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[Readingroom] News on Burma - 17/9/10

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    Myanmar bars some ethnic leaders from polls EC rejects individual Kachin candidates More ex-generals to run for USDP Top USDP candidates to run in Rangoon
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 17, 2010
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      1. Myanmar bars some ethnic leaders from polls
      2. EC rejects individual Kachin candidates
      3. More ex-generals to run for USDP
      4. Top USDP candidates to run in Rangoon
      5. ‘Activists’ jail term extended by 20 years
      6. Myanmar expands private banks with military ties
      7. Elections in Myanmar: It’s all about exclusion
      8. The fate of the NLD
      9. Democratic Party to focus efforts on lower house
      10. Army to vote in separate ballot boxes
      11. Restrictions placed on election campaign broadcasts
      12. Make-believe elections
      13. Torn between two capitals
      14. Should opposition parties boycott the elections?
      15. Activist monks call for election boycott
      16. UN war crimes probe ‘still just an idea’
      17. Burma’s junta can’t escape from the net
      18. Countdown to freedom: Aung San Suu Kyi must be released on November 13, 2010
      19. Underground press in Burma challenges generals
      20. Burma election Monitors question unfair practices
      21. CNPC to ready Myanmar pipelines, refinery by 2013
      22. Burma’s FEC in crisis
      23. Rangoon mayor pushes city staff to vote USDP
      24. China assures isolated Myanmar of its support


      Myanmar bars some ethnic leaders from polls: source
      Reuters: Thu 16 Sep 2010

      Yangon – Election authorities in army-ruled Myanmar have rejected the candidacy of a dozen former leaders of a major ethnic group, sources said on Thursday, raising doubts about ethnic participation in the upcoming polls.The Union Election Commission (UEC) gave no explanation as to why the politicians from Kachin State, which borders China, were barred from running as independent candidates in the November 7 ballot for seats in regional and national assemblies.

      The decision, which has yet to be been made public, comes after pressure by the ruling junta for armed ethnic groups who have enjoyed decades of de facto autonomy to join the political process in a bid to unify the nation ahead of the election.

      Three parties were formed to represent Kachin State but all were rejected upon registration for the polls, meaning the Kachin, one of the eight major ethnic groups in Myanmar, will have no representation in the much-criticized election.

      A Yangon-based businessmen with close connections to Kachin politicians said the barring of the candidates was likely in retaliation for a refusal by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) to disarm and join a government-run border patrol force.

      “We’re sure it’s because of the refusal to accept the regime’s Border Guard Force (BGF) scheme,” said the source, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal.

      CONFLICT CONCERNS

      The KIA was founded on 1961 and fought against successive military regimes for greater autonomy or independence until a ceasefire agreement was signed in 1994.

      Like most of the ethnic armies, it has refused to join the government-run BGF but was willing to take part in the political process, mainly through the Kachin State Progressive Party (KSPP), but KSPP’s application was rejected.

      The move to bar the Kachin politicians raises the likelihood of a military offensive by the Myanmar army against armed separatists rejecting the BGF plan, which analysts expect to take place before a new government is formed.

      Reports from ethnic news sources say the army has sent reinforcements into Shan and Kachin states and analysts say it is unlikely the junta will agree to any devolution arrangement.

      Adding to fears of conflict, the junta announced on state television late on Thursday that polls would not take place in some 200 villages in Kachin, Kayah, Mon, Kayin and Shan States, which are home to armed ethnic groups.

      MRTV said polls had been scrapped “because the situations there will not be conducive to free and fair elections.”

      (Reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Sugita Katyal)



      EC rejects individual Kachin candidates – Ko Htwe
      Irrawaddy: Thu 16 Sep 2010

      After previously rejecting the registration application of the Kachin State Progressive Party (KSPP), Burma’s Election Commission (EC) has now rejected the applications of 14 leading KSPP members, including its founder Tu Ja, who alternatively applied to run as individuals.Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Thursday, KSPP Secretary Tu Raw, said: “I feel the refusal is unfair and we have not been given the right that every citizen should have to compete in the election. We will now have no opportunity to debate issues on a political stage like the new parliament.”

      “We have a chance for appeal to the Division Sub EC. There may be one or two candidates who make an appeal, but I personally will not appeal,” said Tu Raw, who had hoped to compete for the Pyithu Hluttaw (People’s Parliament) in Waingmaw Township in Kachin Division.

      The KSPP is the most popular political party in Kachin State, receiving the support of almost all local organizations and residents, including local authorities, and so the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) attempted to block the KSPP registration, said Tu Raw.

      “The USDP knows that it is impossible for them to compete with the KSPP in Kachin State, and so it tried to stop our party from being registered,” he said. According to one of the KSPP candidates, the USDP also tried to stop the fourteen individual candidates from receiving EC approval.

      Tu Ja, the former vice-chairman of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) who formed the KSPP in March 2009, said the other reason the EC didn’t approve its registration was because it believed the KSPP had ties with the KIO.

      “The second reason they won’t allow us to register as a party or as individual candidates is the party’s alleged ties with the KIO,” he said.
      The KIO is an armed cease-fire group. The military junta has ordered the KIO to transform its troops into a border guard force, but the KIO has thus far refused.

      Section 12(a)(3) of the Political Parties Registration Law (PPRL) denies registration to any party that is involved with groups launching armed rebellions or involved with associations declared to be “unlawful associations.”

      Tu Raw said that while the party does not have direct ties with the KIO, it does recieve support from all influential organizations in Kachin State.
      “We have ethnic ties with the KIO, but not political ties and not the same agenda. If we don’t get support from that group, it would make it difficult for our party movement in the region,” he said.

      At present, the only political party running an election campaign in Kachin State is the Unity Democracy Party of Kachin State (UDPK), a pro-junta ethnic party allied with the USDP.

      However, the USDP, the Shan Nationals Democratic Party (SNDP) and the National Unity Party (NUP) have said they will compete in Kachin State as well.

      So far, out of the 42 political parties that have applied, the EC has allowed 39 parties to register, including ethnic Karen, Mon, Palaung and Pa-O parties, according to the state-run The New Light of Myanmar newspaper.



      More ex-generals to run for USDP – Ba Kaung
      Irrawaddy: Thu 16 Sep 2010

      The Burmese military junta’s third-and-fourth ranking officials, Shwe Mann and Tin Aung Myint Oo, have been approved by the election commission as candidates for the junta’s proxy party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).They will run in Zeyar Thiri and Pubba Thiri townships in Naypyidaw as candidates for seats in the People’s Parliament, according to the official notification of approved candidates issued by the commission on Tuesday.

      Both are among the second batch of high-ranking military generals resigning from the army within the last month to join the USDP; however, they remain members of the ruling State Peace and Development Council.

      The state-controlled media in Burma have not officially announced their resignations from the military nor have they confirmed that the ex-generals have joined the USDP, except that recent state-media reports no longer carry their military titles, but instead attribute them with the Burmese honorific title of “ U.”

      The notification also states that Prime Minister Thein Sein and other retired military officials, including Myint Hlaing, the former chief of air defense, and ex-Maj Gen Maung Oo who currently remains minister for home affairs, will also stand for constituencies in Naypyidaw for seats in the People’s Parliament as USDP candidates.

      USDP chairman Thein Sein will run in Zabbu Thiri, one of the eight townships in Naypyidaw.

      Only the USDP and the pro-regime National Unity Party (NUP) will compete in Naypyidaw. Pro-democracy parties said they will not run in the new capital because they fear they will have next to no vote among the town’s military-influenced population.

      Among the approved candidates, ex-Lt Gen Myint Swe, will run as a USDP candidate in Seikgyikanaungto Township in Rangoon for a seat in the Nationalities’ Parliament.

      The USDP is widely expected to claim an overwhelming victory in the election in the absence of the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), which was dissolved by the election commission on Tuesday.

      This will pave the way for the former senior military personnel to be elected as civilian representatives in the new government, which is in addition to the fact that the Constitution already guarantees the military a quarter of the seats in the parliament.

      Vice-presidents will also be nominated by a majority of army and civilian representatives in the parliament, and will most likely be the elected candidates of the USDP. One of the three vice-presidents who is required to be “acquainted with political, administrative, economic and military affairs” will be selected as president.

      The presidency is expected to go to either junta chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe or Shwe Mann.



      Top USDP candidates to run in Rangoon – Wai Moe
      Irrawaddy: Thu 16 Sep 2010

      Among the senior officials in the Burmese military regime who are running for office in the Nov. 7 election as members of the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), most have been listed as candidates in the Rangoon Region, according to the Union Election Commission (EC) which approved the candidate lists on Tuesday.Speaking on condition of anonymity, EC officials said Thursday that the approved USDP candidate list for the Rangoon Region [previously the Rangoon “Division”] includes former Lt-Gen Myint Swe, who retired from his military post in August and will contest in Seikgyi Kha Naung To Township for a seat in the Rangoon regional parliament, and former Col and current Rangoon Deputy Mayor Maung Par, who will compete in the same township for a seat in the the People’s Assembly (Lower House) of the Union Parliament.
      Observers said Myint Swe, the former commander of the Rangoon Military Regional Command who is reported to be junta chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe’s right hand man, has been tapped to be the future prime minister of the Rangoon Region.

      Former Brig-Gen Aung Thein Lin, the Rangoon city mayor and a leader of the USDP, is now the party candidate in South Okkalapa Township for the Lower House. Dr. Paing Soe, the deputy minister of health who is Than Shwe’s family doctor and a relative of Than Shwe’s wife, Kyaing Kyaing, is the party’s Lower House candidate in Sanchaung Township of Rangoon City.

      Labor Minister and former Maj-Gen Aung Kyi, who is also the liaison officer between the junta and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, is the USDP candidate for the Lower House seat from Mingala Tawn Nyunt Township.

      Former Brig-Gen Maung Maung Thein, the minister of livestock and fisheries, is the USDP candidate for the Lower House in Kayan Township, and former Brig-Gen Thura Myint Maung, the minister of religious affairs, is the party’s candidate for the Lower House in Thongwa Township.

      Energy Minister and former Brig-Gen Lun Thi is the USDP’s Lower House candidate in Kungyangon Township, and Soe Tha, the minister for national planning and economic development, will contest the Lower House seat in Twante Township.

      Minister of Mining and former Brig-Gen Ohn Myint, and Deputy Minister of Defense and former Maj-Gen Aye Myint, are reportedly the USDP’s respective Lower House candidates for Rangoon’s Alone Township and Insein Township.

      Former Maj-Gen Nyunt Tin, also the former minister of agriculture and irrigation, is the USDP candidate for the National Assembly (Upper House) of the Union Parliament.

      Well-known business figures running as USDP candidates in the coming elections are Khin Swe, a junta crony who has been on the US sanctions list since Oct. 2007, Tin Tun Oo, co-publisher of The Myanmar Times Weekly, and authors Myo Thant Tin and Tin Kha.

      Khin Swe will contest for the Upper House in Rangoon Region’s No. 9 Constituency, and Myo Thant Tin is a candidate for the Upper House in Rangoon Region’s No. 6 Constituency. Tin Tun Oo is the USDP candidate for the Lower House in Pazun Taung Township.

      Along with ministers and other public figures, USDP candidates include owners of medium-sized businesses and respected local figures who the Union Solidarity and Development Association (UDSA) recruited by force or attracted with business opportunities during the past five years.

      Shortly after the USDP was formed in April, all assets of the USDA were transferred to the USDP.

      The USDA was infamous for its involvement in the brutal ambush on pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her convoy in late May 2003 and for the crackdowns on monk demonstrators throughout the September 2007 protests.



      ‘Activists’ jail term extended by 20 years – Khin Hnin Htet
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Thu 16 Sep 2010

      Seven people serving lengthy sentences for alleged links to a banned Burmese activist group have had their prison terms extended by 20 years, courts ruled yesterday.The seven were already serving terms of between 20 and 38 years in Rangoon’s Insein prison after being arrested in 2008 and accused of holding ties to the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF), a prominent activist group born from the 1988 mass student uprising.

      But additional charges under the Explosives Act were levelled at Kyaw Zin Oo, Zaw Lwin, Kyawza Lin, Htet Ko Lwin, Khin Yi, Aye Min Naing and his wife San San Maw. They are accused of assisting in the 2004 bombing at Zawgyi House Restaurant in Rangoon and the bombing at the Panorama Hotel in Rangoon in 2005.

      Sentences of ten years for each of the two attacks were handed down yesterday, and all seven were found guilty.

      “We are very unhappy with the sentences. The defendants had already been given jail terms for the explosive materials submitted by the prosecutors as evidences in 2008,” said lawyer Kyaw Ho, speaking of the group’s initial arrest and separate charges under the Explosives Act, Unlawful Associations Act and Arms Act in 2008.

      He said that no evidence had been provided for the latest sentencing, adding that “normally in cases under the Explosive Act, witnesses should be included from the police’s Criminal Investigation Department and chemical specialists”, although this had not been the case. Moreover, the alleged accusation by the person behind the attack that netted the seven was weak, he added.

      The five men and two women are also facing accusations connecting them to an explosion that took place at Shwe Mann Thu Bus Terminal in Rangoon in 2005.

      In other news, the imprisoned 1990-elected parliamentary representative in Burma’s western Arakan state, Nyi Pu, is in poor health. According to a colleague of his who spoke to Nyi Pu’s wife, he is not receiving healthcare for a condition that lowers the level of potassium in the blood. He is being held in Kham Ti in Saganig division.

      According to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP), there are currently 2,183 activists, lawyers, journalists, monks and politicians behind bars in Burma.



      Myanmar expands private banks with military ties – Jason Szep
      Reuters: Thu 16 Sep 2010

      Bangkok – Myanmar is expanding the number of private banks in the reclusive state ahead of November elections, a step that looks set to strengthen the hand of businessmen with close ties to the ruling generals.

      The banking expansion follows signs of rising investment in the resource-rich country from neighbouring China and growing trade links to Southeast Asia, but economists doubt more banks in the army-run country will boost its capital-starved industries.

      Instead, the increase in private banks to a total of 19, from 15 previously, illustrates a trend in which the military elite and their allies look set to emerge as the financial powerbrokers of a new era of civilian rule in the former Burma.

      A Finance Ministry official said four businessmen have been authorised to each open new banks ahead of the Nov. 7 elections.

      The four are among the closest allies of the ruling generals and the wealthiest civilians in one of Asia’s most secretive economies at a time when the top military brass are swapping fatigues for civilian clothes ahead of the first elections in two decades and the first civilian government in half a century.

      One of the tycoons, Tay Za of the Htoo Group, has been identified by the U.S. State Department as an arms dealer.

      Another, Zaw Zaw, was hit with U.S. sanctions last year and a third, Nay Aung, is the son of Myanmar’s Industry Minister, a powerful figure seen as a protege to supreme leader General Than Shwe.

      The fourth businessman, property developer Chit Khaing, is also subject to Western sanctions.

      “They are symbolic in many ways of all that is wrong with Burma’s economy — profit through connections, opaque,” said Sean Turnell, an expert on Myanmar’s economy at Sydney’s Macquarie University.

      “CASH BOXES”

      “It is hard to see the new banks as anything much more than ‘cash boxes’ at the heart of the conglomerates that own them,” he added. “They are playthings to some extent but also as vehicles to access all manner of concessions, foreign exchange, and to otherwise manipulate and disguise money flows,” added Turnell.

      Economists generally dismiss banking as a dysfunctional industry in a country blighted by decades of economic mismanagement and squeezed by sanctions imposed by Western nations in response to human rights abuses.

      Turnell estimates a mere 15 percent of domestic credit made its way to the private sector in 2008/09. Over the last five years, the private sector’s share of credit has fallen by nearly 25 percent, crippling private enterprise in a country where 30 percent of the population live in poverty according to U.N. data.

      Hardest hit is the agricultural sector, source of more than half of Myanmar’s economic output and lifeline to more than 70 percent of the country’s 50 million people. Agriculture receives just 0.4 percent of credit created, said Turnell.

      The vast bulk of credit supports the military regime.

      The four businessmen run conglomerates considered top beneficiaries of a wave of privatisation in which about 300 state assets — from real estate to ports, shipping companies and an airline — were sold, mostly this year.

      Their four banks will be based in the capital Naypyitaw.

      “We will do our best to modernise the banking industry. We will try to offer small loans and introduce online services, ATMs and so on,” said an official at a new bank who declined to be identified because she was not authorised to speak to the media.

      Dozens of private banks owned by local and foreign companies operated in Myanmar before sweeping nationalisation in 1964. Its military rulers introduced a market economy after seizing power in 1988, allowing private banks in 1992.
       (Additional reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Editing by Alex Richardson)



      Elections in Myanmar: It’s all about exclusion – Medha Chaturvedi
      Eurasia Review: Thu 16 Sep 2010

      The November 2010 elections in Myanmar do not promise to be fair and inclusive nor do they come with the agenda of complete restoration of democracy in the country. But, one thing these elections promise to be is a step towards a transformation which comes with opportunities for some important political changes in the future.How significant are these changes going to be when the present situation looks grossly unjust? How will the outcome be affected when the new electoral laws have barred certain citizens including the most visible supporter of democracy in the country, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi? Are these elections only an attempt by the military junta-backed State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) led by Prime Minister Thein Sein and the National Unity Party (NUP) to legitimize and further consolidate their power?

      The USDP and NUP have reportedly floated more than 1,100 and 980 candidates respectively, nationwide. A total of 1,163 seats will be contested for national and state parliaments; this is in addition to the 25 per cent seats reserved for the military in parliament. However, USDP is aiming to win an overwhelming 90 per cent seats, to ensure two out of three vice-presidential candidates from the military.

      The elections will be held in accordance to the new constitution which came into effect after a similarly non-inclusive referendum in May 2008. It forms the fifth step of the seven-step “road map to democracy” announced by the SPDC. Following this, the sixth and seventh steps – convening of elected representatives and building of a modern, democratic nation, respectively will supposedly be pursued. The new Constitution and election laws have provisions for exclusion of many sections, especially those against the present regime. People are also questioning the validity of the junta’s “attempts to restore democracy” in Myanmar when over 2,100 political prisoners are not being released and are barred from contesting these elections under the provisions of the 2008 constitution.

      At least two constitutional provisions – anyone with a criminal conviction or who is married to a person of different nationality cannot participate in the election process; exclude Suu Kyi from the electoral process. The laws also forbid any group which employs and trains armed forces against the ruling government, from forming a political party and thus, contesting in the election. Hence, the majority of ethnic ceasefire groups, while removed from the list of unlawful organizations, will not be granted the right to any political process without first converting their armed forces into a Border Guard Force functioning under the existing regime.

      This may pose some problems as these groups are eventually likely to prevent polling in territories they control which will again leave out a large number of people from voting. The Shan and Karen states seem to be the big casualties of these stipulations as it is highly unlikely that there will be any polling there owing to the provision which states that only conflict-free areas can hold elections.

      Members of religious orders are also prohibited from affiliating themselves to a political party and thus, contest elections. This implies that the monks who protested against the government in 2008 cannot take part in the electoral process.

      Then there is Suu Kyi’s party, National League for Democracy (NLD), which officially boycotted the elections. It is now conducting “voter education camps” in several constituencies urging the people to reject the elections by choosing to refrain from voting as provided in the Election Commission Law. This is expected to further bring down the number of people participating in the elections.

      While it is evident that the Generals Than Shwe and Maung Aye, will step down following the elections, their influence will still be felt quite substantially in the new government. It is therefore safe to assume that these elections will see the existing regime back in power, more dominant than before as it would now have a legal sanction as the winner of a nationwide election. The international community may or may not agree with this expected outcome, but it would have to accept it nevertheless.

      However, how does one accept an outcome whose entire foundation is exclusion? For the present government, anyone who does not agree with them is not welcome in the system. The junta-led government has decided that even the slightest inclination to oppose the regime will result in exclusion from the elections. Former American President Harry S. Truman once remarked, “Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of the opposition, it has only one way to go and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror for all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.” This holds true for Myanmar in the present context. The credibility of the first Myanmarese elections in 20 years is at stake, but the junta seems unperturbed. The Myanmarese people’s long wait for democracy in their country is far from over.



      The fate of the NLD – Kyaw Zwa Moe
      Irrawaddy: Thu 16 Sep 2010

      The fact that Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy was disbanded by Burma’s ruling junta wasn’t unexpected news. The government’s Election Commission announcement on Tuesday is just a legal phase of the annihilation that the regime began plotting years ago.

      The NLD registered as a political party on Sept. 27, 1988, nine days after the military government, then known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council, staged a bloody coup following the ‘88 nationwide uprising. This month, 22 years later, the most popular party and the winner of the 1990 election was disbanded. Along with it, nine other parties, including ethnic parties, were dissolved.

      Yes, the party is now illegal. That means, any individual members of the party will be more vulnerable than before when it comes to exercising political or social activities. Thus, the freedom of the party’s leading members such as Vice Chairman Tin Oo, 83; veteran journalist-turned politician Win Tin, 81; Suu Kyi’s spokesperson, Nyan Win, as well as other party members is at stake. They are all still strong critics of the government’s upcoming election and have campaigned not to vote in the election as it would not be free and fair.

      Increased harassment or arrest of active members of the party is highly likely in the next phase of the regime’s plan to destroy the party completely. Although the party decided in March not to register to contest the upcoming election, the NLD’s recent efforts to stay active in public affairs has clearly agitated the military government.

      Anyway, consequences will also depend on what the NLD members attempt to carry out in the months before and after the Nov. 7 election.

      When talking about the NLD, no one can exclude Suu Kyi, who is still believed to be the most influential person among the general public. Though her voice was rarely heard during the past 14 years of her house arrest, she’s still the most feared political threat to the regime.

      After her release, the 64-year-old Nobel laureate is expected to continue what she calls “Burma’s second struggle for independence.” We’ll have to wait and see if she can find a new role for her disbanded party.

      According to Nyan Win, her lawyer, she should be released by Nov. 13. But whether or not the generals will release her is still an open question. The release date is only six days after the election and because the generals fear her extraordinary popularity, they may well find an excuse to keep her in detention longer, depriving her of the ability to criticize the outcome of the election.

      For years, Burma had strong opposition parties or groups. Even NLD efforts were severely curtailed by the junta. Even so, there is no equivalent political party among the 37 registered parties now contesting the election.

      UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently expressed “concern” over the dissolution of the NLD and nine other parties. But the generals never listened to such concerns. They are only concerned that almost all the seats in the parliaments will be held by the incumbent generals and recent generals-turned-“politicians” of the Union Solidarity and Development Party led by Prime Minister Thein Sein.

      The international community has consistently called for inclusive, free and fair elections, but in fact, even if the elections were fair, things still wouldn’t change for the better. The government-backed USDP is the only one that’s able to contest all 1,163 seats in the parliament, a fact that can not be overcome by pro-democracy candidates. And finally, the Constitution guarantees the military will occupy 25 percent of the seats in parliament.

      Everything is in place for the generals to continue ruling the country: from within the parliament.



      Democratic Party to focus efforts on lower house, leader says
      Mizzima News: Thu 16 Sep 2010

      Chiang Mai – Most of the 47 candidates submitted by the Democratic Party (Myanmar) led by Thu Wai will contest seats in the Pyithu Hluttaw (lower house), standing for Rangoon, Mandalay, Pegu and Tenasserim divisions, and Mon and Arakan states.Mizzima’s Ko Wild spoke to the Rangoon division Mingalar Taungnyunt constituency Pyithu Hluttaw (lower house) candidate, who said his party had to fear orders coming from above because most of the Union Election Commission (UEC) members were army officers.

      Q: How many candidates from your party passed UEC scrutiny?

      A: Three candidates were taken from our list before it was submitted to the UEC. Now that Hla Myint has been rejected by the UEC … I think 47 finally passed. Two candidates withdrew the nominations they submitted as their families had objected to them participating. They are from Pathein [township, Irrawaddy] and Shwepyithar [township Rangoon]. In the beginning, we had 51 candidates.

      Q: In which assembly have you fielded the most candidates and why?

      A: The Pyithu Hluttaw (lower house). We had wanted to field candidates in all constituencies but we had to stand only in the constituencies we could … Many wanted to contest seats in the lower house as opposed to the Nationalities Hluttaw (upper house). Our candidates must bear their canvassing expenses and candidate deposits out of their own pockets. The upper house constituencies are bigger than those of the lower house, with more eligible voters. Some of those in the upper house comprise four or five townships and would’ve cost candidates more.

      Q: Did your party hold meetings with eight independent candidates?

      A: Not often. Independent candidates are doing canvassing work themselves and our party is doing its own work. But since most of our candidates are not fielded in their constituencies, we can help them. Likewise, they can help us in our constituencies too. This is just an understanding among us and that’s all. It’s not a very significant development.

      Q: One of the eight, Dr. Phone Win, said one of your candidates is running in his constituency. Please explain.

      A: Yes, Ko Phone Win and our candidate Aung Than Myint are standing in the same constituency. The latter is an executive committee member of our party …We fielded our own candidate before having co-ordination meetings with the independents.

      Q: Do you have any links to the National Democratic Front (NDF)?

      A: Not yet. But personally, we are old acquaintances and are on friendly terms with them.

      Q: What do you think of the UEC notice on the right to canvass on radio and television?

      A: Fifteen minutes is not bad. We had only 10 minutes in 1990 but there are major differences in the restrictions. There were no such controls in the 1990 general election. We had to submit our draft copy of speeches to be delivered on radio and TV and they were subject to censorship, but that’s all. This time, however, a lot of restrictions have been imposed on us. We don’t know yet what speeches we have to give.

      Q: How will you cope with the nine restrictions listed in the UEC notice?

      A: All these restrictions seem imposed at the will of the government and the electoral commission. They can do whatever they like, whether they take action or not. For instance, the restriction says not to stimulate sedition or give any talks that can tarnish the image of the state. So if we point out the drawbacks and weaknesses in the state, they can take action against us with this restriction. It all depends on them.

      Q: So, what shall you do?

      A: We must take this opportunity and we must speak cleverly. Under our objectives, we shall say what drawbacks are in our country and how we shall tackle these issues, but not in directly attacking government – we can’t do that.

      Q: What differences have you noticed between the current UEC and the 1990 body?

      A: The two commissions are quite different. The former commission was constituted with experienced elders. Though they had a close rapport with the government at the time, they didn’t blindly follow the dictates of the government. But most of the current commission members are retired army officers, who are used to following orders. In Rangoon Division, we have found that the district and divisional level UECs don’t know the electoral laws and rules very well, which means they can work only when they receive orders from above.

      Q: Now you have known constituencies and candidates, in which areas does your party expect to win?

      A: We regard that we will win most of the constituencies we contest. We don’t have any fears of contesting against candidates from either the USDP or NUP but we have to contest against candidates fielded by what we might call pro-democracy forces or the opposition. So the confusion surrounding the issue means that I can’t answer this question definitely.



      Army to vote in separate ballot boxes – Maung Too
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Wed 15 Sep 2010

      Burmese troops and their families in barracks will cast their vote for the looming elections in separate ballot boxes from ordinary civilians, the commander of a Rangoon-based army battalion has told DVB.A directive was issued on 6 September by the War Office in the capital, Naypyidaw, and signed by Lt. Gen. Thura Myint Aung, who it said was an official at Burma’s defence ministry, although he has been tipped to head the army following the elections. It was sent to army units across the country two months prior to the 7 November polls.

      Included in the directive was an order for troops to vote for the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), led by Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein, and to “avoid a repeat of the 1990 elections” which the ruling junta lost, despite having held onto power. If soldiers are found to have voted for parties other than the USDP, their battalion commanders will be penalised.

      In preparation for the vote senior army officials are to appoint a supervisor and assistant supervisor from soldiers’ families to man each of the ballot boxes. According to the directive, every battalion will have its own box, and the names of the appointed supervisors must be submitted to Naypyidaw by 15 September.

      The Rangoon commander added that each unit will collaborate with local junta-appointed Election Commission (EC) officials over the building of the ballot boxes. Troops who will be serving on the frontline on the day of voting can either cast votes in advance or use a form of long-distance voting, although it is not clear how this will work.

      The polls have already been widely derided by the international community as a sham aimed at entrenching military power under the guise of a civilian government. Burma has been under a military dictatorship since 1962, and conditions surrounding the elections appear to have been tailored to ensure this continues.

      Reports such as this of election fraud surface regularly and compound concerns about the polls being free and fair: the constitution awards a quarter of parliamentary seats to military officers prior to voting, and influential members of the junta have taken key positions in the USDP, which is widely tipped to win.

      Moreover, the USDP has announced it will field around 990 candidates, while the opposition National Democratic Force (NDF) will field around 160. The 500,000 kyat (US$500) fee for each candidate is beyond the reach of most parties except for the USDP, whose war chest appears huge.

      The state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper today announced that 37 parties would be competing in the polls, Burma’s first in two decades.



      Restrictions placed on election campaign broadcasts – Ba Kaung
      Irrawaddy: Wed 15 Sep 2010

      Burma’s Election Commission (EC) has attached a number of restrictions on the election campaign TV and radio broadcasts political parties will be allowed to make.The restrictions, announced on Tuesday, say the 37 parties contesting the Nov. 7 election can publicize their policy platforms during the allotted 15 minutes that the state-controlled media will carry, but they must avoid anything that defames or damages the honor of the ruling government or tarnishes the image of the armed forces, the Tatmadaw.

      Live broadcasts will not be allowed and scripts must be submitted seven days beforehand to the Election Commission for its approval.
      The ruling effectively bans any criticism of the government or any mention of the country’s problems, particularly ethnic issues.

      The parties face abolition if the EC finds they violate the restrictions.

      “We have to explain what our country needs and what reforms are necessary in a delicate way,” said Thu Wai, the chairman of the Democratic Party (Myanmar), who said his party would take advantage of the 15-minute time slot.

      The voting process in Burma’s first general election in 20 years has still to be explained fully to the electorate.

      But, according to recent reports in the state-media, Burmese voters can cast at least three ballots for candidates standing for seats in the People’s Parliament, the Nationalities Parliament and the Regional Parliament. In several places, including Rangoon, ethnic people can cast an additional vote to choose a candidate competing for parliamentary seats allotted to ethnic minorities.

      The articles also warned that those who are found guilty of obstructing the people from voting face a sentence of one-year imprisonment or a fine of 100,000 kyat ($100).

      “I heard that the different ballot boxes will be separated by color, but I still don’t know how to vote,” said a young Rangoon journalist.

      While political parties are heavily restricted in reaching out to the people, the regime has allowed two non-governmental organizations in Rangoon to give training to the parties on the voting process, according to Rangoon sources.

      Rangoon-based Myanmar Egress and Shalom Foundation, locally known as the Nyein Foundation, have already conducted various training programs on voting procedures to members of political parties running in the election, the sources said. Both organizations are known for their support of the junta’s 2008 Constitution and the upcoming election.

      They reportedly gave training to up to 10 political parties including the National Democratic Force (NDF), Shan National Democratic Party (SNDP), Democratic Party (Myanmar), Kayin Peoples Party and two other parties representing the Arakan and Mon people.

      The Shalom Foundation was founded in 2001 by the Rev. Saboi Jum, a leading figure in the ceasefire agreement reached between the regime and the armed Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), and he is still working as a peace negotiator between them. He has condemned the KIO for its persistent refusal to accept the government’s border guard force plan.

      “The Shalom is encouraging people to participate in the election,” said a Rangoon journalist.

      It is not clear how the two groups conduct their training programs.

      When contacted by The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, the secretary-general of Myanmar Egress, Nay Win Maung, declined to comment on the training.

      “We have concerns that these NGOs may be campaigning for the junta’s proxy parties,but as long as they are not biased, it should be okay because people probably don’t know how to vote,” said Dr.Aye Maung, the chairman of the Rakhine National Development Party.

      Despite confusion about the voting process and restrictions on political parties, officials of the junta’s proxy party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), who are also government ministers, are reportedly touring the country campaigning.

      “The USDP is now publishing campaign pamphlets using the state-owned press machines. It has even done TV programs for campaigning,” said a Rangoon journalist.



      Make-believe elections – Editorial
      The Hindu: Wed 15 Sep 2010

      Recent developments in Myanmar indicate that the ruling junta is on a quest for a smokescreen of legitimacy before tightening its grip on the nation in the November 7 election. In the second major reshuffle this year, 70 senior military officers, including the Army’s number three, General Thura Shwe Mann, quit their posts and are expected to join the Union Solidarity and Development Party, a proxy political party of the military. The first shuffle, in April, saw the exit of another group of senior military men, including Prime Minister Thein Sein. The moves are intended to give a civilian face to the new parliament, in which a quarter of the seats are reserved for serving military officers. The retired officers are expected to contest the remaining seats with no fear of defeat. By the August 30 deadline for registering candidates, the USDP had filed over 1,000 nominations while another pro-junta formation, the National Unity Party, is fielding over 900 candidates. On the other side, the two main democratic parties — the National Democratic Force, which split from the election-boycotting Aung San Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy, and the Democratic Front — have been able to put up fewer than 500 candidates between them. With the registration fee fixed at $500, they did not have the money to nominate any more.It has been clear from the start that this election — the first in Myanmar since the historic 1990 contest in which Ms Suu Kyi’s party emerged victorious but was barred from taking power — is no transition to democracy. New election laws barred Ms Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest, from contesting because of her convictions by the junta. Under the rules, the ensuing boycott by her party led to its dissolution. The military, whether in uniform or in civvies, and pro-military politicians will dominate the 224-seat House of Nationalities and the 440-seat House of Representatives. What is less clear is the role “Senior General” Than Shwe, head of the State Peace and Development Council, the official name for the junta, has reserved for himself. It was believed that he too had stepped down from his post to contest the election as a civilian. But that has turned out to be unfounded. He is likely to continue at the helm even after the election and might quit as military chief only when he is assured of a successor he can trust. But even if he became a civilian ruler, and for all his engagement with the international community, including India, the Myanmar strongman cannot hope to acquire real legitimacy after denying Ms Suu Kyi her rightful place in the country’s destiny.



      Torn between two capitals – Htet Aung
      Irrawaddy: Wed 15 Sep 2010

      Naypyidaw, a remote town located halfway between Burma’s two main cities, Rangoon and Mandalay, has been the country’s administrative capital since junta chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe deemed it so on Nov. 6, 2005.Five years less one day later, as per the 2008 Constitution, Naypyidaw will become a “Union territory” directly governed by the president after the election on Nov. 7.

      The political structure of Burma will change after the election; however, the question is: will the political dynamism of the country shift from its old capital, Rangoon, to the new capital whose name translates into English as “The Abode of Kings”?

      Traditionally, Rangoon has played the pivotal role in Burmese politics, as well as serving as the country’s economic hub ever since colonial times. However, its status was degraded by the military junta when it packed its governmental and administrative bags and moved 200 miles north to an undeveloped site just two miles from Pyinmana.

      The construction of the new parliament continued apace with the construction of eight-lane avenues, an international airport and a 24-hour electricity supply, as well as the migration of government officials and their families to the town.

      Five years later, Burma’s would-be modern metropolis will undergo the transition from a synthetic ghost town to a hive of parliamentary activity. Officially, it will become Burma’s first civil administration in two decades.

      The new parliament is composed of 31 buildings, as well as presidential mansions for the future president and two vice-presidents.

      Synthetic, soulless and desperately devoid of social interaction, Naypyidaw has failed to persuade the staff and families of the United Nations agencies and foreign diplomatic missions to relocate their headquarters and embassies, severely undermining its integrity as a capital city.

      The fact is that most ambassadors, diplomats, INGO heads and their families are accustomed to living the high life in whatever country they are assigned. They circulate at cocktail parties, dine at the best restaurants in the city, send their children to the best international schools and constantly receive invitations to glamorous society events.

      A far cry from a life in bureaucratic Naypyidaw.

      When the Union Election Commission opened its doors for political party registration in March, it was unsurprising that every major national party, bar one, had its headquarters in Rangoon. The exception was, of course, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which based its headquarters in Naypyidaw.

      Asked about the political polarization of Rangoon and Naypyidaw, Chan Htun, a veteran politician and a former ambassador to China said: “I see Rangoon continuing to serve as the center of the democratic movement due to some key factors, such as population density, the home of the political parties and the well-established transportation networks linking the country, while Naypyidaw emerges as the fortress of the ruling party.”

      But could political tensions between the two cities spill over in the future?

      “I don’t think so,” said Wun Tha, an elected representative of the National League for Democracy in the 1990 election who currently works as a journalist. “Tension usually raises its head in a formidable situation, for instance, the growing strength of an opposition group threatening or seeking confrontation with the ruling party. What we are witnessing now is the would-be ruling party, the USDP, leaving all the other parties far behind in the race. It feels no threat.”

      In the newly emerging political landscape, the leadership of the USDP have chosen isolation in a Naypyidaw where they will quickly fall out of touch with the everyday needs of the people, not to mention their own members in more than

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