[Readingroom] News on Burma - 4/10/10
- Myanmar abuzz over possible release of Suu Kyi
- Censors bar reporting of Suu Kyi’s voting right
- Myanmar to free Suu Kyi days after election: officials
- Junta-backed USDP campaigning through Nargis projects
- In Burma’s public hospitals, you get what you pay for
- Regional efforts needed to push for democracy
- Tay Za’s son takes sanctions case to court of justice
- An election not worthy of support
- The general’s election
- The junta’s soft landing
- Myanmar’s prime minister issues election warning
- Burmese parties promoting campaign slogans
- Citizens bank on gold in Myanmar’s troubled economy
- Burma’s democratic charade
- UN says Myanmar vote not credible without Aung San Suu Kyi
- 262 monks and nuns still in Burmese prisons
- Pro-democracy party urges voters to join Myanmar elections
- Druglords to contest on junta party tickets
- Myanmar’s second-largest pro-junta party to field 990 candidates
- Than Shwe’s ‘Final Solution’ for ethnic Burma
- Will general election in Burma change anything?
- Burma’s EC rejects Democratic Party campaign ad
- Ethnic leader predicts united armed struggle after Burma’s election
- France joins calls for UN inquiry into Burma abuses
- China to be friends with both junta, ethnic groups
- Myanmar tells U.N. body it will never seek atom bombs
- Is there really hope for ethnic candidates?
Myanmar abuzz over possible release of Suu Kyi
Associated Press: Fri 1 Oct 2010
Yangon, Myanmar — The detention of Myanmar’s democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi expires early next month, but officials said Friday that only the ruling junta chief knows exactly when she will be granted freedom.The Nobel Peace laureate has been locked away for 15 of the past 21 years, ever since her opposition party swept the country’s last elections in 1990, and the military refused to cede power.
Her latest term of house arrest ends Nov. 13, just days after the junta plans to hold the first elections since those ignored polls — timing that analysts say is hardly coincidental. There is wide speculation the junta will release her as an olive branch to the international community after its expected win in elections that many observers have decried as so rigged as to be meaningless.
But Suu Kyi’s detention is considered a matter of national security and officials say any decision to release her would be made at the last-minute by Senior Gen. Than Shwe, the junta chief.
“We can assume that she will be released on Nov. 13, but we cannot say with certainty that it will happen. Only the junta chief will know if or when the release can happen,” said one of two officials interviewed. “It is too early to say that she will be released on Nov. 13.”
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy opposition party is boycotting the elections, which it calls unfair and undemocratic. As a result of not registering for the polls, the party has been dissolved, leaving no group that can effectively challenge the junta-backed party, which is expected to sweep the polls.
Critics call the country’s first elections in two decades a sham and say the military shows no sign of genuinely relinquishing power.
The London-based rights group Burma Campaign UK issued a statement to express caution over recent reports about Suu Kyi’s imminent freedom.
“We’ll believe it when we see it,” said Mark Farmaner, the group’s director. “Regime officials have said similar things in the past, and Aung San Suu Kyi has remained in detention.”
If Suu Kyi is released, it would be wrong to attach too much political significance to it, Farmaner said.
“She has been released twice before without there being any political change in the country,” he said. “It is more likely that the dictatorship will try to use her release to attempt to persuade the international community to relax pressure on them.”
The international community has long demand the release of Suu Kyi and more than 2,100 political prisoners.
Censors bar reporting of Suu Kyi’s voting right
Irrawaddy: Fri 1 Oct 2010
Burma’s press censors have barred domestic news agencies from reporting about pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s name appearing on the electoral role in the November election, according to sources in Rangoon’s media.An executive editor from a news journal told The Irrawaddy that when private journals tried to report that Suu Kyi and her companions—Khin Khin Win and Win Ma Ma—were included in the voters’ list of No.1 Golden Valley Ward, Bahan Township in Rangoon, the Ministry of Information’s Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD) prevented them from doing so.
“The PSRD didn’t allow us to report about Suu Kyi getting the right to vote because it didn’t want to see her name in the media. In fact, news about a person’s voting right would not affect anyone,” the editor said, adding that Suu Kyi was not included when the eligible voters’ list was first announced on September 20 but her name was added on Sept. 23.
On Monday, however, the English version of The Myanmar Times reported that Suu Kyi and her companions were included on the electoral roll but Suu Kyi could only cast her vote in advance since she was under house arrest. The Burmese-language edition of the same publication and other Burmese media were prevented from reporting the story.
Apart from restricting mention of Suu Kyi’s name and news related to the 1990 election and the National League for Democracy on the media, the PSRD reportedly continues to bar any reporting that criticizes the 2008 Constitution and negative opinion regarding the upcoming election.
“There is no freedom of information in the country, though private media constantly struggles against the restrictions,” said a journalist in Rangoon, doubting that private media will be allowed to freely report during the election.
The PSRD issued a directive in July warning private media to be careful carrying news about the election laws and the Constitution, saying that any criticism and incorrect reporting on these issues would lead to a permanent revocation of publishing permit.
A politician in Rangoon said that without media freedom the coming election in Burma cannot be free and fair.
The PSRD also reportedly forced news journals to carry articles saying that calling for an election boycott contravenes the election law and can be punished with a 5-20 year prison term and a 100,000 kyat [US $107] fine.
The PSRD reportedly also censored news about the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) using the state budget for election campaign activities such as road construction and giving out loans and has removed news related to the number of confirmed voters for the USDP and its attempt to collect advance votes.
Thirty-seven political parties, including the USDP lead by the military regime’s incumbent premier Thein Sein, will contest the election on Nov. 7.
Myanmar to free Suu Kyi days after election: officials
Agence France Presse: Thu 30 Sep 2010
Yangon — Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi will be released in November just days after Myanmar’s first election in two decades, officials said Thursday.The Nobel Peace laureate, who has been detained for most of the last twenty years since winning the country’s last poll in 1990, will be freed when her current house arrest expires on November 13, the unnamed sources said.
“November will be an important and busy month for us because of the election and because of Aung San Suu Kyi’s release,” a Myanmar official told AFP, noting the release would come soon after the country’s November 7 vote.
A second Myanmar official, who also declined to be named, confirmed the date, adding “she will be released on that day according to the law.”
Neither Suu Kyi nor her National League for Democracy (NLD) party will participate in the upcoming vote, which opponents have dismissed as a sham aimed at hiding military power behind a civilian facade.
Uncertainty over whether the military regime will indeed release the 65-year-old, known reverently among Myanmar’s people as “The Lady”, will remain until the moment she appears in public.
The junta, humiliated by its crashing defeat in the last election, has prolonged Suu Kyi’s confinement almost continuously ever since.
She has been detained since May 2003 and has only enjoyed fleeting periods of freedom since 1990.
Thailand-based analyst Aung Naing Oo said any release would come with conditions and she “won’t be free to go out”.
“It’s a military dictatorship. No matter what the legal background of the issue — if they don’t want to release her, she won’t be released,” he said. “I’ll believe it when I see it”.
Suu Kyi’s current spell of detention stems from her imprisonment in May last year — just days before a previous period of house arrest came to an end — due to a bizarre incident in which an American swam to her lakeside home.
She was initially given three years in jail and hard labour but was returned to her crumbling family home in August 2009 after her sentence was commuted to one and a half years’ house arrest by junta leader Than Shwe.
Suu Kyi’s lawyer Nyan Win said the period of detention started with her imprisonment on May 14 and authorities would have to release her in November because “there is no law to extend her house arrest”.
“So far we have no plan in advance for her release date. We will do and follow whatever she asks for. We are waiting for that day,” Nyan Win added.
Government mouthpiece New Light of Myanmar recently warned an unnamed party — thought to be the NLD — to drop protests against its dissolution, and threatened jail for anyone impeding the upcoming vote.
The party was disbanded after it opted to boycott the election in response to rules barring serving prisoners — like Suu Kyi and other members — from standing.
A UN ministerial group has said that the election will not be credible unless military rulers release Suu Kyi and other opposition detainees.
But on Tuesday Myanmar’s foreign minister Nyan Win rejected international criticism, insisting that the junta is committed to a “free and fair” vote.
Myanmar has been ruled by the military since 1962 and the generals have stacked the cards in their favour for the poll.
A new constitution, which comes into force with the election, ring-fences a quarter of the legislature for the army, while junta-friendly parties are seen as having a major advantage in the contest for the remaining seats.
Opposition parties face formidable hurdles, including a fee of 500 dollars per candidate — the equivalent of several months’ wages for most people.
The National Democratic Force (NDF), a breakaway opposition party created by former NLD members, is among those planning to contest the vote, a decision that put it at odds with Suu Kyi, who favoured a boycott.
Junta-backed USDP campaigning through Nargis projects – Wai Moe
Irrawaddy: Thu 30 Sep 2010
Junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) candidates are using Cyclone Nargis rehabilitation projects in the Irrawaddy delta and other state projects across the country to campaign for the election.According to the state-run-newspaper, The New Light of Myanmar on Thursday, Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein who is also the USDP chairman attended the opening ceremony of a hospital and a youth training school in the cyclone-hit area of Laputta Township alongside other USDP key leaders who retired from their military posts in April including Thein Nyunt, the minister of Progress of Border Areas and National Races and Development Affairs, and Maung Maung Swe, the minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement.
Ahead of the Nov.7 elections, the state-run-media are full of reports that USDP leaders who are also sitting ministers are traveling to state projects and attending openings of completed projects. Observers said the military junta allowed state media to highlight USDP activities but limited publicity to other political parties.
Although Thein Sein seemed to be focusing USDP campaign activities through the state projects in the Irrawaddy delta this week, his election campaign last week focused on the west bank of the Irrawaddy River in the Magway Region, the location of government arms factories as well as alleged work on military missiles and nuclear projects.
Thein Sein appeared in the state media where he was shown Sept. 20 opening the Minhla-Minbu section of the railway line from Kyangin in the Irrawaddy Region to Pakokku in the Magway Region.
The New Light of Myanmar also reported on Sept. 25 that Thein Sein opened a hospital in Zabuthiri Township in Naypyidaw. According to the Naypyidaw candidate list, Thein Sein is running for the People’s Assembly (Lower House) seat in Zabuthiri Township.
Along with USDP top leaders and senior military officials, the state-run newspapers on Thursday highlighted one of richest tycoons in the country, Zaw Zaw, the head of the Max Group of Companies and the newly formed Ayeyawady Bank. Zaw Zaw appeared in a front page photo in The New Light of Myanmar along with USDP leaders and senior military officers including Maj-Gen Hla Min, the chief of the Bureau of Special Operations-3.
Zaw Zaw and other US-sanction list tycoons including Tay Za, Htay Myint, Khin Shwe and Dagon Win Aung were awarded construction projects in the Irrawaddy delta following Cyclone Nargis in May 2008.
Khin Shwe of the Zay Gabar Company is a USDP candidate for the Nationalities Assembly (Upper House) in Twantay Township in the Rangoon region, which was hard hit by Cyclone Nargis. He told The Monitor Journal recently that he had done campaign activities while also working on Nargis work projects.
“For me, I don’t need to do election campaigning in the area. Following Nargis, I had worked there for a year doing reconstruction on pagodas and feeding people food. So people tell me, ‘Please come here!’ I don’t need to do any extra campaigning like other candidates,” Khin Shwe was quoted as saying in the journal.
In Burma’s public hospitals, you get what you pay for – Hsat Linn
Irrawaddy: Thu 30 Sep 2010
Rangoon — “Where’s the patient’s relative? Where is she?”It’s the voice of a female duty doctor who appears to be around 25 years old. There is a male patient, about 50 years old, lying in bed No. 12 in Ward No. 12 of the Rangoon General Hospital.
Ward No. 12 is for patients with diseases affecting the lungs, liver, kidney and stomach.
“When a patient’s relatives can’t afford medical expenses, they just leave their relative and sneak out of the hospital. How can we treat them without medicine?” said the angry young doctor before she turned and walked away.
A signboard near the entrance to Ward No. 12, read: “Share expenses for health” The ward is hopelessly overcrowded with patients, who line both sides of the hallway. The floor of the ward and many bed sheets are stained with spots—whether of blood or something else.
“A woman was here before, but I don’t know where she went,” said a relative of another patient next to bed No. 12.
Shortly after the doctor left, the patient in bed No. 12 pulled out the needle of an intravenous transfusion he was receiving in his arm and rolled over. Blood flowed out of his arm. Several people rushed to him while others ran to tell the doctor and nurses, who appeared shortly and with others’ help they put him back onto his bed.
The patient never said a word, but showed his resistance by shaking his head and hands, as his relative returned to the ward.
“Where have you been? How come you left him alone?” said the angry doctor.
“I went to get money from my nephew because you said we needed to buy medicine,” said the relative, holding up about 1,000 kyat [US $1.07].
Scenes such as this occur daily at Rangoon General Hospital and other public hospitals across Burma, according to Myo Min, a relative who had been looking after his father for 24 days at the hospital while he received treatment for kidney disease.
Burma is ranked among the countries that provide the least health care service to its citizen, who regularly complain about the treatment available in public hospitals but who have little recourse other than private clinics which are beyond their means.
Once a patient is taken into the emergence room, said Myo Mind, the doctors and nurses question them about their identity and family registration before any treatment is given. Many people don’t bring such documents with them, he said, because many illnesses arrive unexpected and demand immediate attention.
“When I first took my father to hospital, I had to deal with such questions. Later I took others’ advice to use a broker’s service for admission and things went more smoothly,” said Myo Min.
He said many patients pay 3,000 kyat ($3.2) to brokers who take care of all the procedures for hospital admission.
“No matter how serious the condition the patient is in, he or she will receive no attention unless his or her relative can provide the required medicines,” said Myo Min.
“Once you see the doctors, you’re asked to buy medicine at a drug store in the emergency ward. You have to provide everything such as needles, syringes, gauze and plaster. They don’t have any medicine. They start giving treatment only when they have everything they need,” he said.
Once they enter the hospital, patients are charged for all equipment such as a wheelchair or handcart as well, he said.
Myo Min recalled that when one patient was released from the emergency room, additional fees for using a handcart were charged in order to carry the patient to a hospital ward where he or she will be admitted and another 500 kyat ($0.53) would be charged for cleaning the bed that the patient used when he or she was in the emergency room. In fact, the same bed would be used for another patient without cleaning, he said.
Myo Min said there are two common problems in the hospital. The first is that a patient’s relatives cannot afford medicine and the cost of other equipment. The other is that patients are abandoned by the relatives.
“Look at the woman over there,” he said. “She is the only person to look after that patient. Around noon, she often goes away somewhere. Maybe she goes out to find money,” said Myo Min.
“Sometimes, patients relatives just sit still no matter how many times doctors ask them to buy medicine because they don’t have money. Some patients can live for two or three days, that’s all,” Myo Min said.
About 3 a.m. the following morning, the sound of crying was heard around bed No. 12.
“He didn’t want to receive treatment anymore, because he didn’t want to be a burden. I said his life is more important than money, but he didn’t accept it,” said the crying woman. The woman could not mourn the death of the man, her husband, because soon two men came with a stretcher to take the body to the mortuary. The men asked for money, and she gave them 1,000 kyat ($1.07).
When the woman was ready to leave the hospital to inform other family members, a doctor asked her instead to go see the duty doctor.
“Once a patient dies in the hospital, anyone related to the deceased is asked to remain and the hospital informs the family via phone because many people try to leave the hospital quietly after their relatives die,” said Myo Min. “Even under such tight restrictions, I saw three dead bodies that were abandoned by their relatives. People had no choice but to leave them. Some people also leave the patients alone in the hospital.”
A young doctor who worked at the Rangoon General Hospital for five years, and who now works as a project manager at an NGO, said there were many cases in which relatives knew their loved ones would survive with medicine but they had to watch them die because they couldn’t afford the cost.
According to a study by the Washington-based United States Institute of Peace, Burma’s military regime allocates a little under $3 billion to the Ministry of Defense while spending less than 1 percent for public health care for a population of almost 60 million people from the overall national budget of around $6.6 billion.
The lack of funding is reflected in the lack of equipment and laboratory services that are available at Rangoon General Hospital and other public hospitals. For instance, there is usually a long queue of patients waiting to undergo radiotherapy. Depending on the number of patients, it may take a week to receive a gastroscopy.
“I was told by the hospital to wait for 10 days to receive a gastroscopy for my younger brother,” said a relative of a patient who was transferred from the hospital to a private clinic. “I took him to the Aung Yadana private clinic where we were given good service but charged about a million kyat ($1,075).”
Most poor and middle class people know that they will receive inadequate service at public hospitals, but they have no other options because treatment at a private clinic is too costly. A deposit for a private clinic in Rangoon is about 200,000 kyat ($215); a room cost about 25,000 kyat ($27) a day.
In small clinics like Shwe Baho, Bahosi, Shinpagu and Aung Yadana at least 500,000 kyat ($538) is needed to be able to receive treatment. However, for the best clinics such as SSC, Asia Royal and Pan Hlaing, a deposit is about one million kyat ($1,075) and medical bills for in-patients range from $1,612 to $2,150 for a two to three-day stay.
According to Myo Min and others who look after their relatives at the Rangoon General Hospital, there are few senior doctors present in the hospital during day or night. Usually, only junior doctors and house surgeons work there to obtain a medical license.
“Although they have duties at the hospital, surgeons always spend time at their private clinics,” he said.
He said there appears to be few experienced doctors and surgeons at the hospital to train junior doctors.
All patients and family members hope for sympathetic treatment from doctors and nurses, Myo Min said, but, “We don’t hear any kind words—only yelling and scolding.”
Regional efforts needed to push for democracy – Mustaqim Adamrah
The Jakarta Post: Thu 30 Sep 2010
All eyes are now turned to Indonesia as one of the few countries in the region believed to be capable of taking the lead in helping bring about change in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.Experts and Myanmarese activists agreed during a discussion here on Wednesday that Indonesia, which would chair ASEAN next year, should use its chairmanship to form an agenda on Myanmar, which was scheduled to conduct widely anticipated elections in November.
They also said that through ASEAN, Indonesia should ask for assistance from China and India to put more pressure on the military rulers in Myanmar.
China and India, which have interests in Myanmar’s energy resources, choose to keep silent over the lack of democracy and the human rights abuses in the restive country, despite international expectations of their participation in concerted efforts to uphold democracy in Myanmar.
“I believe it’s important for Indonesia to invite other ASEAN countries to form ASEAN’s [strategy] to push for change and democracy in Burma,” Centre for Strategic and International Studies executive director Rizal Sukma said during a dialogue organized by KBR68H radio’s international news program Asia Calling.
Such an agenda, he said, was reasonable as Myanmar had been a thorny issue for ASEAN’s internal performance and in ASEAN’s relationship with the rest of the world.
Rizal said the time was ideal for Indonesia — whose “high profile is on the rise” as claimed by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono — to conduct public advocacy campaigns and invite all elements in Indonesia and other ASEAN countries to help the Burmese people.
He added that ASEAN’s policy of non-interference was expected to be more flexible in this matter, citing an example in 2008 when Myanmar was hit by Cyclone Nargis.
He said the government allowed in global aid packages after being persuaded by Indonesia.
However, Rizal said, it would be hard to involve China and India in efforts to bring the country to democracy because they feared that a transitional period in Myanmar would be followed by instability, which would hurt their business interests.
Burma Partnership coordinator Khin Ohmar said there were some problems in expecting China and India to join pro-democracy efforts.
“Over the years we see all these players play each other. Why does ASEAN have to do something about Burma, where is China? China has to do something about it. And [finally] no body wants to take the lead,” she said.
“China is not going to start no matter what. China will probably come to us if it sees [the efforts] as a strategic partnership, like the [one] it has with Indonesia [who is] China’s strategic partner politically and economically.”
Indonesia and other countries, Ohmar said, would probably need to have a “very aggressive diplomatic engagement” in dealing with Myanmar’s rulers.
“We can’t just have an engagement to appease the regime. We have to really hit hard on that door,” she said.
“Indonesia has to tell them, ‘look, we’re not going to recognize your election or the results of the election. If you do this, we will [take certain measures]’.”
Tay Za’s son takes sanctions case to court of justice – Simon Roughneen
Irrawaddy: Thu 30 Sep 2010
Pye Phyo Tay Za, the son of Tay Za, a businessman with close links to Burma’s military government, is appealing a decision taken earlier this year which maintains European Union (EU) financial sanctions and travel ban against him.The case is now before the Court of Justice in Luxembourg, which is the highest court in the EU in terms of EU law, and pits Pye Phyo against the Council of the European Union, the European Commission and the United Kingdom.
On May 19, Pye Phyo Tay Za lost a legal bid at the General Court to have EU sanctions overturned. He was ordered to pay the court costs for the Council of the EU. He is seeking that the entire May 19 decision be overturned, that the sanctions regulations be rendered null and void in his case, and that the Council foot the bill for this appeal and for the previous case.
Pye Phyo’s legal team is challenging the May 19 decision on a number of grounds pertaining to what it terms “particular legal flaws in the General Court’s judgment.” His lawyers and solicitors are again focusing on “the link between the Appellant and the military regime of Burma/Myanmar.”
The appeal was lodged on July 27, and details were published in the EU official journal on Sept. 25. It says that Pye Phyo “is not a ruler of Burma/Myanmar, nor a person associated with a ruler, and is not controlled, directly or indirectly, by a ruler. The fact that he is the son of someone whom the Council considers to have benefited from the regime is insufficient.”
This echoes the case made at the General Court, in which Pye Phyo argued that he is neither a member of Burma’s military government nor associated with it, and does not benefit from “the administration of that government.”
However, in the original General Court case, it was claimed that “neither the applicant [Pye Phyo] nor his father received any benefits from the regime.” However, it now appears that the Court of Justice appeal will not go so far as to question whether Tay Za is “someone whom the Council considers to have benefited from the regime.”
In defending the General Court case to have sanctions against Pye Phyo retained, the Council said that the appeal could be a way for Tay Za to circumvent the sanctions against himself. The Council stated: “The applicant was aware of the reasons for which such restrictive measures specifically apply to him, since he states in paragraph 37 of the originating application that there may be a risk of his father circumventing the freeze on his own assets by transferring his funds to other family members.”
Tay Za owns the Htoo Group of Companies, which has stakes in major economic sectors in the country such as logging, tourism, hotels, airlines, transport and construction. He also owns Air Bagan, which dominates domestic air travel inside Burma.
In early September, The Irrawaddy received information from junta officials that most of the telecommunication services of the Ministry of Communications, Posts and Telegraphs in Burma will be taken over by the Htoo Group. Tay Za is among a group of four businessmen who will be allowed to open new private banks in Burma ahead of the Nov. 7 general election. The quadrumvirate run conglomerates and are considered top beneficiaries of a wave of privatization in which about 300 state assets, including everything from real estate to ports, shipping companies and an airline were sold amid growing Chinese, Indian, Thai and Singaporean investment in the military-run country.
Tay Za has worked side-by-side with Aung Thet Mann, the son of ex-Gen Shwe Mann, who is the third-ranked figure in the ruling junta and a possible president of the country after the November elections.
The upcoming election is expected to be dominated by the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and the National Unity Party (NUP), two junta-linked parties who will contest most or all of the 1,096 constituencies across the country at regional, lower and upper house levels. A number of businessmen close to the military government will run as election candidates for the USDP.
An election not worthy of support – Win Tin
International Herald Tribune: Thu 30 Sep 2010
Yangon, Myanmar — Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, recently said the world must exercise “utmost vigilance” to ensure the approaching elections in Myanmar (Burma) are free and fair.We are disappointed in such comments, which focus on the election as something important for our country, as something worth waiting and watching for, although this election is not the solution for Burma.
The elections, scheduled for Nov. 7, are designed to legalize military rule in Burma under the 2008 constitution, which was written to create a permanent military dictatorship in our country.
After the election, the constitution will come into effect, a so-called civilian government will be formed by acting and retired generals who all are under the military commander-in-chief, and the people of Burma will legally become the subjects of the military.
Our party, the National League for Democracy, and our ethnic allies have refused to accept the regime’s constitution and have decided to boycott the elections. The military regime’s constitution and severely restricting election laws demonstrated to all of us the true intention the regime has for this election — the legalization and legitimization of military rule in our country.
We refuse to abandon our aspirations for democracy in Burma and give the regime the legitimacy it wants for its elections. With millions of people of Burma supporting our position, we hoped the international community would understand the regime’s intentions as clearly as we do and pressure the regime to stop its unilateral and undemocratic process.
Until recently, the United Nations demanded the regime commit itself to an all-parties inclusive, participatory, free and fair process through political dialogue with democratic opposition and representatives of ethnic minorities. But now an important phrase — “all-parties inclusive” — is surprisingly excluded from their statements and speeches.
Although Ms. Pillay urged the world to exercise “utmost vigilance,” there is no need to wait until the Election Day to make a judgment. The election commission was appointed by the regime and filled with loyalists who unilaterally decided that many candidates are ineligible to run. The electoral laws and by-laws impose severe restrictions on political parties. Thousands of political prisoners — including our leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi — are not allowed to participate in the election or be members of the parties.
The regime’s prime minister and cabinet ministers have switched to civilian dress, transformed their mass organization into their political party, and are campaigning with the use of state properties, resources, funds and threats. The election commission is shamelessly violating its own rules in favor of the prime minister’s party and other proxy parties of the regime.
Is it really necessary for the international community to wait until election day to see whether the elections are free and fair?
Unfortunately, some European countries are not only watching the regime’s elections, but also supporting them. They discussed with us their belief that the election is the only game in town, and suggested that we, the National League for Democracy, should participate.
When we explained our rationale for not legitimizing military rule, they turned to others and now help them to make their way in the regime’s election game. They have gone so far as to help pro-regime academics and opportunists travel to Europe to promote the regime’s election and gather support for their favorite parties.
Even though some democratic parties have European support, their chances of winning seats in the election are very slim, as more restrictions on their campaign activities are revealed each day. The regime is determined to capture almost all of the contested seats in the national and state parliaments by use of fraud and threats.
With 25 percent of the seats in Parliament reserved for the military, it is more and more clear that almost all the seats will be controlled by the military and its cronies. Even if some lucky candidates get elected, they will have no authority to promote change. The Parliament has no power to form the government, no authority to legislate military affairs, and no right to reject the president’s appointees and budget.
One might ask what is the solution, if it is not the election. It is dialogue, which we have been calling for for many years. Meaningful political dialogue between the military, the National League for Democracy led by Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, and ethnic representatives is the only way to solve problems in Burma peacefully.
The military has no desire to talk. But if the international community seriously exercises strong and effective pressure on the regime, the combination of pressure from outside and peaceful resistance inside the country will force the regime to come to the dialogue table.
I wish that our friends in Europe would abandon their dream of expecting something impossible from the election, and start taking serious action against the regime with the aim of starting a dialogue. They should begin by creating a U.N. commission of inquiry to investigate human rights violations in Burma.
Win Tin is a founder of Burma’s National League for Democracy party and a member of its central executive committee. He was a political prisoner from 1989 to 2008.
Win Tin is a founder of Burma’s National League for Democracy party and a member of its central executive committee. He was a political prisoner from 1989 to 2008.
The general’s election – Maung Zarni
Himal Southasian (Nepal): Thu 30 Sep 2010
In the run-up to Burma’s fraught polls, some of the junta’s leading cheerleaders are Western governments who are bending over backwards to justify their stance.Burma’s military regime has learned to speak election double-speak, framing the upcoming ‘selection by the generals’ as ‘democratic elections’. But there are few takers among the Burmese people, other than vocal election cheerleaders and regime apologists. And it is the country’s aging despot, ‘Senior’ General Than Shwe, who is said to be directly managing the military’s attempted transition from direct rule to indirect rule with a civilian mask. The general is holding the cards close to his chest, at times leaving his subordinates and deputies in the dark while he markets his moves as the final step in the Roadmap to Democracy.
The neighbours, meanwhile, from ASEAN as well as China and India, cannot wait for the end of the ‘election’ episode – currently slated to take place on 7 November – so that they can deflect international criticism over their cosy ties with the only true military dictatorship in South or Southeast Asia. For their part, most global Burma experts (at the Brookings Institution, for instance, and the International Crisis Group) have been harping on the need to seize the opportunity of the purported changing of the guard in Naypyidaw to nudge the next generation of military officers towards economic reforms – which, they argue, will bring about political liberalisation. However, the living evidence of post-Maoist China stands in the way of validating such a half-baked ‘development-democracy’ theory.
Still, the opposition within Burma is also not completely united. Much to the dismay of Aung San Suu Kyi of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and other leading dissidents, some European Union governments (for instance, Germany) are supporting a small group of NLD renegades with no public following, who are treating the election as ‘the only game in town’, to borrow the pragmatic words of David Lipman, EU ambassador in Bangkok. Clearly Suu Kyi and her several thousand colleagues behind bars, as well as thousands more in exile, do not share such pragmatic resignation.
Watering the poison ivy
If the unfettered market is the raison d’être of the post-USSR world, then what is referred to as ‘civil society’ has become a key political instrument, policy objective and funding programme. This highly contested academic construct – manufactured in 18th-century feudal Germany – suddenly found itself in vogue, especially among policymakers, journalists and clever interns in Western capitals. In place of genuine political solidarity with the several thousand Burmese dissidents behind bars and the public at large, these Western election cheerleaders have offered both podiums and per diems for bogus ‘civil society’ activists who are not at all representative of the public sentiment.
Germany’s Friedrick-Ebert Stiftung (FES) is one such EU-based entity. Despite its declared aim of supporting ‘global justice’ (and it being named after that country’s first democratically elected president), this influential political foundation keeps tight relations with the regime’s external propaganda wing, such as the Myanmar Institute of Strategic and International Studies, and supports controversial local NGOs such as Myanmar Egress. NLD leader U Tin Oo has aptly described this relationship as ‘a broker between the regime’s cronies and the National Democratic Force’, made up of pro-election NLD renegades. Recently, FES organised a public forum in Berlin with two of Burma’s most vociferous pro-election voices, Khin Zaw Win, a former political prisoner cum NGO worker, and Nay Win Maung, the head of Myanmar Egress, purportedly to promote Burmese civil society’s diverse voices. The duo was joined by Andreas List, the EU official in charge of the Burma portfolio, who holds strong pro-election views. For many observers, this seemed to run counter to the FES mission of promoting pluralistic voices from and on Burma.
This prompted 90-year-old U Tin Oo, the NLD cofounder and senior colleague of Suu Kyi, to officially write to List, registering his party’s ‘grave’ concerns about EU officials amplifying these unrepresentative voices. In fact, the manufacturing of elitist ‘civil society voices’ has been in the work for some years. Several European entities – such as the European Commission, Britain’s Department of International Development (DFID) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Netherlands’s Oxfam Novib, and Action Aid, to name just a few – have played paymasters in the creation and promotion of a small but influential pool of ‘civil-society actors’. In so doing, they have primed their native proxies for the marketisation of the Burmese economy and the NGO-isation of local politics, at the expense of the opposition in particular and the public in general.
In many a closed-door Burma policy discussions that this writer has attended in London, Bangkok, Washington and Brussels over the past several years, self-styled ‘nation-builders’ and their Western ‘donors’ have promoted a deeply troublesome perspective. Incredibly, they say that it is the 2000 Burmese dissidents in captivity, including Suu Kyi, and their supporters in exile, who constitute the real obstacle in Burma’s economic development. This is their message to sympathetic audiences, including representatives from Western governments, UN officials and think tanks, as well as representatives of the multilateral financial institutions. In some instances, deviating sharply from the firm pro-democracy stance of their own governments’ official policies, Burma-based diplomats have privately trashed jailed dissidents and their ‘incapacity to bring pragmatic and practical changes’, even while their governments at home are loudly condemning Burma’s regime for its alleged crimes against humanity.
In general, the Burmese people are dismayed by the outsiders’ embrace of such false logic as the idea that a flawed election is better than no election. In so doing, this embrace is taking in local elites – such as Khin Zaw Win and Nay Win Maung – who have learned to speak the language of ‘civil society’, while viewing themselves as a cut above the rest of Burma. U Aye Thar Aung, the prominent elderly Arakanese political leader, has characterised the current strain of misguided external support for the pro-election NGO elite as ‘watering the poison ivy’. Nonetheless, today a mantra of ‘get ready to exploit the post-election landscape’ fills much of the faddish policy discourse from Washington and Bangkok to Brussels and Berlin – a significant shift from the earlier spin, from the same quarters, that the election itself was the train for the opposition to hijack.
However, the greatest paradox in advancing civil society as the main game-changer in Burma is the fact that it makes no place for the proverbial masses. This is so, even while the Burmese public itself has refused to buy into the paternalistic view that economic prosperity, political freedoms and ethnic equality can be delivered by ‘Made in EU’ civil society.
Going ‘as planned’
The bulk of the Burmese opposition is not caving in to the regime’s two-decade-long campaign of cooptation and annihilation; nor does the Burmese public expect much from the post-election ‘structural changes’. Despite international media speculation playing up the unwarranted optimism of real structural changes in post-election Burma, the majority of the population has adopted ‘indifference’ to the upcoming polls, something even Khin Maung Swe of the pro-election NDF, has publicly acknowledged. This popular indifference might be an act of political reciprocity on the part of the public, which knows that the regime has been pursuing a policy of complete neglect towards public welfare. This is the case not just in normal times (for instance, the complete absence of state-provided social safety nets and social services) but also in the face of national emergency, as in the immediate aftermath of the May 2008 Cyclone Nargis.
Why should the Burmese electorate care about the upcoming election, after the regime has permitted none of the publicly respected dissidents to participate? Every dissident whom the generals perceive as a threat to their widely unpopular rule of 22 years remains locked up in the country or has been pushed into exile. Thus, that gives a count of 2000-plus potential candidates who are not part of the election – individuals with valuable professional background, years of experience building political organisations, and genuine popular support and following, and from diverse multiethnic and religious backgrounds.
Just as the regime is telling the neighbours and the world at large that election preparations are going ahead as planned, its Union Election Commission has been gagging candidates on important policy issues, and dissolved (ie, banned) ten established political parties, including the NLD. In addition, since the regime has realised that candidates from its Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) cannot win in ethnic minority communities such as Kachin, Karenni, Karen, Mon and Shan states, it has cancelled holding elections in some 200 villages, declaring that in these constituencies ‘free and fair election could not be held’ due to security concerns. This latest move is a win-win situation for the generals, since it has now paved the way for declaring these ‘black areas’, a vast conflict zone where local populations will be subject to ‘shoot-to-kill’ policies. At the same time, the Election Commission has refused to register 14 ethnic Kachin politicians, as they fear these could enjoy strong local support as well as the backing of the Kachin Independence Army, a ceasefire group that has refused to capitulate to the regime’s pressure to place its troops under the latter’s central command.
The regime also set the registration fee per candidate at USD 500, an incredibly high sum in a country where annual per capita income is roughly USD 200, and the result has been predictable. Even the NDF (the largest new pro-democracy party, made up of NLD renegades) and the Democracy Party (Myanmar), spearheaded by the three well-known daughters of former prime ministers from the long-bygone civilian parliamentary era, can only field a combined total of some 200 candidates, out of around 1000 available slots. By contrast, the regime’s USDP and the pro-regime National Unity Party (NUP), made up of ex-military personnel who served under the country’s first dictator, General Ne Win, are both contesting in practically all constituencies.
During the previous election, held in 1990, the Burmese generals had imposed equally draconian election laws, and dozens of parties, including the NLD, took part. Originally convinced that the popular opposition was too fractured to beat the pro-regime military-filled NUP, the generals were stunned by the NLD’s landslide victory, winning 82 percent of all parliamentary seats and 60 percent of the popular vote. This has since been put down to tactical voting by the voters, many of whom registered with different parties but ultimately voted overwhelmingly for the NLD.
This time, the generals are taking no such chances. The regime might even disqualify the NLD renegade party, the NDF, which is currently fielding the third-largest number of candidates, at 161. It is an open secret that the NDF has received political support and, allegedly, funding from foreign sources such as EU governments and foundations through proxy NGOs such as Egress – both of which are barred under the Burmese Constitution of 2008.
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