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[Readingroom] News on Burma - 15/10/10

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    Suu Kyi fights law with law Myanmar democracy fight polls apart The general versus the teenage prisoner How to keep the flame of democracy burning As vote
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 15, 2010
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      • Suu Kyi fights law with law
      • Myanmar democracy fight polls apart
      • The general versus the teenage prisoner
      • How to keep the flame of democracy burning
      • As vote nears, moods range from disdain to determination
      • Forgotten Panglong
      • Ethnic leaders join NLD vote-boycott roadshow
      • USDP vote buying begins
      • Thai PM says Myanmar rejects help with election
      • Myanmar opposition party says polls step towards democracy
      • Myanmar plans to free 11,000 prisoners for vote
      • All stage performances banned
      • Thai-Burma port deal: great for trade, bad for reform
      • Myanmar court to hear Suu Kyi appeal request one month before her anticipated release
      • Six-party coalition to join forces on ethnic issues
      • Bitter divide in Burma’s opposition
      • USDP candidates, supporters intimidate voters in Arakan
      • Builder Italian-Thai to sign $13 bln Myanmar deal
      • Tay Za forms new airline
      • Generals’ sham elections put safety of Burma’s exiles at risk
      • Junta declares state of emergency for six months
      • Can an “election of generals” help reform Myanmar?
      • The election in Burma: What is America’s stake?

      Suu Kyi fights law with law – Khin Hnin Htet
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Thu 14 Oct 2010

      Burma’s detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has said that under Burmese law it will be illegal for her to vote in upcoming elections, despite the ruling junta granting her participation rights.
      The 65-year-old this week rejected the opportunity to vote, following an announcement by an official in late September that Suu Kyi and her two live-in maids “will get the right to vote. But they will not get permission to go outside on election day.”

      Her dissolved National League for Democracy (NLD) party has boycotted Burma’s first elections in 20 years, due on 7 November, citing laws that ban Suu Kyi from running for office and which had appeared to prohibit any participation at all.

      Nyan Win, lawyer for Suu Kyi, told DVB yesterday that she had asked him to explain to police “that there is no reason for her to vote as she understood that the election law states that those who are serving prison terms are prohibited from voting”.

      A letter destined for the police’s Special Branch has been drafted and is waiting to be signed by Suu Kyi, who has spent 15 of the past 20 years under house arrest. The NLD won the 1990 elections in a landslide victory, but the military generals refused to transfer power.

      The NLD has meanwhile taken to the streets to advocate a boycott of the polls. A group of the party’s Central Executive Committee (CEC) yesterday met with party members in Mandalay division, before heading to Kachin state later this week.

      “We told our members that people should not vote if they are scared because if they vote, they will continue to be scared,” said CEC member Ohn Kyaing. “So they should boycott the election by not voting if they want to stop being scared. Our members understood what we said and they liked it.

      Myanmar democracy fight polls apart – Clifford McCoy
      Asia Times: Thu 14 Oct 2010

      Singapore – Myanmar’s first elections in 20 years are less than a month away, and the country’s main pro-democracy party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), will not participate despite winning a landslide at the annulled 1990 polls.

      The party, led by the detained former Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, was officially banned this year after it declined to register for the polls. Instead of challenging the ruling military junta on what it perceives an unequal electoral playing field, the NLD will immerse itself in “people-politics” to maintain a voice in the transition from military to civilian rule.

      NLD vice chairman U Tin Oo recently spoke to Asia Times Online in Singapore about the NLD’s future. “Everything is purposely[done] to marginalize the NLD,” said the 83-year-old, a former military general and defense minister.

      “The military junta wishes to marginalize Aung San Suu Kyi from the election.” Even before the NLD refused to participate, Suu Kyi was legally banned from contesting the polls because she was married to a foreign national. (Her husband, Oxford University academic Michael Aris, died in 1999.)

      The NLD was the runaway winner of the 1990 elections, receiving nearly 59% of the vote. The junta’s National Union Party (NUP) garnered a mere 21%. The polls were judged by international observers as free and fair, but facing defeat, the military declared the elections were not for seats in parliament but rather a national convention to design a new constitution.

      Soon thereafter, the military launched a campaign of harassment against the NLD, including jailing its members and shuttering its headquarters. The harassment took a violent turn in 2003 when Tin Oo and Suu Kyi, freshly released from a period of house arrest, traveled the country to regalvanize the party’s base.

      Their caravan was attacked by pro-government thugs who killed an estimated 100 NLD supporters in an orgy of violence. Both Suu Kyi and Tin Oo were arrested in the assault’s aftermath. Tin Oo was released from detention in February this year and resumed immediately his role as the NLD’s vice chairman.

      Meanwhile, the junta’s long-awaited new charter was finally passed in a May 2008 national referendum – many believe in a pre-ordained result.

      The ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) has since moved to the next step in its so-called “roadmap to democracy” by calling for parliamentary elections on November 7. Many believe the polls will be similarly skewed in favor of junta-linked parties and candidates. The new parliament by law reserves 25% of its seats for military members.

      The run-up to the polls has already been criticized by several foreign governments and organizations, including the United States and even United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Parties connected to the regime, especially the Union Solidarity and Development Party, an offshoot of the junta’s mass organization the Union Solidarity and Development Association, and the NUP, have received advantages through support from the government and state agencies.

      Widespread criticism has also focused on the regime-appointed Election Commission, which has barred several parties, especially those deriving support from ethnic ceasefire organizations, from participating in the polls. Election rules have also made it almost impossible for parties to contest the elections at all levels nationwide.

      The NLD voted in March against registering for the elections, a move that resulted in its official disbandment in September. According to Tin Oo, the party’s decision to boycott was taken after two proposals put forward to the military regime were rejected.

      The first proposal demanded that the junta free all political prisoners ahead of the polls and for the regime to honor the 1990 election results. The second called for a tripartite dialogue between the junta, the democratic opposition and ethnic groups as part of the transition towards democracy.

      “If the State Peace and Development Council agreed, the NLD would endorse the process and carry on with the elections,” said Tin Oo.

      Instead, the regime said that for the NLD to join the election process, it must endorse the 2008 constitution, reject the 1990 election result and dismiss Aung San Suu Kyi from the party. The junta also refused to release nearly 2,200 political prisoners. “How can we agree?” asked Tin Oo.

      People-power politics
      Most NLD members voted not to participate in the elections during a meeting of 100 central committee and other key members. Several members, however, broke off to form the National Democratic Force led by former NLD member and veteran politician Khin Maung Swe; it will contest the polls.

      For Tin Oo and other NLD stalwarts, the party will continue its activities despite its official disbandment. “We will carry on like the NLD is still in existence,” said Tin Oo. “The NLD will continue to do politics.” Rather than function as a political party with elected members in parliament, the NLD will take its actions directly to the people, he said.

      “The members will move into the masses, stay with them. They will carry out acts under the existence of law. Even if there is no flag, no sign, no office, it doesn’t matter. We will do people-politics, not party politics. We will survive in the people.”

      The NLD’s grassroots campaign is already up and running. One of its programs looks after the families of political prisoners. Another tends to HIV/AIDS sufferers, whose numbers have recently swelled in an absence of adequate public-health facilities. A third tends to the welfare of workers and farmers, including reporting on government use of forced labor, recruitment of children into the armed forces and official land-grabbing.

      “These are the things we can carry on,” said Tin Oo, who was first jailed in 1977 by then-dictator Ne Win on suspicions he withheld information of a plot to assassinate the leader and stage a coup. “They seem like social matters, but they are our politics. They are the ideas and the thoughts for the time after Aung San Suu Kyi’s release.”

      Suu Kyi is scheduled for release from house arrest, where she had been held 14 of the past 20 years, in November after the polls have been held. The NLD clearly hopes to maintain a high profile through its social outreach programs, despite its lack of political status or representation in the new parliament. Tin Oo also hints at post-election accommodation.

      “We want political stability, that is the main thing. The junta maintains stability with armed repression. We believe in creating trust. We want to trust the army and the army to trust us,” said Tin Oo. “After the elections, there is still a need for talks. Talks between the government and the military need to be inclusive, all parties including the ethnic groups. Aung San Suu Kyi has expressed her openness to help the regime.”

      At the same time, the NLD has endorsed a United Nations Commission of Inquiry to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity by the military regime, as recommended by UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana.

      “I signed for the commission,” Tin Oo said. “The report [from Quintana] was strong enough. The junta has never complied with previous advice [from UN rapporteurs]. It is the kind of language the junta will understand.”

      Tin Oo also makes a point of placing Myanmar’s future politics within a geostrategic context, with the NLD favoring ties with democratic over authoritarian nations. “For [Myanmar], China is a big tiger, India is a big tiger. India and China compete and this will affect us. This is why we must make friends with democratic countries,” he said.

      “We realize the danger ahead. The government gives concessions to India and China, but they don’t take into account the long-term danger. We need peaceful coexistence. We need a friend. We don’t know the future [in regards to what competition between India and China might bring]. We see the US as a democratic country.”

      “I am very sorry about China. I met Mao Zedong two or three times when I headed the [Myanmar government] party to China. We were received well, with a red carpet. Mao said, ‘The oppressed people of China have stood up. The oppressed people of Burma [Myanmar] will stand up.’ It was very nice to hear that. [Now] China must see what is true and right, who is the oppressed and the oppressor.”

      Clifford McCoy is a freelance journalist.

      The general versus the teenage prisoner – Wai Moe
      Irrawaddy: Thu 14 Oct 2010

      Rangoon Mayor, Ex Brig-Gen Aung Thein Lin, 58, a leading member of the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), is facing a challenge from independent candidate Kaung Myint Htut, 35, who was one of the youngest political prisoners in Burma.
      Both candidates are running for a seat in the lower house in Rangoon’s South Okkalapa Township constituency in the Nov. 7 election.

      “Frankly speaking, I don’t believe the elections can bring the changes we would like to see,” Kaung Myint Htut said. “But I think people should be given an alternative to candidates from the USDP or the former military rulers in the National Unity Party.”
      Kaung Myint Htut, an entertainment producer, attempted to form the Myanmar Democracy Congress Party with some colleagues when the Union Election Commission (UEC) called for registration of political parties in March, but the attempt failed because of financial difficulties and obstacles to membership imposed by the UEC regulations.

      Kaung Myint Htut was 13-years-old when he was arrested following his involvement in the 1988 democracy uprising. He was arrested three times between 1988 and 1990 before he was sentenced to six years imprisonment in 1991.

      He said he hoped his fellow student activists of the 1988 Generation who are in prison understand his involvement in the elections.

      Coming from the ruling military hierarchy, however, Aung Thein Lin background is very different. He was a major in the military in 1988 and later became the commander of Light Infantry Division 101 and then deputy minister of Industry-2 as well as an executive of the junta’s mass organization, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), which was transformed into the USDP in April. He became mayor of Rangoon in 2003.

      Aung Thein Lin’s association with the junta and the USDA may not help him win votes since the USDA under its modern guise as the USDP achieved infamy in the eyes of the general public in the past 17 years.

      Political observers in Rangoon suggest that if the USDP does not cheat in the polls, even Aung Thein Lin might find it difficult to compete with Kaung Myint Htut, his main rival.

      “Major U Aung Thein Lin’s political background as a general and member of the USDA stands in direct contrast with that of Kaung Myint Htut, who was a teenage political prisoner because of his principled stand for human rights against the military’s injustice,” said a businessman in South Okkalapa who spoke on condition of anonymity.

      “The National Democratic Force (NDF) candidate [running in the same constituency] is also young, but when I read her campaign statements, I saw she has no political background, so I think Kaung Myint Htut will be a much stronger candidate,” he said.

      But Aung Thein Lin has a much greater advantage than other candidates in his constituency since he can use his government position, state property and projects and the state media to support his campaign.

      As the election approaches, state-run-newspapers have frequently published pictures of Aung Thein Lin and other USDP leaders inspecting and opening state construction projects in the country, describing them as government officials rather than USDP leaders.

      Aung Thein Lin’s picture was published in October when he attended opening ceremonies of construction projects in his constituency along with the commander of the Rangoon Regional Military Command, Brig-Gen Tun Than.

      “I expect that I will definitely win my seat at this year’s election,” Aung Thein Lin said in a report in The Myanmar Times weekly published by USDP candidate Tin Tun Oo. “If I win in South Okkalapa I will focus on speeding up development in my constituency. I believe that other elected representatives will try to do the same.”

      However, Kaung Myint Htut told The Irrawaddy he is optimistic even though Aung Thein Lin is a heavyweight.

      “Since the USDP candidates are government ministers and officials, they have more opportunities to promote their campaigns than other candidates,” he said. “But what the Burmese people are really looking for is someone who will stand before them and advocate for basic rights that are free and fair.”

      “So I believe they will vote for me and the other candidates rather than U Aung Thein Lin and the USDP,” he said.

      How to keep the flame of democracy burning
      Irrawaddy (Editorial): Thu 14 Oct 2010

      Although the general election process in Burma is clearly a sham, it will bring about some form of change to the political structure in the country.
      While the central government will be led by a president, both the national and regional parliaments will emerge into the foreground of the political process, most notably in the regional Cabinets which will be headed by a chief minister in each state and division.

      But to what extent will this structural change open an avenue for political pluralism in post-election Burma? More importantly, will the torch of democracy—which was lit by the arrival of the iconic Aung San Suu Kyi and kept alive by the National League for Democracy (NLD) for so many years—be extinguished in the hands of the current democratic pretenders?

      These are the critical questions that the international community are asking in the lead-up to the election.

      Burma’s fundamental political issues—genuine national reconciliation among the major stakeholders (the military, the mainstream pro-democracy forces and the ethnic groups); armed ethnic conflicts; human rights violations; corruption; the issue of Burmese refugees and mass migration; the continuous deterioration of the social structure caused by poor management of the national budget; and widespread poverty caused by the mismanagement of the economy—will continue to exist.

      Four main factions will be seated together in the arena of each new parliament: the nominated military representatives who automatically assume 25 percent of the parliamentary seats; the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and its allies; the ethnic political parties; and the mainstream pro-democracy parties.

      How the new parliaments will operate in terms of balance and efficiency and how they will exercise the core democratic principles such as freedom of speech and assembly will depend, to a high degree, on the results of the election.

      For the pro-democracy parties, their claim to a voice within the new political landscape will depend on the gross number of seats they win in the election and the strength of their alliance in parliament.

      But what if the pro-democracy parties win only an insignificant numbers of seats in the election? Would that result in a situation that the people of Burma and the international community has long called for—political stability?

      Six days after the election, on Nov. 13, Suu Kyi is scheduled to be released from house arrest after more than seven continuous years in detention. There is no doubt whatsoever that the pro-democracy movement will be galvanized by her reappearance on the scene and garner strength from her popular personal appeal, her political integrity and her charismatic leadership.

      Suu Kyi first mission when returning to the fray of daily political life may well be to initiate a successful reunion of the NLD with the National Democratic Force (NDF). This would immediately restore the political image of the democratic camp and signal a new wave of political maturity.

      A recent statement by NDF leader Khin Maung Swe, once Suu Kyi’s close associate, has opened the door for a continued democratic struggle both within and outside the new parliamentary framework.

      Khin Maung Swe said that while current disagreements between the NLD and NDF might be unreconciled for now, the NDF leaders have a very high regard for Suu Kyi’s shrewdness and integrity, and are always ready to follow her leadership toward the common goal of democracy and human rights in Burma.

      While not a clear call for reunification between the NLD and the NDF, the statement was an olive branch to Suu Kyi. Whether she accepts it remains to be seen.

      What unites the mainstream pro-democracy advocates is their urgent need to rekindle the torch of democracy in post-election Burma. If the NLD and NDF can keep that flame alive, its light will attract the broader alliance of democrats, ethnic leaders and cease-fire groups.

      Only in unity will that alliance be able to apply the pressure required to turn the military’s hearts and minds toward accepting a genuine national reconciliation, which is the only path toward sustainable peace, stability and the development of the country.

      As vote nears, moods range from disdain to determination – Yan Paing
      Inter Press Service: Thu 14 Oct 2010

      Rangoon – “Voting in X (number of) days,” reads what sound like a reminder to voters in the front pages of weekly journals here ahead of the Nov. 7 general election in Burma, the first to be held in 20 years.
      But while there is a lot of election talk in this military-ruled country, many of the voices quoted in articles in state media and journals are those of politicians and not of voters.

      “There are many journals writing about the elections, but those are just boring. All the news came out after being censored by the scrutiny board,” remarks Ye Htut, a 30-something vendor of news journals.

      A mix of moods prevails here in the former capital of Burma ahead of a vote that some say will just legitimise military rule under a civilian veneer, but others believe offers some chance to get a degree of political change. Some say it might be better to boycott the vote, while others have mixed, conflicting opinions about it. “It is a very complicated process for voting but I still have no idea who are going to contest or whom to vote,” says Cho Cho, a homemaker.

      Recalling the atmosphere in the weeks before the last election in this South-east Asian country of 53 million people in 1990, she says: “We could hear campaign songs played loudly everywhere.”

      Recalling parts of a campaign ditty at the time, Cho Cho sang, ‘We would be wealthy if Suu (Aung San Suu Kyi) wins in the elections’.” But “it is different this time. I haven’t seen many party doing public campaigns widely like that”.

      Cho Cho voted for Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) that won a landslide victory 20 years ago, but which the military junta did not recognise. The NLD has been disbanded after it decided to boycott the November poll after finding “unjust” the government’s electoral laws.

      “In 1990, we could make speeches anywhere we like but it is quite different this time,” says Khin Maung Swe, who contested the 1990 elections with NLD and has now formed a new party called National Democratic Force (NDF). He is also its spokesman.

      “We have to deal with very strict rules and regulations. If we want to make a public speech, we have to ask permission one week ahead about where we’ll make it, how many people will come, and who will say what,” he explains. “Very strict!”

      Political parties also complain about the limited time for building networks and getting candidates under the rules set by the Elections Commission.

      “We were given just 15 days. It was very, very hard for our two-month-old, newly established party to get enough candidates within these days. If we were given one more month to seek candidates, we could have got 300 candidates,” says Khin Maung Swe. “But we just got only about 160 candidates in two weeks.”

      The Nov. 7 election will be held for 498 seats in the People’s Assembly or lower house of parliament, 224 seats in the Nationalities Assembly or upper house and other seats in the legislatures of divisions and states. The country’s 2008 Constitution guarantees the military 25 percent of these slots.

      Parties like the NDF also find financial resources a struggle. “We have to rely on donations even for travel. Our party can’t finance its candidates,” Khin Maung Swe adds.

      The registration fee is 500 U.S. dollars for one candidate, a hefty amount in a country where 32.7 percent of the population lives below poverty line.

      Only the strongest party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), is contesting more than 1,100 seats out of 1,163 seats nationwide to be voted in during the November poll.

      In campaigns aired on state-owned television, USDP general secretary and agriculture minister Htay Oo has called the party a “national force” that was “formed with the fine legacy of the USDP that has been joining hands with the people for about 17 years in serving the interest of the national people”.

      In truth, many voters say they do not make much of a distinction between the USDP and the military government because Prime Minister Thein Sein and other generals, as UDSP candidates, will be running for civilian seats.

      “USDP is acting as a ruling party. It’s acting as the government’s party. That party can do anything that it likes. It can make public speeches in public areas. The party is also organising elderly people to vote for them by giving money,” argues the NDF’s Khin Maung Swe.

      Ye Htut says, “USDP will win for sure. It’s going to be worse if they take power because thugs and gangsters will misuse power to ruin the country.”

      This is why “I’m not going to vote,” says a 42-year-old government employee. “They have the winning cards in their hands. The result has been arranged. Why should we bother to play this game?”

      But those like Cho Cho say that while it might not be clear what kind of government would be in place after the vote, its verdict might be quite clear on who Burma’s voters do not want to stay in power.

      “In 1990, many people had only one consensus, to not vote for the National Unity Party,” she recalls. That party had been transformed from the Burmese Socialist Party, which ruled for two decades until it was toppled in the 1988 pro-democracy uprising.

      This time, Cho Cho explains, a similar consensus – to avoid voting for USDP – is shaping up among many. “This time, we don’t want the USDP to win, but we still don’t know which party to vote,” she says. (END)

      Forgotten Panglong – Jai Wan Mai
      Mizzima: Thu 14 Oct 2010

      Chiang Mai – “Where have you gone, Panglong Agreement?” The lyrics echo in the minds of Sai Mong and a group of his friends at a construction site in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
      Acclaimed 20-year old Shan artist Sai Hai Mao, himself a migrant worker who fled to Thailand after the Burmese Army torched his village in central Shan State in July last year, performs the song.

      Two clashes between ethnic militia and the Burmese Army in July last year left a reported 13 government soldiers killed, with several more wounded. Burmese troops subsequently retaliated, burning down three villages and arresting several people –forcing many young people to flee into the jungle.

      As for Sai Mong, he toils as a day labourer in Thailand, having left his parents and two younger sisters at home.

      When talking about his family, his eyes fill with tears. “I want to go home,” he says, “but making a living in Shan State is difficult. The Burmese Army forces us to work in areas such as the paddy fields and in road construction. This forced labour has become a daily occurrence.”

      Sai Mong feels threatened and afraid of the Burmese troops in his village, where he says villagers are beaten when accused of supporting Shan soldiers opposed to the Burmese Army.

      He laughs when asked when he will return home: “If the Burmese Army returns to Mandalay or Rangoon then I will go home.”

      Since liberation from Britain in 1948, internal conflicts in Burma have fallen into two general classifications: Firstly, as power rivalries amongst competing Burman elites and secondly, as struggles between the central government and non-Burman ethnic groups following the failure of the Panglong Agreement’s fruition.

      The agreement as commonly understood promised equal rights and autonomy for non-Burman peoples such as the Kachin, Chin and Shan. However, the pact was never given a chance to succeed, as civil war and internal rivalries broke out almost immediately upon liberation.

      The ruling coalition government, Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL), split into several factions, with the Communist Party of Burma opting to raise arms against Rangoon.

      Pathetically, the AFPFL government plunged into war not only with Burman rebels but also against non-Burman ethnic groups including the Karen, Mon, Kachin, Shan and several others. It was a situation that only worsened after General Ne Win staged a military coup in 1962.
      Sao Shwe Theik, a Shan and the first president of Burma, was arrested by the Burmese Army and died in prison in 1962. The Burmese Army raided his residence in Rangoon, killing some of his family. Ultimately, several non-Burman leaders who had voiced their displeasure over the failed Panglong Agreement and proposed the adoption of a federal system of government found themselves jailed.

      Even more frustrating for ethnic groups is that successive ruling Burmese governments have neglected to recognise the agreement’s importance and reneged on promises made under the pact. Instead, the Burmese government opted to act as a big brother, eventually transforming itself into the dictatorship it is today.

      On the one hand, the regime called for “Union solidarity”, while on the other, it failed to recognise and respect the rights of non-Burmese nationalities. Again and again, the Burmese regime labelled armed ethnic groups terrorists, drug lords and other unwelcome monikers in order to gain political capital.

      Yet, internally and internationally, the political reputation of the Burmese regime has dropped to zero following its brutal crackdowns on the 1988 and 2007 protests.

      As a result of the Burmese junta’s hard-handed and one-sided approach to solving Burma’s political crisis, Burma’s ethnic populations have been forced to run for the lives. According to the Thailand Burma Border Consortium, as of August nearly 150,000 refugees, predominantly ethnic peoples forced to flee their country, make their homes in camps dotting the Thai-Burmese border. Meanwhile, tens of thousands exist as internally displaced persons (IDPs) across the border in Burma.

      A further 1.1 million Burmese migrant workers, as calculated by the Migrant Assistance Programme (MAP) based in Chiang Mai, are residing in Thailand and eligible for the Kingdom’s national verification process.

      Burma’s population never dreamt they would face such poverty, hunger and fear after liberation from the British. They believed in the Panglong Agreement and the leaders who inked their names to the pact. Regrettably, some of the leaders that followed did not share in the same vision for a prosperous, unified and diverse Burma.

      Ethnic leaders join NLD vote-boycott roadshow – Myint Maung
      Mizzima News: Wed 13 Oct 2010

      New Delhi – Ethnic leaders from the group made up of ethnic political parties that contested in the 1990 general election, have joined the National League for Democracy’s “no vote” campaign ahead of elections on November 7.
      The main opposition NLD party left Rangoon yesterday for Kachin State on week-long roadshow trip organisational trip accompanied by Arakan League for Democracy (ALD) party leader and Committee Representing the People’s Parliament (CRPP) secretary Aye Thar Aung. They briefed NLD township, ward and village level organising committee members from 11 townships in Mandalay Division.

      “I am glad and encouraged at meeting organising committee members from townships, wards and villages for the first time after the authority dissolved NLD,” Aye Thar Aung said.

      NLD central executive committee member Ohn Kyaing, NLD women’s wing members Phyu Phyu Thin, Hla Hla Moe, Aye Aye Mar, NLD youth wing member Myo Nyunt and Aye Thar Aung met organisers from Mogok, Singu, Madaya, Thapeikkyin, Patheingyi, Tadaoo, Amrapura, Singai and Pyinoolwin townships and exchanged their views on boycotting this year’s national elections.

      Fellow ethnic minority and CRPP leader, Zomi National Congress (ZNC) chairman Pu Cing Tsian Thang, joined NLD leaders in a similar trip to southern Shan State and Soe Win from the National Democracy Party joined NLD leaders in their trip to western Pegu Division.

      Upon reaching Kachin State, Aye Thar Aung said he would pass on some of the motions passed at the CRPP meeting held on September 3 month including a resolution not to vote in upcoming polls.

      The group resolved to boycott 2010 general election, to discuss issues and difficulties being faced by ethnic people including concerns over the building possibility that a new wave of civil war would break out amid growing tension between junta forces and armed ethnic groups under ceasefire that have rejected the junta’s Border Guard Force (BGF) demand.

      They also decided to discuss the 2008 constitution and to tell people in ethnic areas that building a genuine federal union and national unity could only be achieved through enacting a constitution based on the Panlong spirit that would entrench democratic and ethnic rights.

      “The Kachin [Independence Organisation’s armed wing] said that they would not need to bear arms if the Union [of Burma] was based on the Panlong agreement. And the CRPP has reached a resolution on how to build a Union in future based on that agreement. We will discuss these matters with the people during this trip. Another topic will be on the current situation of distrust of the SPDC [junta] by armed ethnic groups and their delay in disarming themselves,” Aye Thar Aung said.

      The junta’s electoral watchdog, the Union Election Commission (UEC), issued a notice mid-last month that claimed five old political parties including the NLD were automatically dissolved as they had failed to re-register with the UEC during the stipulated time. The NLD has since conducted roadshows to explain to the public their no-vote policy. They have completed trips to almost 10 of the states and divisions.

      “Party members are more consolidated and the party is stronger after these meetings. We can say this is a significant and progressive result of survival and revival. Party members abide by our policy of non-voting in the election. If some of them go and cast their vote this time, they will never be free from fear. But we can say how many people didn’t vote only after the election,” Ohn Kyaing told Mizzima.

      The CRPP was established on September 16, 1998 by the NLD, which won more than 80 per cent of seats in the 1990 general election and ethnic parties that also won seats, to call on the junta to convene the Hluttaw (parliament)

      Member parties are the ALD, the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, the Shan State Kokang Democratic Party, the Mon Nationality Democratic Front, the ZNC and Union Nationalities League for Democracy.

      USDP vote buying begins
      Irrawaddy: Wed 13 Oct 2010

      The junta’s proxy, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), has started buying votes and intimidating voters in collaboration with government authorities in several parts of the country, according to local sources.
      With less than three weeks before the country’s first parliamentary election in 20 years, USDP members are now going door to door in townships in Rangoon, Irrawaddy Division and Arakan State, asking people for advanced votes with offers of money and other opportunities in return, say local sources.

      Residents in those areas reported the presence of local authorities among the USDA members.

      “On Tuesday, the USDP members and authorities asked us if there were any eligible voter in the house. And then they told us to cast an advanced vote for the USDP in return for some financial support,” said a resident of North Dagon Township in Rangoon.

      “We don’t know how much money they would give to people who agreed to vote for the USDP in advance,” he said. “But they left with a list of voters’ names.”

      Residents living in blocks 46, 47 and 50 in the township also reported similar USDP tactics in their areas, saying that the accompanying authorities were led by the chairman of the township authority and his deputy.

      A Rangoon-based opposition party, the Democratic Party (Myanmar), has sent a complaint to the the regime-appointed election commission about the USDP activities, which it said violated the election law.

      According to the election law, anyone who is found to be guilty of threatening, bribing or imposing undue influence on voters can face either a one-year jail sentence or a 100,000 kyat (US $100) fine, or both.

      Observers say it is unlikely that the commission would take any action against the USDP, which is led by incumbent Prime Minister Thein Sein.

      “These were mere complaints. They would go nowhere because the USDP, the local authorities and the election commission are all the same,” said Than Zaw Aung, a Democratic Party (Myanmar) candidate who is contesting for a seat in North Dagon Township.

      In other townships in Rangoon, such as South Dagon, East Dagon and Dawbon, local residents said that USDP members and authorities made an offer of 10,000 kyat (US $10) for a single advanced vote.

      “They asked us to give an advance vote to them if we don’t plan to go and vote on the polling day,” said a resident of South Dagon Township. “I was upset. So I replied that I would vote for nobody.”

      On Sept. 11, authorities in Gwa Township in Arakan State also asked residents to appear in their office and tried to persuade them to vote for the USDP, said local sources.

      “We were openly told that we would receive a financial loan if we voted for the USDP,” said a resident in Gwa Township, adding that some local people were also offered free National Registration Cards since many people in Arakan State still do not have legal registration cards and use temporary IDs.

      Similar incidents were reported in Chaung Gyi village in Irrawaddy Division. Villagers said that the authorities showed them some names and photos of USDP candidates and asked them to vote for those candidates.

      Some villagers said a local official threatened them, saying, “Don’t bang your head against the wall. Vote for the people we suggest. You know what will happen if you don’t listen to us, because we’ll know who you vote for.”

      Sources in Rangoon said the USDP election campaigns are now in full swing. Posters bearing the names of its candidates are now seen in the former capital and its campaign ads have appeared in local journals.

      Thai PM says Myanmar rejects help with election
      Associated Press: Tue 12 Oct 2010

      Bangkok — Thailand’s prime minister says Myanmar has rejected any help to carry out its upcoming election.Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Tuesday he offered Thailand’s assistance Monday during an official visit to Myanmar. He met his counterpart Prime Minister Thein Sein and reclusive junta chief Senior Gen. Than Shwe.

      Myanmar’s election on Nov. 7 will be its first in 20 years, after the junta refused to recognize the results of the 1990 vote. Critics say the new vote is being held under unfair and undemocratic conditions to cement the junta’s power.

      Abhisit told reporters in Bangkok he conveyed the international community’s concerns. Myanmar’s leaders replied they were “aware of the concerns, but did not want any outside help.”

      Myanmar opposition party says polls step towards democracy
      Agence France Presse: Tue 12 Oct 2010

      Yangon — A political party formed by ex-colleagues of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said upcoming elections would be a “first step” towards democracy in army-ruled Myanmar, state media reported Monday.“Now our country is in (a) transitional period to democracy,” National Democratic Force (NDF) chairman Than Nyein said in a policy address published in the English-language New Light of Myanmar newspaper.

      “We assume that (the) forthcoming election is the first step of democratisation the people aspire for,” he added.

      The NDF’s decision to contest the November 7 election has put it at odds with other former members of the National League for Democracy — including its leader Suu Kyi — who opted to boycott the poll because of “unjust” rules.

      The vote, the first in 20 years, has been criticised by activists and many Western governments as a charade aimed at shoring up almost half a century of military rule.

      The NLD, which was founded in 1988 after a popular uprising against the junta that left thousands dead, won a landslide victory in 1990 elections but the ruling generals never allowed it to take office.

      Suu Kyi has spent much of the past 20 years in detention and is barred as a serving prisoner from standing in the upcoming vote, which falls about a week before her current term of house arrest is due to end.

      “We will try our best for human rights and democracy and to cope with (the) economic crisis and social sufferings faced by the people,” pursuing a market economy, free middle school education and better healthcare, the NDF said.

      Myanmar plans to free 11,000 prisoners for vote: officials
      Agence France Presse: Tue 12 Oct 2010

      Yangon — Myanmar’s military regime plans to release about 11,000 prisoners ahead of November elections, enabling them to vote in the rare polls, officials said Sunday.“We have plans to release some prisoners who are soon to complete their sentence,” an official told AFP on condition of anonymity. “We will reduce their sentence and release them in the coming days so that they can vote on the election day.”

      It was not clear if Myanmar’s political prisoners, numbering over 2,200, would be included in the release, but a corrections department official said about 11,000 prisoners could be freed.

      These included detainees whose sentences would already be over by polling day, as well as some early releases.

      “The number could be more as we are still listing them,” he added, without saying when the releases would begin.

      There are usually more than 50,000 convicted criminals in Myanmar’s 43 prisons and 100 labour sites at any one time, as well as about 6,000 awaiting trial, according to the privately-owned but state-censored Myanmar Times.

      The detention of political dissidents, including democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, has sparked condemnation from the international community and rights groups, who do not expect the upcoming election to be free or fair.

      Suu Kyi, under house arrest in Yangon, won the country’s last election 20 years ago but was not allowed to take office. She was barred from standing in this year’s polls because she is a serving prisoner.

      Her National League for Democracy subsequently boycotted the ballot, leading to the party being forcibly abolished.

      The Nobel peace laureate’s current term of detention is due to end on November 13, just days after the national elections, which critics say are aimed at simply entrenching the junta’s power.

      Raising confusion over her rights, Suu Kyi’s name has been seen by AFP on the electoral roll, despite earlier statements that she would be barred. An official said she could vote but would not be allowed outside on election day.

      All stage performances banned – Lawi Weng
      Irrawaddy: Tue 12 Oct 2010

      The Burmese authorities are to ban all public stage performances during the social and religious celebrations associated held in October and November because of the proximity of the Nov. 7 election date, local sources said.Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Monday, Par Par Lay, a well-known comedian from the Moustache Brothers in Mandalay, said, “I heard that they will not allow anyone to perform on stage at festivals, but they have not said why and have not yet officially announced the ban.”

      He said the banning order had come from the Burmese military central command in Mandalay.

      The manager of another performing troupe in Mandalay said, “The authorities have told organizers to put up guarantees of about 1 million kyat [US $1,000] if they want to have stage perfomances. They are making organizers responsible for security and will seize the deposit if there is any trouble.

      “People dare not to hire performing troupes because they are afraid they might lose their deposit money,” he said.

      October and November are a time of major public celebrations in Burma, where most of the population including Buddhist monks like to go to festivals at the end of the Buddhist rains retreat [also referred to as Buddhist lent], which ends on Oct 23. Troupes of performers who dance, sing and improvise humorous sketches on temporary stages are a common feature at such festivals.

      This year, however, the military regime has banned all performing troupes in order to strengthen security close to the election. The authorities are not allowing performers to travel for the 20-day period prior to the election, according to local sources.
      “Banning is their job—dancing is mine,” said Par Par Lay, adding that the authorities had banned him from performing at home.

      “I have already told them that if they come for me, I will go with them quietly. I am not afraid,” he said.

      “We are performers, we need to dance. If we cannot perform, what can we do—we don’t know how to do anything else,” he said.

      The ban on public performances at religious activities on full moon day similarly extends to Mon and Shan states.

      “We have had to suspend all stage productions this year despite their purpose being to raise funds for donations to Buddhist monks, ” said Nai Tin Aung from Panga village in Thanbyuzayat Township.

      The ban has already taken effect in Nam Khan township in northern Shan State, where local sources reported that stage and concert performances have been banned at its annual festival. Only small rituals in which people donate food to monks in the monasteries have been permitted.

      Thai-Burma port deal: great for trade, bad for reform – Tim Johnston
      Financial Times: Tue 12 Oct 2010

      Logistically, south-east Asia is a nightmare. Until last year, if you wanted to get a container of goods from Bangkok to Hanoi you would have had to use three different trucks go get it there, one for Thailand, one for Cambodia and one for Vietnam.But that is changing. Abhisit Vejjajiva, Thailand’s prime minister, signed a deal on Monday to build a port on the coast of neighbouring Burma, part of a much larger region-wide infrastructure programme which includes massive investments in the rail network, largely funded by China.

      Ital-Thai, Thailand’s largest construction contractor, recently said that it hoped to sign a Bt400bn ($13.3bn) deal to develop the new deep-water port at Tavoy, with an industrial estate and ancilliary transport network, including a 160km railway to Kanchanaburi in Thailand.

      If the deal goes ahead, it will be the largest ever single investment in Burma.

      The port could revolutionise trade patterns in the region by giving meaningful access to the Andaman Sea and the lucrative markets of India. There is a deep w

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