[Readingroom] News on Burma - 15/11/10
- Freed Aung San Suu Kyi calls for unity, reconciliation
- Suu Kyi faces long 'struggle'
- World hails Suu Kyi release
- Emotions Peak As Suu Kyi Is Freed
- After Suu Kyi’s Release, Dangerous Time Sets In
- Aung San Suu Kyi 'completely free'
- In a glass palace
- Myanmar’s Suu Kyi to face new landscape
- Issues Suu Kyi should deal with
- Junta’s Asian Friends Close Ranks, Endorse Poll
- Few Surprises in First Poll in 20 Years
FIRST PUBLIC SPEECH
Freed Aung San Suu Kyi calls for unity, reconciliation
The Nation (thailand): November 15, 2010
Rangoon - Burma's democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi said she is willing to work with all parties for the sake of reconciliation on Sunday, the day after her release from seven years of house arrest.
Suu Kyi, 65, was released Saturday evening after completing her latest 18-month sentence, which was added on to a previous six-year sentence. She has spent 15 of the past 20 years under detention.
She said Sunday that she wanted to listen to the opinions of other people before making any decision on her own future plans.
"I will talk to anyone who is willing to work for the good of the country and democracy," Suu Kyi said at a press conference. "National reconciliation means recognizing that there are differences."
She said she did not seek revenge.
"I have no ill feelings towards the government for detaining me for such a long time," she said.
"We must work together," Suu Kyi also told about 10,000 supporters who had gathered outside her National League for Democracy (NLD) headquarters in Yangon to hear her first public speech in years.
The placard-waving crowd cheered the Nobel Peace laureate, chanting "Long live Aung San Suu Kyi" and "We love Daw (Madam) Suu."
Governments from around the world welcomed Suu Kyi's release, but were quick to add that more needs to be done. Many noted that more than 2,000 political prisoners are still being detained in Burma.
"Much more must be done for Myanmar to prove it is serious about pursuing its roadmap to democracy," said Philippine President Benigno Aquino III. "Other political prisoners have not been freed and the recently concluded election has not been viewed as credible."
Myanmar, also called Burma, has been under military dictatorships since 1962.
Soldiers were seen in a building opposite NLD headquarters and security agents photographed the crowd occupying the street.
Suu Kyi planned to go to NLD headquarters again Monday morning to start work on party affairs, a party source said.
Analysts said it is unlikely that the junta will open a political dialogue with Suu Kyi and her party, which won the 1990 election by a landslide but was blocked from assuming power.
The government granted Suu Kyi freedom after holding a general election on November 7 that was widely criticised as a sham.
"This is not a signal that they are going to sit down and talk with Suu Kyi," said Maung Zarni, a former student activist who is now a research fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science. "They have probably concluded that she is no longer in a position to rock the boat."
The Union Solidarity and Development Party, a junta proxy, won an estimated 80 per cent of the 1,159 contested seats in the three chambers of parliament during the elections.
The party has been accused of tampering with advance ballots, and bribing or intimidating voters.
Suu Kyi said she would wait to read a report on the election compiled by the NLD before commenting on the outcome.
Although China and many South-East Asian governments are expected to accept the election outcome as a step forward, western democracies ae unlikely to follow suit.
Economic sanctions on Myanmar are not expected to be lifted simply because the country has held an election and freed Suu Kyi.
"If the people really want to have the sanctions lifted with sound reasons, we will have to do it," Suu Kyi said.
The pro-democracy National Democratic Force, a breakaway from Suu Kyi's NLD, won only 16 seats in the polls.
Two parties representing ethnic minorities did reasonably well in their states. The Shan Nationalities Democratic Party secured 57 seats, while the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party won 35.
"I'm hoping that Suu Kyi will not take a confrontational stance right away," said Khuensai Jaiyen, editor of the Shan Herald News Agency, a rebel publication.
"We're hoping to see her talking not only with the NLD but with the ethnic minority parties and the junta before taking a confrontational stance again," he said.
"If she gets arrested again, it's no good for her and it's no good for the cause," he added.
Suu Kyi faces long 'struggle'
Burma's long-suffering people are eagerly putting their hopes for a better future in the hands of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, but observers warn the dissident is no "miracle worker".
There was a new air of optimism on the streets of Rangoon on Sunday as Suu Kyi awoke to her first full day of freedom.
Thousands turned out to hear her first address since her release from house arrest on Saturday, suggesting her absence has not dimmed the popularity of the daughter of the nation's founding father in the eyes of many.
"I hope Aung San Suu Kyi's freedom will be the beginning of a happy journey for us," said a 50-year-old taxi driver in Burma's main city.
"It is a special day for all the Burmese people. Our leader is free."
But experts said Suu Kyi -- locked up by the junta for most of the past two decades -- may struggle to live up to the huge expectations of supporters, who are eager for democratic change after almost five decades of military rule.
"The poor woman has a lot of pressure on her shoulders and she is not a miracle worker," said Thailand-based Burma analyst Aung Naing Oo.
"She needs to tell the people to be realistic, to be patient. The path to democracy is a process. Democracy won't come to Burma immediately," he said, using the country's former name.
The Nobel Peace laureate is herself keenly aware of the challenges and has urged her followers to give her time.
She signalled she was ready to put aside differences with rival opposition factions, saying: "I want to work with all democratic forces."
The big question is whether the softly spoken leader can restore unity among the junta's political opponents after an election a week ago that was widely criticised by the West as sham to prolong military rule.
Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party was disbanded after it boycotted the vote, a decision that deeply split and weakened the opposition.
"Her main task will probably be to try to rebuild her party so that they can participate in the next election," said Trevor Wilson, a former Australian ambassador to Burma.
Many senior members of her party are in their 80s and 90s.
Some younger colleagues who disagreed with the boycott bolted to stand in the poll, prompting accusations of betrayal from some of her closest associates.
A leader of the breakaway party, the National Democratic Force, signalled it was still ready to work with Suu Kyi, describing her as "a torch of democracy for Burma."
"We see her not only as the head of the NLD but also the democracy leader for 59 million people," Khin Maung Swe told AFP.
Freeing Suu Kyi was a huge gamble for Burma's generals, but it proves that they feel secure after the main army-backed party claimed a landslide win in the controversial November 7 poll, according to Aung Naing Oo.
"The military is really confident and they don't consider her as a threat," he said.
Suu Kyi has spent 15 of the past 21 years confined to her crumbling lakeside mansion in Rangoon, with the junta repeatedly finding new excuses to extend her detention or detain her after brief periods of freedom.
While the junta says it has imposed no restrictions on her movements, Suu Kyi will still have to watch her step, said Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.
"She has to be careful not to cross the line of the military regime," he said.
"Nobody can read the regime's mind, but I am sure there is a line. She is not allowed to do whatever she would like to do. She has to be careful not to jeopardise her freedom, otherwise she will end up in house arrest again."
Burma's new political landscape also means that Suu Kyi might have to "compromise a little bit and work with the new government," added Pavin.
Another question mark concerns her relations with Burma's ethnic rebels who have waged war against the state since independence in 1948, leading to six decades of civil conflict in certain regions.
"There are a lot of unresolved issues with the ethnic minorities," said Wilson, adding that it was not an area Suu Kyi, who belongs to the Burman majority group, had devoted a lot of attention to in the past.
"The government has handled those issues very, very poorly. If she could play some kind of a role as a mediator, that could be very useful," he said.
World hails Suu Kyi release
World leaders and rights groups hailed the release of Burma's democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi but warned the junta not to restrict her and called for the release of all political prisoners.
US President Barack Obama said that "while the Burmese regime has gone to extraordinary lengths to isolate and silence Aung San Suu Kyi, she has continued her brave fight for democracy, peace, and change in Burma".
"She is a hero of mine and a source of inspiration for all who work to advance basic human rights in Burma and around the world," said Obama in a statement on Saturday, using the country's former name.
In Oslo, the Norwegian Nobel Committee invited Suu Kyi to make the traditional acceptance speech the Nobel Peace laureate was prevented from giving in 1991, the NTB news agency reported.
China, one of Burma's closest allies and a mainstay for the junta through trade ties and arms sales had no immediate reaction, although the official Xinhua news agency did report the release of the "noted political figure".
India, which has also been accused of turning a blind eye to the regime's abuses, greeted her release as a welcome step forward in efforts to achieve "a more inclusive approach to political change" in its southeastern neighbour.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) which includes Burma but has been accused by the West of not doing enough to push for change in the military-ruled country, welcomed the release.
"I'm very, very relieved and hope that this will contribute to true national reconciliation," said the bloc's secretary-general Surin Pitsuswan.
Pitsuswan said he hoped Suu Kyi would be able to play a role in any reform process, while Asean's largest member Indonesia said the release was a "positive step" towards national reconciliation.
Neighbouring Thailand, a major trading partner, echoed the sentiment, saying it hoped that Suu Kyi "will have a constructive role to play in Burma's nation-building process".
While the reaction to Suu Kyi's release was broadly positive, several leaders and rights groups urged Burma to do more.
Obama said it was "time for the Burmese regime to release all political prisoners", in a statement echoed by Australia.
"The release of Aung San Suu Kyi offers the Burmese authorities an opportunity to move the country forward," said Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
Amnesty International said Suu Kyi's release was not a "concession" by the regime and should not take attention away from other prisoners of conscience being held in "deplorable conditions".
Human Rights Watch said the release was a "cynical ploy by the military government to distract the international community from its illegitimate elections" held this month and called for all political prisoners to be freed.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said "France will be extremely attentive to the conditions in which Madame Aung San Suu Kyi enjoys her refound liberty".
Any "restrictions on her freedom of movement and expression would constitute a new unacceptable denial of her rights," he said in a statement.
But a senior Burma official said no conditions were tied to Suu Kyi's release. "She is completely free -- there are no conditions at all," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called Suu Kyi "an inspiration" to the world.
"The secretary general expects that no further restrictions will be placed on her, and he urges the Burma authorities to build on today?s action by releasing all remaining political prisoners," a spokesman said.
Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, the former colonial ruler, called her release "long overdue", branding her detention for 15 of the last 21 years a "travesty, designed only to silence the voice of the Burmese people".
Desmond Tutu, chair of the group of retired senior statesmen known as The Elders, called Suu Kyi "a global symbol of moral courage" and said her release "offers hope to the people of Burma".
In Brussels European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso called for Suu Kyi to be granted "unrestricted freedom of movement and speech" and echoed the call for the release of political prisoners.
UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay meanwhile called Suu Kyi's release "a positive signal" by Burma authorities and said she could "make a major contribution" in the transition to democracy and national reconciliation.
Europe's top rights body, the 47-member Council of Europe groups welcomed her release as "an important day for human rights defenders worldwide".
Emotions Peak As Suu Kyi Is Freed
IPS: Nov 13
RANGOON - Some were smiling, many were crying and others were shouting, but emotions overflowed among the hundreds of Burmese who had been keeping vigil for the latest release from house arrest of the country’s pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Syi.
Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for 15 of the last 21 years, appeared beaming on an elevated platform behind the steel gate of her compound here minutes after her 5:20 pm release on Nov. 13.
Waiting for the crowd to settle down, Suu Kyi, often called ‘The Lady’, finally spoke in public for the first time in years.
"We haven't seen each other for long time. I feel very happy to see you all here," said the 65-year-old Nobel laureate, who was freed by Burma’s military leaders six days after the Nov. 7 general election here, the first held in this South-east Asian country in 20 years.
"As I don't have a loudspeaker, I can't speak to reach you all," she told the crowd, many of them wearing shirts adorned with her portrait or carrying photos of her. "If you can listen quietly, you can hear my voice. Otherwise, it's very hard to speak. You all have to help each other. If people from the back can't hear what I say, then people from the front role are able to share what you hear."
"See! As soon as I come out, I need to start political training," quipped Suu Kyi. "To get democracy, we all have to be disciplined," she told her restless, eager supporters.
There was little that the riot police could do earlier when, after they removed the barbed wire that for years fenced off Suu Kyi’s compound near Inya Lake, the crowds rushed toward her home.
"Today we can see the real desire of the people," Yarzar, who belongs to the youth wing of Suu Kyi’s now disbanded National League for Democracy (NLD) party, said as he took part in this historic moment in this country of more than 53 million people.
"I feel like my feet are up in the air, like I’m flying!" quipped Maung Aye.
Than Than Aye, a 35-year-old who fails from north Okkalapa, remarked: "I feel so happy to see her. Today is very worth (it) for me to wait for her for two days."
Since Friday, many had gathered around Suu Kyi’s compound to see if Burma’s military bosses would free her at the end of her latest detention period, scheduled to end at 7 p.m. Saturday. Others had come to Rangoon, the former capital, from outside the city.
As of Saturday evening, Suu Kyi was meeting her NLD supporters. She is expected to give a speech at her office at noon Sunday.
It remained unclear whether there are any conditions to her release, and what her plans are after the Nov. 7 election, which her party did not take part in and campaigned for a boycott of. Some NLD members however proceeded to contest the poll.
It also remains to be seen what role Suu Kyi could play in an environment where there could be some representation of anti-junta groups in Parliament, and where she has no official political platform after the NLD’s disbandment.
The NLD won a clear majority in the last general election in 1990, but the junta nullified its result.
Suu Kyi’s struggles go back to 1988, when the daughter of independence hero Aung San returned to Burma and became involved in the opposition to then dictator Ne Win.
She was first put under house arrest in 1989, released with restrictions on her movement in 1995, and put back in house arrest in 2000. She was released again in May 2002, but in May 2003 was back in prison after a clash between her supporters and a government-backed mob. Her house arrest was extended in 2007 and 2008, and in August 2009 she was sentenced to another 18 months’ house arrest after a U.S. national swam to her compound.
Her last brief public appearance was in September 2007 -- and that was the first since 2003.
Her supporters are aware that Suu Kyi’s personal freedom does not signify real change by the military on giving more political openness in this country.
"The most important thing is to start the dialogue, the only way to solve all the problems in Burma," NLD vice chairman Tin Oo told IPS. "First, all political prisoners must be released. We have to discuss about ethnic issues too," he said, referring to decades of unrest and armed struggle by Burma’s ethnic groups.
There are different expectations of Suu Kyi’s role after her release.
"I strongly believe her to be the one who can do (change) for the country; I can even give my life for her," said Maung Maung Tin Lay, an 80-year-old veteran soldier.
Twenty-five year-old Tun Tun from Hlaing Tharyar added, "I expect that Aunty Suu will tell something about election fraud when she is released."
He was referring to results and conduct of the November poll, which the junta says is part of a roadmap to democracy but which critics have called a sham to cloak the military regime in civilian clothes.
Tension remains after the vote, after many opposition candidates alleged fraud and filed complaints before the Election Commission.
As expected, the military’s proxy party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), won majority of seats in the two chambers of Parliament and regional assemblies.
More than 800,000 ‘advance votes’ cast by government employees and the military, days before Nov. 7 itself, have been criticised as leading to forced votes to ensure the USDP’s victory.
"The 2010 election is just a kind of robbery. It’s not (even) voting fraud; USDP robbed all votes," remarked Tin Oo.
Given the uncertain political road ahead, the sentiments of Rangoon resident Soe Naing, 30, may well capture those of many in this country. "I don’t expect much after her release, but we have to think how we can support her," sighed Soe Naing.
After Suu Kyi’s Release, Dangerous Time Sets In
IPS: Nov 13
BANGKOK - A dilapidated colonial villa on the banks of the Inya Lake in Rangoon, Burma’s largest city, has regained its identity as a home – instead of a prison – following the Saturday release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the icon of the military-ruled country’s democracy movement.
Yet it is not the first time that this change of identity has taken place. The 65-year-old Nobel Peace laureate’s release from house arrest by the junta brought to an end her seven-year stretch of political isolation, which began after pro-regime thugs attacked Suu Kyi and her supporters in central Burma in May 2003.
Suu Kyi, the daughter of Burma’s independence hero Aung San, has been granted freedom twice before since her first imprisonment in her ancestral home in July 1989. The freedoms granted to her by the military leaders of Burma, or Myanmar, were never permanent.
Thus, this early, as Suu Kyi takes her first tentative steps as a free Burmese citizen after spending 15 of the past 21 years as a prisoner in her home, concern is already being expressed about whether her freedom will be short- lived.
"This is a very dangerous period," says Khin Ohmar, chairwoman of the Network for Democracy and Development in Burma, a umbrella organisation of Burmese political activists in exile. "The regime is not releasing her out of respect that she has an important role to play in Burma’s political process and national reconciliation."
The regime’s record over the past two decades feeds such worries. The junta’s reclusive strongman, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, has strengthened the military’s numbers and issued an order that has crushed any hint of political freedom and democratic sentiment.
"In the last 20 years, every single move by the regime has been to its benefit," Khin Ohmar explained during a telephone interview from the Thai- Burma border. "It has always been a part of their control strategy. They have never changed."
Some former political prisoners even worry for Suu Kyi’s life now that she has the liberty to go around in public. "We are concerned that she may be rearrested on some charge or attacked by government thugs," said Bo Kyi, joint secretary of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma (AAPP), a group that campaigns for the rights of jailed political dissidents. "She has been attacked before."
Suu Kyi’s long spells as a political prisoner and how she has been treated once free have shaped these deep doubts about the junta’s motives. "There is no rule of law in Burma," Bo Kyi, himself a former political prisoner, told IPS. "The regime’s motives are never sincere."
Suu Kyi has been a thorn in the side of Burma’s military rulers since her return to the country in early 1988 to take care of her ailing mother. Her arrival after a long absence abroad coincided with a pro-democracy uprising that year against a military regime that had been in power since a 1962 coup.
The political neophyte was soon propelled into being a star of the country’s young democracy movement, drawing hundreds of thousands of supporters to a mass political rally she addressed in late 1988 in Rangoon. Soon after, she helped found the National League for Democracy (NLD) to contest the 1990 general election, the first multi-party poll in 28 years.
Yet her freedom was short-lived as the military leaders -- who had already crushed the 1988 pro-democracy uprising where 3,000 people were killed -- discovered the power of Suu Kyi’s message of democracy and non-violence. She was forced off the streets and imprisoned in her home almost a year before the 1990 elections, beginning her first stretch under house arrest that lasted six years.
But Burmese voters had other ideas. They gave the NLD a thumping majority, some 82 percent of the seats in the national legislature, in that 1990 poll. But the junta refused to recognise the results, setting into motion a long acrimonious relationship between those armed with the guns and those who derived strength from non-violent democratic sentiments.
"It is asymmetrical politics that you started to see in Burma after Suu Kyi arrived on the scene," said a Rangoon-based political analyst. "You had the powerful, heavily armed military against a woman leading a movement that stood for peaceful political change through democracy."
"She deserves credit for making the democracy movement in Burma a non- violent one and helping to keep it that way," the analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told IPS. "The anti-regime forces could have easily turned violent out of frustration and years of suppression."
Her stature in the past two decades has also gone beyond the country’s majority Burman ethnic community and reached the country’s patchwork of ethnic minority communities that have been at war and have endured decades of oppression under the grip of a Burman-dominated military.
Analysts have credited Suu Kyi and the NLD for getting the ethnic minorities to feel part of the movement for political change, though their push for tripartite talks between the regime, the pro-democracy movement and the ethnic minorities.
Among these groups are the Karen, one of the largest ethnic nationalities whose rebel forces have been waging a separatist struggle for six decades. "We are very happy to see Aung San Suu Kyi freed after so many years," said Zipporah Sein, general secretary of the Karen National Union. "She is very important for the ethnic groups and for the people of Burma because of her struggle for rights."
Aung San Suu Kyi 'completely free'
Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been released with no conditions on her freedom, according to an official in the military-ruled country.
"She is completely free -- there are no conditions at all," the senior government official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Suu Kyi's supporters have voiced concern that the junta may place restrictions on her activities and movements as it did during her previous brief periods of freedom.
State media confirmed her release from the latest seven-year stretch of house arrest, attributing it to good conduct.
"Aung San Suu Kyi behaved well according to the regulations during the period she was under a suspended sentence," government-controlled television reported.
"So she was allowed to be released from her sentence."
It noted that she was "the daughter of the leader General Aung San who gave his life for Burma's independence" and it also expressed a desire "not to have a grudge against each other."
In a glass palace – Sagari Chhabra
Hindustan Times: Fri 12 Nov 2010
No one expected the Myanmar military junta’s elections to be fair. But how flawed should things be allowed to get? The military-supported USDP (Union Solidarity and Development Party) has cornered 80% seats (they are still counting as we go to press), but then who had predicted ‘advance voting’ with government employees instructed to vote in front of officials, villagers in the presence of village heads and soldiers before their commanders?The National League of Democracy (NLD), headed by Aung San Suu Kyi, which won over 80% seats in the last elections, did not even contest. The papers for Suu Kyi’s release from house arrest have been signed as her incarceration ends today. She has been detained for 15 of the past 21 years.
In fact, along with nine other parties, including the Shan Nationalities League of Democracy, the NLD has been de-registered and is now outlawed in Myanmar. The new constitution — nicknamed the Nergis Constitution as it came into effect when the country was ravaged by a devastating cyclone — reserves a fourth of the seats in the two houses for the military along with key ministries that will also be headed by the military. The Commander-in-Chief can assume full sovereign power by declaring an emergency.
Myanmar is also plagued by a lack of unity among 135 nationalities including eight major ones — namely Araken, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Mon, Shan, and the Burmese. Neither the years of parliamentary democracy, between 1948 and 1962, nor the subsequent years have seen any resolution of the civil strife in Myanmar. The NLD and some ethnic allies created a new avenue on October 24, as they have agreed to work towards the second Pinglong Conference, which will be a new political platform. This is a progressive move since the Committee Representing Peoples’ Parliament (CRPP), which was formed on September 16, 1998, to work on behalf of the 1990 parliament, becomes irrelevant after the 2010 election charade.
In the context of so much power being institutionalised in the world’s longest-running, most tyrannical regime, with the backing of China and a studied silence from the country’s democratic neighbour, what is the future of Aung San Suu Kyi and the other 2,000 political prisoners? Since the military has consolidated itself in more palatable terms, some would say that Aung San Suu Kyi, for whose freedom the United Nations General Assemby has been passing a resolution every single year, should now be allowed to participate in politics.
Perhaps she has been rendered unnecessary in the new scheme of things. A carefully-plotted roadmap to squash dissenters, unveiling an iniquitous constitution and having a full-scale drama of an election have all gone off, according to General Than Swe’s meticulous plans. It would also lend a more democratic image to the electoral farce, which has propelled several thousand refugees to flee to neighbouring Thailand. As I travelled across Myanmar earlier, I saw how even the Burmese people have to register at the nearest police station by 8 pm if they are to have an overnight guest and that the only construction activity I witnessed was the building of a new prison on the road to Maymyo. An entire generation has grown up in a glass palace prison.
In April 1989, Aung San Suu Kyi went with a group of her party activists to the Irrawaddy Delta. They arrived by boat in the town of Danubyu. As they walked towards the local NLD office, they found their way blocked by soldiers who pointed automatic guns towards them. Suu Kyi urged her people to keep moving even as the captain in-charge threatened to shoot. Just then a senior officer rushed and ordered his men to step aside. Suu Kyi had followed in the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi and adopted his policy of satyagraha in Myanmar. She had hoped that this would spread across the country and the second struggle for freedom in Myanmar will be played out on similar lines. It did not happen. She was placed under house arrest on July 20, 1989.
As some one who spent several months researching in Myanmar, living down the road from Suu Kyi’s house in the hope of meeting her, her release was something I, along with several across the world, prayed for. The frail lady is feared by the military. The lady with flowers in her hair, throttled in a bottleneck vase for the last 15 years, symbolises the results and hopes of the last elections that were never honoured. Her release will upset the ‘unjust peace’ that is about to settle over Myanmar.
It is, however, about time that the world that awarded Suu Kyi the Nobel Peace Prize and India, which honoured her with the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding, presses for a greater role in Myanmar’s affairs for her. A democratic voice that represents the just aspirations of its people cannot be suppressed anymore.
The military junta, now that it has doffed its blood-soaked uniforms, is camouflaging itself in pleasant, sweet terms and has won the elections hands down, could perhaps be pushed to do a nice, gentlemanly act — engage with Suu Kyi. While the Myanmar court rejected her appeal for the reversal of General Than Swe’s order , the executive order rescinded it. It takes credit for releasing her; for even generals like to appear virtuous. Suu Kyi has not been able to see her own children for years. Her son, Kim, has just been granted a visa to visit her. But don’t forget that Suu Kyi was not even allowed to visit her dying husband Michael Aris. The British High Commissioner carried her farewell letter to him, in secret.
Meanwhile, the world continues to watch with bated breath for the one preaches and practises ahimsa to take her rightful place in guiding the destiny of Myanmar’s long-suffering people.
Sagari Chhabra is a writer and film director. Her forthcoming book In Search Of Freedom is based on her stay in Myanmar. The views expressed by the author are personal. Barkha Dutt’s fortnightly column Third Eye will return on November 27.
Myanmar’s Suu Kyi to face new landscape
Agence France Presse: Fri 12 Nov 2010
Yangon – From web cafes to a skyline dotted with high-rise buildings, much has changed since Aung San Suu Kyi began her most recent stretch of detention — including Myanmar’s political landscape.
After seven straight years of confinement, deprived of access to a telephone line or the Internet, one of the first things the 65-year-old has said she plans to do is join Twitter to reach out to younger generations.
Myanmar’s most famous dissident will also have a new political reality to deal with in the army-run country, which held its first election in 20 years on Sunday with Suu Kyi sidelined and silenced.
Her isolated existence has left her “out of touch”, said Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a research fellow at the Institute of South East Asia Studies in Singapore.
“She cannot access the Internet and people who give her information all have their own agendas. Sometimes they read the situation completely wrongly,” he said.
The big question is whether Suu Kyi can galvanise Myanmar’s opposition, deeply divided by her support for a boycott of Sunday’s vote, in which the military’s political proxies have claimed a landslide win.
A group of former members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) which broke away to run in Sunday’s poll was accused by Suu Kyi’s closest associates of betraying the party.
Suu Kyi’s NLD won a landslide victory in the previous poll in 1990 but the junta never allowed her to take power and she has been detained from most of the past two decades.
“If she wants to fight with the new government she has to make sure she strengthens opposition parties first… recruits new and young politicians to make sure there’s someone who can carry out her message,” said Pavin.
The fate of the country’s many ethnic groups is another major issue and observers say Suu Kyi, an ethnic Burman, is perceived by some as part of the elite that have sidelined minority issues for decades.
For many though, the daughter of Myanmar’s liberation hero General Aung San remains a beacon of hope for a better future, drawing large crowds when she was last freed in 2002.
While releasing her could deflect criticism of Sunday’s poll, it may be risky for the junta because few expect her to give up her long struggle to bring democracy to what is one of the world’s oldest dictatorships.
“She is not going to be a humanitarian queen. She is going to do politics. She is as political as ever,” said Maung Zarni, a Myanmar research fellow at the London School of Economics.
In the past the regime has tried to put conditions on her freedom, such as by barring her from leaving Yangon.
Some fear they will do the same again, setting the scene for possible confrontation with the authorities that could land Suu Kyi back in detention.
Thailand-based expert Aung Naing Oo said freeing her would show that the generals “no longer fear her political potency” but the regime is still likely to insist on severe restrictions.
“She is not a quiet type… there will be an unspoken demand from the people for her to do something, perhaps about the election results,” he said.
Many in Myanmar still look to Suu Kyi to bring them the democracy after almost five decades of autocratic rule.
“I think even the Gods are afraid of the junta. Someone will have to stop this military government and I think only Suu Kyi can,” said a 60-year-old former gem miner in Yangon.
A 45-year-old businessman said Suu Kyi was the one person who could stand up to the junta.
“The lady is courageous. Despite all attempts to silence her, she continues to voice the hopes and aspirations of the people who want democracy,” he said.
Issues Suu Kyi should deal with – Editorial
Irrawaddy: Fri 12 Nov 2010
Burma’s democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi has spent 15 of the past 21 years in detention. Her latest period of house arrest, which began in May 2003, is due to end this weekend, and she is expected to re-engage in politics after her release. The Irrawaddy has identified six areas where her leadership could be instrumental in finding long-term solutions to political and cultural issues.
• The Junta: Suu Kyi has tried to seek a political dialogue with the junta to restore national reconciliation in the country, but that effort has failed during the past 20 years. The junta has refused to open a door for a genuine dialogue. For now, she should work to engage a broad participation of other stakeholders from the academic, social and economic sectors to seek a broad-based consensus for national reconciliation throughout the country.
• Political Prisoners: Despite her release, there are more than 2,100 political prisoners locked up in prisons across the country. The release of all political prisoners should be a priority when she resumes the leadership of the democratic movement.
• National Unity and Ethnic Armed Conflicts: She has already initiated the idea of holding “a second Panglong conference” to restore the unity of all ethnic nationals residing in the country, but she has not been able to effectively deal with the issues affecting the cease-fire and non-ceasefire ethnic groups in the past. The recent armed conflicts between the junta’s troops and a splinter group of the cease-fire Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) in Karen State showed the need to end armed conflicts. She should focus on a dialogue with all ethnic groups, including the cease-fire armed groups, that leads to the creation of a second Panglong conference.
• Political Division: Political divisions have intensified due to the recent election. Democratic forces are divided into two political camps: those who boycotted the election and those who contested the election. As democratic leader, Suu Kyi should seek an opportunity to talk with both camps and try to reconcile their differences. She should first initiate a reunion of the NLD and the National Democratic Force (NDF), which broke away from the NLD. Moreover, unlike the political landscape before her detention in 2003, new political parties now exist. She must initiate a political strategy to include them in a reconciliation effort.
• The 2008 Constitution and the 2010 Election Results: The NLD rejected the Constitution as undemocratic. The Nov. 7 election held in accord with the Constitution was deeply flawed by the junta’s vote rigging and violations of its own electoral laws. Suu Kyi should take this opportunity to form a broader political alliance to address Constitutional and parliamentary issues.
• Sanctions, Aid and the International Community: Suu Kyi has voiced her interest in finding a way to lift the international economic sanctions that affect the people and she has tried to extend her hand to the junta to cooperate in lifting the sanctions. After a review of all sanctions, she should work for their elimination, and work to formulate a clear policy on international humanitarian aid to Burma, and seek ways to broaden access to international aid programs that seek to work inside the country.
Junta’s Asian Friends Close Ranks, Endorse Poll
IPS: Nov 11
BANGKOK - A political fault line has emerged just days after Burma’s junta held the country’s first election in two decades, one that was held on Nov. 7 with near military precision to ensure a sweeping victory for the military regime’s allies.
This divide playing out on the international stage reflects foreign governments’ contrasting views of the poll, which is part of the junta’s seven- step roadmap to install a discipline-flourishing democracy in the South-east Asian nation.
The junta’s political proxy, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), claims to have won over 80 percent of seats in Parliament, as was predicted by critics of the regime. Also expected were the litany of charges of fraud, vote rigging and the abuse of power by pro-regime factions.
Coming to the defence of the regime in Burma, or Myanmar, are the country’s Asian neighbours, some of which had shown signs of encouragement before the poll. In this chorus is the Association of South- east Asian Nations (ASEAN), a 10-member regional bloc that includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, in addition to Burma.
"ASEAN welcomes the General Election held on 7th November 2010 in Myanmar as a significant step forward in the implementation of the 7-point Roadmap for Democracy," declared Vietnam, the current chair of the regional bloc that has a history of throwing a protective cloak around Burma when it comes to international criticism.
"ASEAN encourages Myanmar to continue to accelerate the process of national reconciliation and democratisation, for stability and development in the country," added the foreign ministry of Vietnam, a country under the iron grip of its own communist party that brooks no opposition and has been hostile toward any hint of democracy within its borders.
Asia’s communist giant China has been as unequivocal about its support for Burma, where it has invested millions of dollars to exploit the country’s rich natural resources. "This is a critical step for Myanmar in implementing the seven-step road map in the transition to an elected government and is thus welcome," a foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing told the media.
But in sharp contrast against China and the majority of ASEAN members -- which have limited to non-existent democratic cultures -- are the industrialised nations in the west that have condemned the poll as a sham. "It is unacceptable to steal an election, as the regime in Burma has done again for all the world to see," said U.S. President Barack Obama in a speech to the Indian parliament, echoing the sentiments expressed in London and some European capitals.
This East-West divide reflects just how open to interpretation a contentious election is. "The governments in the region were looking at what existed before and they see the poll as paving the way for something different," said Thant Myint-U, a respected Burmese historian and author. "The western governments judged the election by the high democratic standards they are familiar with."
Yet he cautions against expecting more from what some see as the military’s loosening of some of its grip on power for this election, only the second multi-party poll to be held since the military grabbed power in a 1962 coup. "It is difficult to say, because any political opening is going to be tenuous," Thant told IPS. "One cannot say how long the political space will last."
The guarded sense of optimism about more openness under the oppressive junta has been shaped by a noticeable opening – however small – for Burmese to converse openly about democracy on the streets and in teashops following an order in August that said "democracy" is a permissible word.
Supporters of the opposition parties disillusioned by their candidates’ defeat due to the "advanced voting" mechanism, under which government employees, the military and people travelling on voting day were given the option to cast their ballots days before Nov. 7, have not gone silent since that day, says a Rangoon-based analyst. "People are frustrated, people are angry and there is a feeling of politics in the air."
But analysts familiar with Burma’s reclusive strongman, Senior Gen Than Shwe, point out that the regime has no intention of conceding even marginal ground to its political opponents.
"If the final vote in the parliament was fixed so that the USDP got 70 percent of the votes and the opposition got 30 percent, then it would have confirmed that there was a small and relevant opening for the opposition," said Win Min, a Burmese national security expert. "That 30 percent would have given the opposition enough power to at least summon the parliament for a sitting."
But the regime, which under the Constitution had been guaranteed 110 seats in the 440-seat national legislature for non-elected military offices, wanted to assert its dominance in this new political arena, revealed Win Min. "They wanted to have a symbolic yet weak opposition. It shows their true colours; they did not want to make any concessions."
The means for ensuring this dominance was advanced voting, under which an estimated two percent of the nearly 30 million registered voters were given the option to vote ahead.
The regime reportedly went "door-to-door" to get members of a pro-junta social and development association that gave rise to the USDP to vote ahead, tapping its nearly 17 million members. "This is why advance voting was the game changer," said Win Min. "Governments who are endorsing the election should take note of this rigging."
Few Surprises in First Poll in 20 Years
IPS: Nov 9, 2010
By Yan Paing
RANGOON - "People were busy watching Al-Jazeera and DVB (Democratic Voice of Burma) TV, but not about the vote," a Buddhist monk here remarked at the end of election day on Nov. 7, the first general poll to be held in this military-ruled country in 20 years.
After all, they expected few surprises in the vote for a two-chamber parliament and 14 regional assemblies, contested by some 3,000 candidates.
What became news for many, rather than the vote itself, were reports of fighting between Burmese and ethnic Karen soldiers in Myawaddy, a town on Burma’s border with Thailand. The Karen forces had attacked government buildings in Myawaddy to protest the election but media reports said the Burmese military had retaken control of the town.
On Tuesday, the main military-backed political party – the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) -- said that it won about 80 percent of the votes. More than two-thirds of the candidates were fielded by two political parties linked to the military junta, including the USDP.
Official results have yet to be announced. Voter turnout figures were unclear but some media estimates put it at as low as 35 percent in some areas.
The USDP had widely been expected to emerge the victor in an election that opposition parties and many foreign governments called a sham designed to cloak military rule in civilian cover. China however expressed support for
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