suu Kyi’s party was automatically disbanded under the laws for refusing to register for the elections.

      Numbers stacked against Myanmar opposition, party leaders say
      Asia-Pacific News: Mon 23 Aug 2010

      Yangon – Myanmar’s pro-democracy parties are set to field candidates in only around half of the constituencies in November’s election, due to the limited time and resources available for preparation, political sources said Sunday.
      The shortage of opposition candidates could leave their junta-backed rivals running unchallenged for many of the seats in the lower and upper house and regional parliaments, in Myanmar’s first general election for 20 years.

      ‘We have about 100 candidates, and I think altogether there will be about 500 candidates for all the democratic forces,’ said Cho Cho Kyaw Nyein, secretary of the Democratic Party.

      ‘The total candidates required for all constituencies and all parliaments are about 1,100,’ said Cho, who complained that parties had not been given enough time to prepare.

      The polls, scheduled for November 7, were only announced on August 13.

      Funds were also lacking to register enough candidates, he said. ‘To register one candidate costs 500 dollars which is a huge amount in a poor country like Burma,’ Cho told the German Press Agency, dpa.

      ‘Meanwhile, the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party [USDP] is very rich, with full support from the government. We can’t compete with them.’

      The USDP, which claims to have about 26 million members in a country of 60 million, on Friday opened about 400 offices nationwide. The party, led by ex-military officers, is deemed the political wing of Myanmar’s military establishment which was ruled the country since 1962.

      ‘USDP will compete in all places, but we can’t. That means USDP will win without any competitions in some constituencies,’ Democratic Party chairman Thu Wei told a press conference.

      The Democratic Party is led by Than Than Nu and Nay Yee Ba Swe, daughters of ex-Prime Minister U Nu, and Nay Phoo Ba Swe, daughter of ex-Prime Minister Ba Swe.

      The party is closely allied with the National Democratic Force party, a breakaway faction of the National League for Democrcay (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of Myanmar independence hero Aung San.

      The NLD and Suu Kyi said they plan to boycott this year’s polls.

      Myanmar last held a general election in 1990, which was won by the NLD. But the military have blocked the NLD and Suu Kyi from power for the past two decades.

      Few observers expect November’s election to bring about genuine democracy.

      A clause in the new constitution allows the military control over any future elected government by making the upper house of the National Parliament a partially junta-appointed body with veto power over legislation.

      Burma suspends visas on arrival before election
      Radio Australia: Mon 23 Aug 2010

      Burma’s military junta has suspended visas on arrival for tourists from September.
      The suspension is being seen as a move by the junta to prevent outside reporters and monitors from entering the country ahead of the November 7 elections.

      Many foreign journalists traveled to the country on tourist visas during a monk-led political protest in 2007 and when Cyclone Nargis hit in 2008.

      Journalists and observers granted official visas are accompanied by minders, thus restricting movement and observation.

      Burma has yet to respond to the regional group ASEAN’s offer to send observers during the elections.

      The elections, the first since 1991 are widely seen as an elaborate charade aimed at cementing the army’s grip on power and attracting investment.


      Junta sets new BGF deadline for ethnic armed groups – Hseng Khio Fah
      Shan Herald Agency for News: Mon 23 Aug 2010

      The ruling Burmese military junta has scheduled another deadline on the Border Guard Force (BGF) issue for two of Burma’s ethnic ceasefire groups: the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) aka Mongla group at its latest meeting on 20 August, according to sources from the Sino-Burma border.
      The two have been ‘instructed’ to give their acceptance on transforming themselves into the BGF by the first week of September, said a source from Shan State North’s Tangyan, where the meeting between the UWSA and Lt-Gen Ye Myint, Chief of Military Affairs Security (MAS), was held.

      In keeping with Naypyitaw’s invitation, the UWSA and NDAA on 20 August met junta’s negotiators led by Lt-Gen Ye Myint and Maj-Gen Kyaw Phyoe, Commander of Golden Triangle Region Command respectively on the same day, but at different venues.

      The UWSA led by Bo Lakham, Chairman of the Political Consultative Conference, met Lt-Gen Ye Myint at Tangyan, 83 miles southwest of Shan State North’s capital Lashio for about half an hour from 9:30 to 10:00 and the NDAA led by its Vice Chairman Khun Hsang Lu and Sai Kham Mawng, Deputy Commander of General Staff, met Maj-Gen Kyaw Phyoe at Shan State East’s capital Kengtung at 13:00 (local time).

      “At the meeting between Ye Myint and the UWSA, Ye Myint said that the election was drawing near so he would urge the UWSA to reconsider its decision on the BGF before the polls,” the source said.

      If the groups failed to convert themselves into BGF by the deadline again, it will be automatically designated as “an unlawful association or illegal organizations.”

      Nevertheless, Panghsang was said to have given no response to Ye Myint other than saying they were not authorized to make any decision without their supreme leader’s guidance.

      Mongla was given the same message like Panghsang, said an informed source. “The group just said that they had nothing new to inform.”

      Concerning the BGF program, many deadlines had been set for the ceasefire groups, and the latest was 28 April 2010. But after the 28 April deadline, the junta and ethnic ceasefires groups met a couple of times; one was in May and the second was in June 22. According to the resolution from the 22 June meeting, there would be no new deadline for the groups because the military junta would just hand it over to the new government to handle if the elections are held.

      Anti-BGF programme groups are: the UWSA, the MNDAA, Kachin Independent Army (KIA), Shan State Army (SSA) ‘North’’s First Brigade, the Kayan New Land Party (KNLP) and New Mon State Party (NMSP). All decided to remain unchanged unless their autonomy demands are met and they will not also support or participate in the general elections.

      The UWSA and NDAA said they will be up holding the following four principles: 1) will not surrender, 2) will not transform into BGF unless their autonomy demands are met, 3) will not shoot first, but they are ready to protect themselves and they will not secede from the Union, sources said.

      State censor bans use of bamboo-hat logo – Khai Suu
      Mizzima News: Mon 23 Aug 2010

      New Delhi – Burma’s state censor has banned news journals using in their reporting the seal and logo of the party that broke away from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, National Democratic Front party leader Khin Maung Swe said.
      The Press Scrutiny and Registration Division, the Burmese junta’s censor board had cut the NDF’s bamboo-hat logo from interviews and news presented by Rangoon-based journals Monitor, Hot News and The Voice weekly since the first week of this month, he said.

      “Some journals could report only interviews; some journals could report both interviews and use the logo. The journals replied that the logo was deleted by the censor board when it was contacted,” NDF party leader Khin Maung Swe told Mizzima.

      Sources close to the journals confirmed the ban.

      “We presented our draft copy of interviews and the bamboo-hat logo but the censor deleted both interviews featuring the NDF and the logo,” an editor with links to these journals said.

      “We can print the seals and logos of other parties … As far as we know, they even turned down the draft copy attached with the clippings of state-run media bearing this logo,” a source close to Hot News told Mizzima.

      The NDF said the censor had restricted news coverage containing its logo, though the seals and logos of other parties remained unaffected by the restriction, adding that the party should be allowed the same freedoms as other officially registered parties.
      The party said the logo and seal was permitted in the media only when the dispute between the NDF and NLD arose. The Monitor denied the claim.

      “Why should the logo recognised and permitted by the [election] commission be banned? No, the censor board permitted our journal and other journals to cover the news and its logo,” Monitor editor-in-chief Myat Khaing told Mizzima. Last month’s issue of the journal was allowed to cover NDF news and use its logo and bamboo hat.

      Censor board section head Yu Yu Win said: “I think this logo might also have appeared in other journals. We permit these logos if they are officially recognised by the [electoral] commission. I can say only this.”

      The dispute of using this logo arose when the NDF applied for party registration with the electoral commission, which permitted use of the logo. The commission however failed to communicate its approval to the censor board, a source close to the censor said.

      Similarly, Snapshot journal was barred from running an interview with NDF party chairman Dr. Than Nyein two months ago, a source close to the journal said.

      “It seems the authorities are building more hurdles … for our election campaign as the polling date draws nearer,” Khin Maung Swe said.

      The NDF will field about 100 candidates in the election, which is to be held on November 7.

      Two major Indonesian banks to open offices in Myanmar
      Xinhua General News Service: Mon 23 Aug 2010

      Two major Indonesian banks are planning to open offices in Myanmar to help promote bilateral trade relations between Indonesia and Myanmar, the local Flower News quoted the Indonesian Embassy as reporting Monday.
      The report did not name the banks intending to make the move.

      Entrepreneurs from Myanmar and Indonesia have been seeking bilateral economic and trade cooperation with an Indonesian economic delegation having met with businessmen from the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry in Yangon in February this year to discuss further prospects for such cooperation.

      The Indonesian entrepreneurs were made up of those from various sectors such as foodstuff, textile, construction materials, furniture, handicraft, mines, medicine and medical equipment, cosmetic, airline and lubricant,

      As part of their efforts to boost bilateral economic and trade cooperation, Myanmar and Indonesia have sought direct trade link, direct banking transaction and direct Yangon-Jakarta air link.

      So far, the two countries are trading through Malaysia, carrying out banking transaction through Singapore and connecting without direct air link.

      Indonesia has established the first direct sea trade route with Myanmar operating between Jakarta and Yangon in a bid to broaden its network in the Southeast Asian region. The route enables Myanmar export goods to be shipped directly to Indonesia without requiring to transit through intervening ports.

      Direct trade link between Bandung and Yangon is also being sought.

      Indonesia is Myanmar’s fourth largest trading partner among members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) after Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia, having a bilateral trade with Myanmar standing 178.8 million U.S. dollars in the fiscal year of 2009-10 which ended in March. Indonesia’s exports to Myanmar amounted to 140.8 million dollars, while its imports from Myanmar were valued at 38 million dollars, according to Myanmar official statistics.

      Burma-Timor Leste forge closer ties – Simon Roughneen
      Irrawaddy: Mon 23 Aug 2010

      Bangkok — Burma Foreign Minister Nyan Win concluded a three-day goodwill visit to Timor Leste on Sunday, after being met by protestors at Dili’s international airport on Friday.
      According to a Timorese journalist who requested that his name not be used, a small group of mainly university students clashed with police at Presidente Nicolau Lobato Airport on Friday.

      Juvinal Diaz, who attended the demonstration, said that although the rally was peaceful, police seized banners and placards protesting the visit. Nyan Win was unable to leave the airport for more than an hour while the demonstration took place.

      The visit comes as Timor Leste, the official name for the country also known as East Timor, continues its quest for membership in the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (Asean). Dili needs agreement from all current Asean member-states before it can join.

      Speaking on Friday, Timor Leste President Dr. Jose Ramos-Horta said, “We want to increase our relations,” adding that “this is in accordance with Timor-Leste policy, which aims to improve relations with neighboring countries.”

      Timorese Foreign Minister Zacarias da Costa will visit Burma soon, according to Ramos-Horta, to foster commercial ties between the two countries.

      Timor-Leste is highly import-dependent, with little more than a subsistence, non-oil economy. Timor’s energy revenues are paid into a national petroleum fund, aimed at ensuring responsible and sustainable spending and retaining sufficient cash after offshore oil and gas reserves are depleted. While the current government has been criticized for over-spending from the reserves, the system is in marked contrast to the opaque natural resource economics in Burma, which exports most its oil and gas.

      As seen by the airport demonstration, not everybody is happy with Dili’s attempts to form a closer relationship with the military government in Naypyidaw.

      Zoya Phan,the international coordinator at Burma Campaign UK, told The Irrawaddy that she believes Nyan Win’s visit to Burma is part of the junta’s campaign to gain recognition for the upcoming Nov. 7 elections, which have been dismissed for their restrictive campaign measures.

      She said, “East Timor should reject this fake election and pressure him [Nyan Win] to enter into genuine negotiations with democracy forces and ethnic groups.”

      Timor-Leste is a former Portuguese colony which was invaded by Indonesia shortly after the fall of the military dictatorship in Lisbon in 1974, which brought about Portugal’s rapid withdrawal from its colonies. An estimated 200,000 Timorese, out of a population of around 700,000, died during the occupation, which lasted until 1999. The country’s post-independence Constitution says that Timor-Leste should show solidarity with other oppressed people’s around the world.

      In the past, Ramos-Horta has vociferously condemned the policies of the Burmese junta. Ramos-Horta shared the Nobel Peace prize with Bishop Carlos Belo in 1996, five years after Burma’s jailed pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi won the same award.

      During Nyan Win’s weekend visit, Ramos-Horta said that a national dialogue toward reconciliation in Burma should be implemented, and that Aung San Suu Kyi should be freed to participate. The statements echo remarks he made in February, when welcoming the new Burmese ambassador.

      Asean membership would require Timor-Leste to accede to various economic and free trade agreements, though not necessarily immediately. However, some membership provisions could adversely affect Dili’s scope to develop its non-oil economy, according to Shona Hawkes of La’o Hamutuk of the Timor-Leste Institute for Development Monitoring and Analysis.

      Nyan Win’s Dili trip came directly after an official visit by Singapore’s Foreign Minister George Yeo, who encouraged Singaporean businessmen to visit Timor-Leste. He was reported in Singaporean media as saying, “We want Timor Leste to do well, to show that other small countries facing difficult circumstances can also succeed.”

      However, Yeo reportedly poured cold water on Dili’s Asean membership bid, which may mean ambitions to join the bloc by 2012 will not be realized. Shona Hawkes told The Irrawaddy that although Timor-Leste has made a start on its Asean membership, apparently some member-states have concerns that Dili lacks the resources to attend and contribute to the bloc’s 800-plus meetings per year.

      Nonetheless, Dili will host Asean Regional Forum gatherings in November and December, with Thailand supporting the staging of the 5th ARF Experts and Eminent Persons Meeting.

      Election results will be predictable – Ba Kaung
      Irrawaddy: Mon 23 Aug 2010

      Burma’s election results, to some degree, will be predictable by Sept. 10, when the Election Commission formally approves political party candidates who will seek parliamentary seats in the election.
      The latest data suggests that of the 1,187 seats in the national and regional parliaments, opposition parties will be able to contest less than 500 seats, because of budget, time and other constraints.

      On the other hand, the junta’s largest proxy parties, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and the National Unity Party (NUP), are now prepared to contest in all seats nationwide and will automatically win in the uncontested seats under the election laws.

      “There will be no ballot box in those areas where there is a single candidate for the USDP,” said Than Min Soe, the spokesperson for the Union Democratic Party (UDP). “We’ll know the results on Sept. 10.”

      With the candidate registration deadline expiring on Monday, three pro-democracy political parties in Rangoon—the National Democratic Force (NDF), the Democratic Party (Myanmar) and the Union Democratic Party (UDP)—have so far drawn up a combined list of 230 candidates. Both the NDF and Democratic Party (Myanmar) now claim to have 100 candidates, while the UDP has 30.

      Despite its list of 30 candidates, the UDP might field only three candidates if the regime does not respond by Wednesday to its recent request for clarification on how the 2008 Constitution would function following the election.

      “Without being clear about that process, it is pointless to compete for many seats in the election,” said a UDP spokesperson, adding that its decision to field only three candidates would be to prevent the party from being abolished according to the election laws.

      With a list of 100 candidates, the NDF leaders, who are former members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party (NLD), are still waiting for the response of the EC for its request to postpone the candidate registration deadline so that it can field more candidates, according to party chairman Dr. Than Nyein.

      “The election commission has not responded to our request yet,” he said. He also said there’s a growing possibility that the junta’s largest proxy party, the USDP, could end up with a sweeping victory nationwide.

      Asked if he regretted his decision to run in the election, Than Nyein said: “Not at all. We will face whatever challenges lie ahead.”

      Currently, many opposition political parties are worried about the candidate registration process. The chairman of the Democratic Party (Myanmar), Thu Wai, said that a candidate who seeks to represent a particular constituency must live in the constituency.

      “I live in Shwepyithar Township, but because I wish to run in Pazundaung Township, I have to change my address so that I can register myself as a candidate for that area,” he said.

      The residency restriction was not included either in the election laws or the latest rules announced by the election commission.

      Most areas in which the Rangoon-based pro-democracy parties will not seek to compete are in ethnic areas. There is little hope that local ethnic parties not aligned with the government will be able to field many candidates to compete against the USDP, due to financial and other constraints.

      Potentially the largest ethnic party, the Shan National Democratic Party (SNDP), will compete for 150 seats while the Rakhine National Development Party (RNDP) will contest in 15 townships in Arakan State, where the election commission designated a total of 17 constituencies. This week, RNDP leaders complained that members of the party have been harassed by local authorities this month.

      “My sister and brother were questioned by the local police although they are not involved in politics,” said Khine Pyi Soe, the secretary of the RNDP.

      A number of ethnic parties will not challenge the USDP candidates because they were organized by either retired regime military or civilian officials, including the Kayin Peoples Party led by Saw Htun Aung Myint, a former navy colonel; the Chin Progressive Party (CPP) led by Hlung Kyae, also a former police colonel; and the Kachin Party led by Kya Hting Nan, a former organizer of the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) in Myitkyina.

      On Monday, state-run newspapers reported that the regime Prime Minister Thein Sein, who leads the USDP, asked voters to “prevent any destructive acts so the election will meet with success.”

      The remark followed the official announcement by NLD officials last week that they would boycott the election. Ethnic leaders who were elected in the 1990 election, but who decided not to run in the election this year, also said they would conduct a campaign to inform local people of their legal right not to vote.

      “Starting next month, I will go back to Chin State to explain that to our people,” said Chin Sian Thang, the chairman of Zomi National Congress, a Chin political party which contested in the 1990 elections.

      Forty-two political parties have been approved by the Election Commission to compete in the Nov. 7 election.

      In a press conference on Sunday, the chairman of the Democratic Party, Thu Wai, said: “By creating obstacles to other political parties before the election, it won’t be necessary to cheat or rig votes in the election because the USDP now has the upper hand. Thus the voting itself could be free and fair.”

      Is Burma on the verge of transformation? – David I. Steinberg
      Washington Post: Mon 23 Aug 2010

      The United States decided this week to support the creation of a United Nations commission of inquiry into the Burmese military regime’s crimes against humanity and war crimes. That human rights violations have occurred is clear, and many have noted that the Burmese junta’s restrictions on its upcoming elections make it all but certain the generals will retain power. The real dilemma is whether it is better to express moral outrage at these offenses or to hold off, presuming the possibility of eventual change under a new government.
      The options for nation states to express moral outrage are well established: sanctions, war crimes trials, embargoes. These are also tactics designed to achieve certain ends: liberalization, increased human rights, regime change or other indicators of progress. The key question for U.S. officials ahead of Burma’s Nov. 7 elections is: Will actions such as imposing new sanctions or endorsing a commission of inquiry improve the lot of the Burmese? Will they help further U.S. strategic and humanitarian objectives in that society and region under a revised government?

      The Burmese constitution all but guarantees that its military will remain in command after the elections; by law, 25 percent of seats are reserved for the military. The voting for national and local legislatures will occur before opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is to be released from house arrest, and many in her now-defunct National League for Democracy have pledged not to campaign in the biased elections. Further, the generals have legal immunity from in-country prosecution for all acts committed in official capacities.

      Despite all this, it is likely that some members of the opposition — in modest numbers — will be among those seated in the central and local legislatures next year — marking the first time opposition voices would be legal in Burma since 1962.

      It seems likely that political prisoners will be freed around the time of the elections so that they cannot “interfere” with that controlled process. There have also been indications that badly needed economic reforms could be instituted by the next Burmese administration and that civilians could play significant roles in the government. Essentially, it is possible that in Burma in the near future, we may see the transformation of a “soft authoritarian” state into one that is more pluralistic, including with some legal opposition legislators. In Burmese military lingo, it may be a “discipline-flourishing democracy” — but not a democracy unencumbered by deleterious adjectival modifications.

      The plight of the Burmese people has long distressed many. But imposing additional sanctions on Burma’s regime or forming still more commissions will only salve our consciences. Neither will help the Burmese people, persuade the government to loosen its grip on the population, or even assist the United States in meeting its strategic or humanitarian objectives. In fact, such moves would hinder negotiations and relations with a new government that, even if far from a model for governance, would probably give the Burmese more political voice and freedom than they have had in half a century. If our concerns are for the well-being of the people and U.S. national interests in the region, then we might well wait for the elections and whatever government comes into power. Then will be the time to judge whether there has been a step forward and how to achieve our goals.

      * David I. Steinberg, a professor of Asian studies at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, is the author of “Burma/Myanmar: What Everyone Needs to Know.”

      Myanmar lays down stringent campaign rules for November election
      Associated Press: Thu 19 Aug 2010

      Yangon, Myanmar — Myanmar has published stringent rules for November’s general election that demand candidates seek permission a week in advance to campaign, do not make speeches that “tarnish” the ruling military or shout slogans at processions.

      The 13-point list of campaigning regulations decreed by the state Election Commission would guarantee a “free and fair” vote, according to the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper which published the rules Thursday, a week after the Nov. 7 election date was set.

      The vote will be the first in impoverished Myanmar in two decades. The party of detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, which won the last election in 1990 but was barred from taking power, decided to boycott this year’s vote. They say the junta unfairly imposed rules that restrict campaigning and bar the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and other political prisoners from participating.

      Many Western governments and human right groups agree that the process is unfair and seek changes to ensure free and fair polls, including the release of Suu Kyi — who has been detained for 15 of the past 21 years — and other prisoners.

      Although the election is meant to be the key step from five decades of military rule to civilian government, critics say a military-initiated constitution, along with repression of the opposition, ensures the army will continue to hold commanding influence even after the polls.

      According to the regulations, candidates must seek permission to campaign a week in advance from the local Election Commission, providing details such as place of assembly, date, time and duration. Holding flags and shouting slogans in processions is forbidden, as is making speeches or distributing publications that “tarnish the image” of the military and any “activities that can harm security.”

      Candidates found in violation of the regulations face a fine and a jail term of one year.

      It was still unclear when the official campaign period begins. The Election Commission will finish its scrutiny of candidates by Sept. 10.

      Separately, the New Light of Myanmar reported an ethnic Karen group allied to the government — the Democratic Karen Buddhist Association — agreed to transform its guerrilla fighters into the Border Guard Forces.

      Integrating ethnic rebel groups into government-supervised border forces is a key part of the government’s plans to pacify border areas, which are dominated by minority groups that have long striven for autonomy, sometimes though armed struggle.

      The junta in the 1990s reached cease-fire agreements with many, but compromised by allowing them to keep their arms. Five of the groups have now agreed to integrate themselves into the national border force, but others, such as the Kachin Independence Army and the 20,000-strong United Wa State Army, are still resisting the transformation of their militias.

      Rights to assemble and canvass for Hluttaw candidates
      The New Light of Myanmar: Thu 19 Aug 2010

      Nay Pyi Taw — The Union Election Commission issued Notification No. 91/2010 today. The following is the unofficial translation of the notification.

      The Union of Myanmar
      Union Election Commission
      Nay Pyi Taw
      Notification No. 91/2010
      8th Waxing of Wagaung 1372 ME
      (18th August 2010)

      1. The Union Election Commission already issued the Notification No. 89/2010 dated 13-8-2010 saying that multiparty democracy general elections for the respective Hluttaws will be held on 7 November 2010. With Notification No.90/2010 dated 13-8-2010, the Commission also announced the starting and last dates for submission of Hluttaw candidate list, the date to scrutinize applications of candidates and the last date to withdraw applications of candidates if needed.

      2. Hluttaw candidates representing political parties and independent Hluttaw candidates who submit lists of Hluttaw candidates to stand for elections of respective Hluttaws and their representatives, shall follow the methods described in this Notification if they wish to present their policies, stances and work programmes and causes through talks or in writings for their candidates to win.

      Procedures to be taken

      3. Hluttaw candidates and election representatives may take following procedure in order that their Hluttaw candidates can win.

      (a) assembling and giving talks at a designated place with the permission of the sub-commission concerned
      (b) distributing and presenting publication

      Applying for permission for assembling and giving talks

      4. Hluttaw candidates and election representatives who wish to assemble and give talks at the designated places shall have to apply to the subcommission concerned as mentioned hereunder seven days in advance.

      (a) the state or division sub-commission concerned for the townships where state or division sub-commission office is based
      (b) the district sub-commission concerned for the townships where district sub-commission office is based
      (c) the township sub-commission concerned for the remaining townships except the townships mentioned in sub-Paras (a) and (b)

      5. Assembling and giving talks at the party headquarters and branches shall be reported in advance to the sub-commissions concerned and it is no need to apply for the permission.

      6. Those entitled to apply: In applying for the permission according to Para-4, a Hluttaw candidate concerned or his election representative will have to sign the application.

      7. Points to be included in the application: In applying for the permission, Hluttaw candidates and election representatives concerned shall have to apply mentioning that they shall assemble and give talks in accord with the prohibitions, provisions included in the permission and principles. In addition, they shall have to include the following detailed points in the application.

      (a) planned venue
      (b) planned date
      (c) starting time and finishing time (estimate)
      (d) number of attendees (estimate)
      (e) the name, NRC No. and address of a speaker or speakers
      (f) the name, NRC No. and address of the applicant

      8. Sub-commission’s scrutiny: With regard to applying for permission according to Paras 4, 6 and 7, the sub-commission can

      (a) issue the permission or reject the application after scrutinizing the application as necessary.
      (b) The following points shall be stated in the permission order when issued:

      (1) Permitted date and place
      (2) Starting time and finishing time
      (3) Name, NRC No. and address of a permitted speaker or speakers

      (c) In issuing the permission, the points prohibiting the act of holding flags and shouting slogans in procession in going to the designated place for the assembly and talk and the points stating to disperse without shouting slogans in procession shall be stipulated.

      (d) The following points shall be stipulated as necessary in issuing the permission:

      (1) Not to cause any disturbances to public places such as government offices, organizations, factories, workshops and work places, markets, sports grounds, religious places, schools and hospitals

      (2) Not to exceed the seating capacity if the venue of the assembly and talk is a building or hall. (To take the responsibility of ensuring that there is no public assembling outside the building or hall)

      (3) If the venue of the assembly and talk is an open ground, its holding capacity shall not be exceeded.

      (4) Not to hold or carry any sticks, swords, weapons and ammunition and other harmful items

      (5) Not to disturb the traffic and block roads

      (6) To amplify the sound box to the degree that is just enough for the permitted hall or ground in order not to cause any disturbances to the surrounding areas

      (7) Sound amplification system shall be according to the existing laws and principles

      (8) Other necessary stipulations

      (e) Permit shall be issued 48 hours prior to the time of the commencement of the assembly and talk. Any rejection to the permit shall be informed 48 hours prior to the time of the commencement of the assembly and talk together with the reason to do so.

      (f) If necessary for ensuring of security, the rule of law and community peace, the provisions stipulated in this Notification shall be amended or revoked.

      (g) Allowable public places in the regions concerned for assembly and giving public talks shall be designated in advance in coordination with the Peace and Development Councils concerned.

      (h) Coordination shall be carried out in order that the Peace and Development Councils concerned and security forces can safeguard assembling and giving public talks.

      (i) Coordination shall be carried out in order that the Peace and Development Councils concerned and security forces can take necessary preventive measures against any threats to security, the rule of law and community peace.

      Rights to publish publications

      9. If candidates and election representatives want to publish and distribute papers, books and pamphlets on their policies, stances and programmes for public knowledge, they shall follow the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Law and the stipulations in Directive No (42) dated 17 March 2010 issued by the Central Supervisory Committee for Printers and Publishers Registration and Scrutinization under the Ministry of Information.


      10. Candidates and election representatives shall not breach any of the following restrictions in assembling, giving public talks and distributing publications.

      (a) activities that can harm Non-disintegration of the Union, Non-disintegration of national solidarity and Perpetuation of sovereignty,
      (b) activities that can harm security, the rule of law, community peace,
      (c) disobeying the State Constitution of the Union of Myanmar and existing laws,
      (d) giving public talks and distributing publications with the intention of inciting sedition or tarnishing the image of the State,
      (e) giving public talks and distributing publications with intent to break up or tarnish the image of the Tatmadaw,
      (f) distributing publications, giving public talks or organizing people to provoke racial, religious, individual or public conflicts, or harm dignity and morals,
      (g) misusing religion for political gains,
      (h) instigating riots and distributing publications with intent to harm peaceful learning,
      (i) instigating riots and distributing publications with intent to incite service personnel not to discharge their duties well or take to the streets against the government,

      11. Candidates and election representatives shall not breach the existing laws, and restrictions contained in this Notification and stipulations of the permission in assembling and distributing publications to present their policies, stances and programmes.

      12. Any candidate or election representative is liable for action taken in accordance with Political Parties Registration Law and the Election Laws concerned in addition to existing law if they disobey any of the restrictions contained in this Notification, or stipulations prescribed in the permission.

      11 Therefore, it is hereby announced that candidates and election representatives are to honour this Notification in assembling, giving public talks and distributing publications for their candidates to win in the elections, to ensure that the multiparty democracy general elections due to be held in 2010 are free and fair.

      By order
      Sd/Thein Soe
      Union Election Commission

      NLD election boycott official
      Irrawaddy: Thu 19 Aug 2010

      Leaders of Burma’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), have decided to officially boycott the Nov 7. election, according to Ohn Kyaing, a party spokesperson.
      The decision was made at a meeting on Thursday attended by central executive committee and leading party members.

      Held at the house of NLD vice chairman Tin Oo in Rangoon, the meeting was attended by top NLD leaders including vice chairman Tin Oo, Win Tin, Nyunt Wai, Than Htun and Hla Pe, said Ohn Kyaing, who also attended.

      He said the NLD decided to boycott the election because the 2008 Constitution and the election commission’s election law do not guarantee democracy and human rights in Burma.

      The NLD also affirmed that voters have the right to decide whether to vote in the election according to the constitution, he said.

      In June, detained Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said Burmese citizens have the right not to vote in the upcoming election.

      However, earlier in August, an article in one of the state-run newspapers warned that anyone who “disrupts” the upcoming elections could face up to 20 years imprisonment.

      Ohn Kyaing said he cannot provide detailed information about the election boycott at this moment, but the NLD will hold strategy meetings in the near future for organizing the election boycott.

      The Nov. 7 election takes place one week before Suu Kyi is due for release.

      The end of the DKBA? – Saw Yan Naing
      Irrawaddy: Thu 19 Aug 2010

      The Burmese government welcomed troops of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) into the border guard force in a ceremony on Thursday in Myaing Gyi Nyu, the headquarters of the DKBA in Karen State, according to sources.

      The ceremony was attended by several Burmese officials including Burmese Military Affairs Security Chief Lt-Gen Ye Myint, who is one of the regime’s chief negotiators responsible for persuading ethnic ceasefire militias to accept becoming border guard forces, Brig-Gen Zaw Min, the chairman of the Karen State Peace and Development Council, and Maj-Gen Thet Naing Win, the Southeast Regional Commander in Moulmein.

      Gen Kyaw Than, the DKBA commander in chief and vice chairman, also attended the ceremony.

      Witnesses said Burmese police cleared the road for a convoy of DKBA vehicles bringing hundreds of DKBA troops to Myaing Gyi Nyu on Wednesday for the ceremony.

      Separate ceremonies will also take place this month in other DKBA-controlled areas including Pinekyon Township and Shwe Koko, headquarters of DKBA Special Battalion 999 led by Col Chit Thu, according to Karen sources.

      Karen sources in Hpa-an, capital of Karen State also said that Brig-Gen Pah Nwee, the commander of DKBA Brigade 999, and his troops will be received at a ceremony on Friday.

      “They [DKBA Brigade 999 troops] are practicing for Friday’s ceremony,” said a source in Hpa-an.

      Sources have not confirmed when there will be a ceremony for Col Chit Thu and his troops from DKBA Special Battalion 999.

      Meanwhile, observers predict DKBA forces will lose control of many of its strongholds where large business operate when the militia becomes a border guard force paid for and dominated by Burmese officials.

      According to Burma’s 2008 Constitution, the border guard force will be part of the Burmese armed forces and will receive the same salary as Burmese army troops.

      Saw Htee Moo, a well-informed source close to the DKBA said the Burmese regime will likely take over DKBA-controlled trade, leaving the DKBA poorer.

      Several large businesses in Karen State along Thai-Burmese border such as logging, zinc and tin mining and border trade through Myawaddy Towship are currently controlled by the DKBA.

      This will change, according to Karen sources, who say trade in DKBA-controlled regions and border areas will come under the direct control of the Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry when the DKBA becomes a border guard force.

      The DKBA split from its mother organization, the Karen National Union (KNU) and signed ceasefire agreement with the Burmese military government in 1995. It has six brigades with an estimated 6,000 armed fighters.

      In early August, Burmese junta troops in Myawaddy Township seized the main border trade gate operated by DKBA Brigade 999 on the Thai-Burmese border. The Burmese troops put up a Burmese national flag and took down the DKBA flag, changing the name of the gate from Brigade 999 to Dawna Taung—the name of a well-known mountain in Karen State, according to sources close to DKBA.

      “DKBA is now at the endgame. They will disappear,” said Maj Saw Hla Ngwe, joint secretary (1) of the KNU.

      Myanmar’s politics and economy: A new day beckons, sort of
      Economist: Thu 19 Aug 2010

      The first election in 20 years coincides with a rushed privatisation programme. Guess who profits from the fire sale

      IN MYANMAR, a column of cars at a petrol station usually means a fuel shortage or a broken pump. But the queue at “New Day”, one of dozens of newly privatised stations in Yangon, the former capital, is a sign of progress. New managers have repainted its tin roof and installed two Chinese-made pumps with digital displays. Fresh-faced attendants in branded red-and-white polo shirts leap eagerly to their task. To the side sit the rusting pumps of MPPE, the state firm that this year lost its monopoly on fuel sales and distribution.

      Motorists now enjoy the luxury of filling their tanks. Before, one explains, you could buy a maximum of two gallons a day and black-market merchants supplied the rest. Naturally, rationing did not apply to military men or civil servants, who got free fuel allocations. MPPE was notorious for selling substandard diesel. Now drivers can pick among the private operators of Myanmar’s 248 filling stations, though prices seem to be pegged at a single rate.

      The sell-off is part of a big privatisation plan taking place before a general election—the first in two decades—that has been called for November 7th. Ports, airlines, highways, mines, dams, factories, warehouses, government buildings and cinemas have all gone on the block. Private firms may now run schools and hospitals. Four banks are due to open soon, the first new ones since a banking crisis in 2003. One may even issue credit cards, a rarity in Myanmar.

      Nearly five decades after seizing power and nationalising all industries, the army suddenly seems infused with a Thatcherite spirit. Given its appalling economic record—income per person is a paltry $459 a year—that could be cause for celebration.

      Sadly, the programme seems to be a hurried asset-stripping exercise by the generals and their cronies, with echoes of Russia’s 1990s fire sale. The valuations of the assets are not published, nor what they are fetching. Buildings are listed for auction, but sales are done in private. In a deeply corrupt country, it is easy to imagine the worst. Opposition activists, diplomats and businessmen say that a handful of pro-junta tycoons are benefiting royally, including many who were blacklisted by the American government.

      Yet the pace of sales suggests that the election, however flawed, might represent some real political change. The vote will not be fair. Campaigning will be tightly controlled and it is costly to field candidates. Pro-junta parties enjoy access to official media, unlike the opposition. The country’s most famous politician, Aung San Suu Kyi, is barred from running, along with over 2,000 other political prisoners. In protest, her National League for Democracy (NLD) will not contest the election, although a breakaway party will.

      Despite all this, the poll is a watershed. Businessmen are bracing themselves for a transition from the certainties of military rule to a civilian-flavoured administration. For the departing generals, privatisation looks to be a retirement plan of sorts. The 77-year-old leader of the junta, General Than Shwe, wants to hand over gradually to younger men. A constitution drawn up in 2008 enshrines a strong role for the armed forces, which will control a quarter of the seats in national and local parliaments and run the security agencies. But new faces and power bases will emerge. “People are grabbing what they can. Nobody knows where they’ll be after the election,” notes a diplomat.

      The result may be that some power is dispersed, particularly in Myanmar’s 14 states and divisions, half of which are dominated by ethnic minorities. Army officers may soon do less day-to-day administration, though cronies of the junta and military-run companies would keep the commanding heights of the economy.

      Uniforms are so yesterday

      Optimists in Yangon see benefits from the privatisation programme, whatever its inequities. One suggests that the new owners might even invest in their companies. “They have the capacity. We can use these guys,” he says. Not all the assets are prizes; some ministries simply wanted to be rid of dud firms, suggests Sean Turnell of Macquarie University in Australia. Just possibly some generals will try to knock their companies into good enough shape to compete, eventually, with foreign rivals.

      That would become clear only after the election, if men in suits, not in uniform, start to set economic policy. If some authority were devolved to local bodies, that might cause friction with regional military commands. In any case, no one expects that the army will meekly hide away in its barracks. It still sees itself as the guardian of national unity and a bulwark against ethnic separatism and foreign meddlers. The constitution gives a powerful role to the commander-in-chief, who appoints his own security council and can declare a state of emergency. The new day may yet look rather like the old one.

      U.S. to Back Human-Rights Inquiry in Myanmar
      Wall Street Journal: Thu 19 Aug 2010

      The Obama administration decided to back efforts to create an international commission investigating alleged human-rights violations in Myanmar in a move that ratchets up pressure on the country as it prepares for its first election in 20 years.

      The move comes just months after Washington said it was embarking on a new policy of “engagement” with Myanmar aimed at improving relations after years of economic sanctions failed to weaken its secretive military regime. Supporters of the engagement effort, including some Myanmar exiles and analysts, had hoped it would encourage top Myanmar generals to open more to the outside world and take steps to ensure the coming election is held to international standards.

      More recently, however, U.S. officials began to express frustration that their overtures—which included visits to Myanmar by high-ranking State Department officials—had failed to influence the government, which is accused of human-rights violations including the imprisonment of 2,000 or more political opponents.

      Myanmar’s government has declined to release Nobel laureate opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, which U.S. officials have said is a precondition to holding fair elections. In June, Myanmar officials issued tough new campaign rules that prohibit political parties from marching or chanting slogans or giving talks “tarnishing the image of the state.” Opposition leaders say they have been harassed by police in recent weeks.

      U.S. officials have expressed concern over unconfirmed reports that Myanmar may be attempting to develop a nuclear-weapons program. Those concerns grew more serious in recent months after exile news services released reports about the alleged program based in part on details from a Myanmar army defector. Myanmar officials have repeatedly denied any attempts to develop nuclear weapons.

      “The United States supports establishing an international commission of inquiry to investigate alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity” in Myanmar, an administration official said Wednesday. “We have begun consulting with others to determine how best to achieve that end,” the official said.

      It wasn’t possible to reach anyone within the Myanmar government to comment.

      Critics of Myanmar have been pushing for a United Nations-led inquiry for years. The effort gained momentum this year after a U.N. special rapporteur for Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, said he found a pattern of systematic human-rights violations in trips to the country, including cases of forced labor.

      A Myanmar diplomat disputed the assessment at the time and said international authorities should be more focused on rebuilding relations with the country.

      U.S. support doesn’t mean an inquiry will occur. But it indicates that Western governments are hoping to tighten pressure on Myanmar’s military, which has ruled the country since 1962, and especially its top leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe. Many exiles and academics believe Myanmar’s generals opted to schedule an election this year in part to boost their legitimacy in the international community, potentially forestalling any bid to open a crimes-against-humanity probe.

      Myanmar’s officials promise that the vote, scheduled for Nov. 7, will be free and fair. But many opposition leaders, including Ms. Suu Kyi, have vowed to boycott, and international rights groups have said they don’t believe a fair vote can be held given Myanmar’s tight restrictions on the media and public assembly. Opposition leaders easily won the last vote, in 1990, but the junta ignored the results.

      The decision to back a commission of inquiry “is the right and timely action by the Obama administration” to express displeasure over what is likely to be a “sham election,” said Aung Din, executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma, a Washington group that uses a former name for the country, in a statement.

      Obama wants Burmese rulers to face UN war crimes investigation – Andrew Buncombe
      Independent: Thu 19 Aug 2010

      US move reflects the failure of engagement with Rangoon

      The administration of US President Barack Obama has decided to throw its crucial support behind moves to establish a special UN commission to investigate alleged war crimes perpetrated by the military rulers of Burma.

      In what represents a marked rollback of one of President Obama’s most controversial foreign policy initiatives, US officials said Washington would now back the war crimes investigation, as urged earlier this year by the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Burma. Washington is also said to be considering tightening sanctions against the junta.

      The decision represents a reversal of an initiative announced last year to try to develop closer diplomatic ties with Burma by establishing regular meetings involving a senior US official.

      There was talk that a closer relationship could possibly be rewarded with a dilution or dropping of some sanctions. But reports suggest Washington believes its overtures to the military have largely been rebuffed, even though several meetings have been held.

      There is also likely concern over continued reports – though none of them confirmed – that Burma is interested in developing a nuclear weapon.

      “There have been no positive results on democracy and human rights in our diplomatic engagement,” one anonymous official told The Washington Post.

      The decision by the US to back the tribunal, already supported by Britain and Australia, comes before elections in Burma on 7 November.

      While the junta claims they will be a stepping-stone towards full democracy, most observers in the West have dismissed them, saying they will do little more than cement the position of the military.

      Campaigners have argued the elections could not be considered fair while more than 2,100 political prisoners – among them an opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi – were still detained.

      A total of about 40 parties have registered to participate in November’s elections, though many of them are groups led by former senior military officers who have taken off their uniforms for the process. The National League for Democracy, the party of Ms Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate, voted not to participate, though a breakaway group has registered.

      Activists yesterday welcomed the US decision. Aung Din, executive director of the Washington-based Campaign for Burma, said: “This is the right and timely action in response to the power thirsty and brutal generals, who are expecting to delete their dirty crimes by putting a sham constitution into effect through a sham election.

      “This is a clear message that the United States will not recognise their showcase election and will make them accountable for their horrible abuses against their own citizens.”

      Mark Farmaner, of the Burma Campaign UK, also supported the move but said

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