[Readingroom] News on Burma - 30/5/11
- Government disrespects the people’s will: Suu Kyi
- Internet cafés must reapply for a business license
- Chery automobile to build plant in Myanmar
- How the Constitution restricts multi-party democracy in Burma
- Myanmar, China seal friendship with loan agreements
- Myanmar allows local distribution of Thai newspapers
- Is Burma China’s satellite state? The answer is yes
- Demographics of disciplined democracy
- Aung San Suu Kyi to test limits of freedom with Burma tour
- Burmese continues fleeing to Northeast India
- Myanmar get ready for foreign investment
- Shan govt militias ‘aiding opium trade’
- Stop blaming the victims
- Corruption in Burma, Part VII: Censor board hurdles
- White Tiger party to cooperate with Thai company for mining in Shan State
- New players enter, but the China-Burma game continues
- Five facts about China-Myanmar
- A bottom-up approach to democracy: The question of federalism in Burma
- Statement of the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Mr. Tomas Ojea Quintana
- Suu Kyi says ‘we must rely on ourselves’
- UN envoy: Myanmar does little to stop rights abuse
- Treatment of ethnic minorities in Myanmar limiting path to democracy
- Burmese government land grab: Farmers without rights
- Myanmar to get RI rifles
Government disrespects the people’s will: Suu Kyi – Saw Yan Naing
Irrawaddy: Fri 27 May 2011 \
Ignoring the result of the general election in 1990 was disrespectful to the will of the Burmese people, said pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday, calling it “a historically inappropriate policy that damaged the image of the country.”
Suu Kyi made the comment at headquarters of her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), in Rangoon’s Sanchaung Township where more than 200 people had gathered on the eve of the 21st anniversary of Burma’s 1990 election.
The NLD won a landslide victory in the election in 1990, winning 392 out of 485 parliamentary seats. However, the regime refused to hand over power to the party.
Suu Kyi was quoted by reporters in Rangoon as saying: “We have always opposed the rejection of the 1990 election result. It is not because we want power. It is an inappropriate policy because they [government] broke their promise to the people. They gave the people hope, and then broke that hope.”
She added: “To maintain good image of a country, the government has to respect the will of the people.”
On the anniversary of the 1990 election victory, Suu Kyi also told the recently free political prisoners not to be afraid, and urged them to stay involved in the political movement for the interest of the people of Burma, said sources in Rangoon.
“My father [Gen Aung San] said that those who dare to resist have courage,” she said. “If we are afraid to continue our work, then all the time we have spent in prison is meaningless.”
Suu Kyi spoke at the ceremony before more than 30 political prisoners who had been freed on May 17.
Burma released some 14,600 prisoners on May 17 after announcing an amnesty. However, only 47 political prisoners were among those released.
NLD members, Burmese opposition politicians, ethnic leaders and family members of political prisoners also attended the ceremony. Some police were nearby taking notes and photographs of the gathering, sources said.
Suu Kyi also said that the amnesty granted by the government can be only called “mercy,” according to Win Htein, an NLD member, and personal assistant and close aide to Suu Kyi.
Tin Oo, the deputy chairman of the NLD, also spoke at the ceremony, saying that the government did not offer an honest amnesty as it released very few political prisoners.
Suu Kyi said that a country where democracy prevails has practices such as free elections and the rule of law. Detaining political activists unlawfully is against the spirit of democracy, she added.
Meanwhile, Win Tin, a senior advisor to Suu Kyi who was scheduled to speak at the event, was unable to attend the ceremony as he was hospitalized on Thursday evening suffering from a liver problem and serious skin infection.
* The Irrawaddy correspondents in Rangoon contributed to this article.
Internet cafés must reapply for a business license – Tun Tun
Mizzima News: Fri 27 May 2011
New Delhi– All Burmese ‘public access centre’ Internet cafes have been ordered to reapply for a business license from the state-owned Myanmar Post and Telegraph (MPT), according to an MPT official.
Previously, Internet cafes had to apply to Myanmar Info Tech and Yadanabon Teleport, but MPT took over the process in April 2011. It issued an advisory to all Internet cafes to reapply within 30 days starting April 25. However, some of the Internet cafes did not receive the advisory, sources said.
The advisory said a fine of 30,000 kyat (US$ 36.58) per month may be issued or a license revoked if annual fees and dues are not paid within 90 days of the expiration date.
License fees can be paid at the Naypyitaw and Rangoon Division Directorate of Communication, or, in states and regions at postal offices.
License fees have been lowered. Previously, Internet cafes paid 500,000 kyat ($610) for initial fees for installation of cables and equipment, an annual fee of 600,000 kyat at the rate of 50,000 kyat per month. MPT now charges 500,000 kyat ($610) for installation and an annual fee of 360,000 ($440) at the rate of 30,000 kyat ($36.58) per month.
According to the most recent data, there are 802 Internet cafes registered with Myanmar Info Tech. A total of 584 cafes are in the Rangoon municipal area, 21 in Mandalay and 197 in other towns and cities.
All Internet cafes are instructed to register a customer’s name, contact address, phone number and ID number, or a passport number for foreigners. The information is sent to the Directorate of Communication monthly.
Cafes are also required to block banned software and programmes on their computers and they are subject to inspection by the authorities.
MPT has issued a ban on using floppy drives, CD drives, USB ports and other external drives in computers.
Internet cafes are responsible for monitoring and blocking information which can jeopardize state secrets and state interests. Violation of the regulation carries a maximum prison term of five years under the Official Secrets Act.
Computer users are frequently charged under section 33(a) of Electronics Law Act which carries a maximum prison term of 15 years. More than 40 people have been imprisoned under this act including blogger Nay Phone Latt and comedian Zargana, according to the Thai-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP-B).
Recently, former army captain Nay Myo Zin, who worked with the South Dagon Township blood donation group, was arrested and charged under the Electronics Law Act.
Chery automobile to build plant in Myanmar – Wuhu
SinoCast via LexisNexis: Fri 27 May 2011
China’s Chery Automobile Co., Ltd. and its Burmese partner both agreed to invest in the construction of a KD (knocked down) plant with an annual production capacity of 3,000 to 5,000 vehicles in Myanmar.
The move is part of the Chinese automaker’s efforts to meet the increasing demand in Myanmar. Currently, its international arm has accumulatively had orders for nearly 10,000 QQ3 cars, but because of a limited production capacity, the local need cannot be met fully.
An executive with the international arm disclosed that at the beginning of 2011, Chery Automobile and the Burmese government joined hands in the QQ3 SKD (semi knocked down) project.
The first batch of components and parts for QQ3 products was shipped at the end of January 2011, and the first QQ3 rolled off the production line in late March
The model has immediately become popular with local people. Myanmar, a market with huge potentials, will mean a great opportunity for Chinese automakers, said analysts.
How the Constitution restricts multi-party democracy in Burma: U Myo and Lane Weir
Mizzima News: Fri 27 May 2011
Burma’s 2008 Constitution, touted as bringing ‘democratic’ reforms to the country, has instead institutionalized bias in favour of the army and the ruling elite.
Heralded as a crucial part of the military government’s ‘roadmap to democracy’, the 2008 Constitution was put to a referendum on 10 May, 2008. Though many reputable Burmese groups and international organizations claimed the process was fraudulent, the government hailed the referendum as a success that showed high approval for the new Constitution.
Unfortunately, the entrenchment of the new Constitution has been a victory for the ruling elite, not for the Burmese people.
The claim put forward by the new government is that the 2010 elections marked a transition to a multi-party democratic system. However, the 2008 Constitution’s provisions restrict opposition parties and organizations, entrench continued military presence in the national government and grant impunity to past and present government officials
With respect to the rule of law, the 2008 Constitution is unfair and unjust, depriving the Burmese population of their political right to the genuine multi-party democratic system stipulated by the new Constitution.
A careful look at the articles of the country’s new Constitution illustrates the inconsistencies between the claim that the Constitution and subsequent election mark a turn to multi-party democracy and the limits placed on potential for a democratic system by the provisions of the new Constitution.
Section 7 of the 2008 Constitution provides that the ‘Union practices genuine, disciplined multi-party democracy’. However, Section 407 states that where a political party infringes one of several stipulations, ‘it shall have no right of continued existence’.
These stipulations include a prohibition on parties that have direct or indirect contact with groups or associations deemed ‘unlawful’ by the government, parties that directly or indirectly receive financial or material support from foreign governments or associations or from religious organizations and groups that ‘abuse religion for political purposes’.
Section 408 states that where a party infringes one of the stipulations, their party registration will be revoked.
These provisions are easily subject to abuse, granting wide powers to the government, clearly impeding Section 7’s promise of a ‘genuine’ multi-party democracy. These arbitrary restrictions merely concentrate power in the hands of the ruling party.
Article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states that, ‘all persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law’. This idea, manifested in the ‘one person, one vote’ principle, is absent from Burma’s 2008 Constitution.
Sections 74, 109(b) and 141(b) clearly illustrate this problem. Section 74 stipulates that in addition to elected officials, the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw [Burma’s bicameral legislature] is to be comprised of Defence Services Personnel nominated by the Commander-in Chief. Section 109(b) states that 110 individuals, or one-third of the total number of representatives, can be nominated by the Commander-in-Chief to the Pyithu Hluttaw [lower house]. Section 141(b) provides that the Commander-in-Chief reserves the right to nominate 56 individuals, or one quarter of the total number of representatives, to the Amyotha Hluttaw [upper house]. Sections 74, 109(b) and 141(b), therefore, permit the presence of government-appointed military representatives in the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw.
This means that the 2008 Constitution allows for 25 per cent of the officials in the Hluttaw to serve as unelected appointees. This represents a significant departure from the ‘one person, one vote’ principle. More broadly, it reflects an unjust departure from a multi-party democratic system in which officials are duly elected.
Similarly, Article 14 of the ICCPR states that ‘all persons shall be equal before the courts and tribunals’.
However, Article 445 of the 2008 Constitution states that ‘all policy guidelines, laws, rules, regulations, notifications and declarations of the State Law and Order Restoration Council and State Peace and Development Council [SPDC]… shall devolve on the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. No proceeding shall be instituted against the said Councils or any member thereof or any member in the Government, in respect of any act done in the execution of their respective duties’.
It is clear that SPDC military regime officials and their government allies are granted immunity by the provision. This is in sharp contrast with the principle of accountability within a functioning multi-party democracy.
What elements are required in a multi-party democracy?
Freedom of expression and the freedom of association are two fundamental principles of democracy. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulates that ‘everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers’.
Freedom of expression is necessary in order for true political dialogue in the public sphere and, therefore, is a necessary precondition for genuine multi-party democracy.
The right to freely form associations is also fundamental to a functioning democracy. Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that ‘everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association’. This right is also reflected by Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These rights mean that workers, farmers, students and religious groups must be legally entitled to form unions. Similarly, it allows people to form and join political parties. The ability to do so is a necessary precondition for a multi-party democratic system.
Why is a multi-party system so important to Burma?
A genuine multi-party system is essential to re-establishing the rule of law in Burma. Unfortunately, Burma has not seen this type of government since General Ne Win imposed a one-party system following his coup in 1962.
The presence of many ethnic minorities is one reason a multi-party democratic system is so essential to the rule of law in Burma. It would allow for various regions to be governed by those with the closest understanding of the issues faced by groups and individuals in the locality. Ethnic minorities would be represented in the political sphere and would be less inclined to resort to violence.
A thriving multi-party democratic system would ensure that ethnic, social and political minorities have their voices heard in the Hlattaw. Opposition groups representative of minorities would be able to represent the views of those groups on an ongoing basis. In a genuine multi-party democracy, as opposed to the current political situation in Burma, opposition groups are not merely present during electoral periods. Instead, they serve a vital role to the functioning of government in a continuous manner.
The mere existence, then, of multiple parties during elections does not ensure a functioning democracy. Instead, opposition parties must be given a level of respect at all times by ruling parties. Opposition parties must be given the opportunity to get involved in the legislative parties as good governance flows from a dialogue between parties.
At present, Burma’s one-party state heavily restricts any potential for a multi-party democracy and, therefore, fails to represent the diverse interests of the Burmese population.
Despite promising a genuine multi-party democracy, the current Burmese Constitution only serves to restrict the activities of potential opposition groups and entrench the continued political presence of the ruling elite.
Myanmar, China seal friendship with loan agreements – Ben Blanchard
Reuters: Fri 27 May 2011
Beijing, – Myanmar and China sealed their friendship with loan and credit line agreements worth more than 540 million euros ($765 million) on Friday, as the former Burma’s new president praised the Chinese as a trustworthy, selfless ally.
“China is a friendly neighbour of Myanmar’s worthy of trust and has provided vigorous support and selfless help for Myanmar’s economic development,” Myanmar’s new civilian president, Thein Sein, told Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, state television reported.
Wen said China was willing to provide what help it can to help Myanmar’s development and ensure the “smooth progress” of oil and gas pipelines being built across Myanmar into southwestern China, seen as crucial to China’s energy security.
Thein Sein and Chinese President Hu Jintao signed nine agreements, including a cooperation framework agreement for a 540 million euro line of credit from China Development Bank to Myanmar’s Ministry of Taxation and Finance.
Other loan deals were agreed between various Chinese and Myanmar ministries, while another covered a hydroelectric project. No further details were given.
Thein Sein, a loyalist of the reclusive former paramount military leader Than Shwe, is no stranger to China, having met top Chinese leaders in the past in his previous official capacities, including as prime minister.
While Western nations slammed Myanmar’s election last year as a sham, China has shown no such concerns.
Hu offered his “warm congratulations” to Thein Sein for his appointment as president after the elections, which Myanmar lauded as the culmination of efforts to return the country to civilian rule.
“I believe your visit to China will be advantageous to increasing our mutual understanding and will write a new page in 21st century friendship and cooperation between China and Myanmar,” Hu said, according to a pool report.
Economic relations are booming.
Bilateral trade rose more than half last year to $4.4 billion, and China’s investment in Myanmar reached $12.3 billion in 2010, according to Chinese figures, with a strong focus on natural resources and energy projects.
Xinhua said China’s largest privately owned automaker, Chery Automobile, was planning a car plant in Myanmar with annual capacity of up to 5,000 of its compact QQ model. The news agency did not say when the factory may begin production.
Diplomatically, China provides Myanmar with crucial cover at the United Nations, fending off calls for tougher action demanded by the West on Myanmar’s poor human rights record.
For its part, Myanmar gives China access to the Indian Ocean, not only for imports of oil and gas and exports from landlocked southwestern Chinese provinces, but also potentially for military bases or listening posts.
In October, China’s state energy group CNPC started building a crude oil port in Myanmar, part of a pipeline project aimed at cutting out the long detour oil cargoes take through the congested and strategically vulnerable Malacca Strait. [ID:nTOE60D08W] [ID:nTOE67P06B]
But relations have not all been smooth.
China has frequently expressed its concern at instability along their often mountainous and remote border, where rebel groups deeply involved in the narcotics trade have been fighting Myanmar’s central government for decades.
In August 2009, refugees flooded across into China following fighting on the Myanmar side of the border between rebels and government troops, promoting an unusually public show of anger from Beijing towards its poor southern neighbour.
Both sides must “coordinate their management to maintain stability on the border”, Hu told Thein Sein, state television said. ($1 = 0.706 euros) (Editing by Sugita Katyal and Robert Birsel)
Myanmar allows local distribution of Thai newspapers
Deutsche Presse-Agentur: Fri 27 May 2011
Myanmar has for the first time allowed the local distribution of Thailand’s two English-language newspapers, company sources said Friday.
Success International Publisher, a private Myanmar company, was granted a distribution license for the Bangkok Post and The Nation daily newspapers.
“I got the license three days after applying for it (at the Commerce Ministry),” Success International’s managing director Nyo Aung said.
Success International has distributed The Straits Times and Business Times of Singapore in the Myanmar market for years, but was hesitant to ask permission to distribute the Bangkok Post and The Nation because of their often-critical coverage of Myanmar.
“Now the government has changed, so I thought it was a good time to apply for the license,” Nyo Aung said.
All foreign publications must be censored by Myanmar’s Information Ministry before they are distributed domestically.
Myanmar, which was been under military rule from 1962 to 2010, has a notoriously suppressed local media. Foreign correspondents, with a few exceptions, have been barred from being based in the country for decades.
General elections on November 7 brought the pro-military Union Solidarity and Development Party to power. But, given the USDP’s top-heavy military membership, it is deemed an unlikely proponent of democratic reforms and press freedoms.
Is Burma China’s satellite state? The answer is yes – Aung Zaw
Irrawaddy: Fri 27 May 2011
President Thein Sein, a former military general and protégé of dictator Snr Gen Than Shwe, is on a three-day state visit to China to pay a formal courtesy call to the leaders in Beijing and to cement what is fast becoming a strong relationship.
Indeed, we should not forget the historical relationship between the two countries: in 1949, Burma was one of the first countries to recognize the People’s Republic of China.
But that doesn’t mean that the relationship has always been smooth sailing.
Anti-Chinese riots were widespread in Burma in 1967, while for its part, China played an active role in supporting communist insurgents in Burma.
We must not forget that Beijing has at times played tough with the incompetent generals of Burma, most notably during the Kokang Crisis in August 2009 when Beijing reprimanded Burma over the instability at their common border when some 37,000 refugees fled into Chinese territory.
Beijing was reportedly enraged, and Burma quickly dispatched high-ranking officials to mend the fence.
On the issue of trade and investment, China plays a key role—extracting natural resources from Burma’s ethnic states.
China made huge investments in hydropower, oil and gas, totaling $8.17 billion, Xinhua reported last year, citing the regime’s own statistics.
Indeed, by the end of March this year, China’s investment in Burma has risen to US $15.5 billion from $12.3 billion at the end of 2010.
There is no doubt that the Chinese invasion of Burma is visible in the growing numbers of Chinese migrants and businessmen in Burma’s second largest city, Mandalay, as well as in Shan and Kachin States where they have opened shops and businesses, and regularly buy land.
It is believed that over the last 20 years, hundreds of thousands of Chinese have migrated to Burma. Many of them have obtained Burmese nationality cards through corrupt immigration officials. China’s persistent presence in Burma is significant—many local Burmese have begun learning Mandarin to help secure jobs, prompting a joke in Burma that the future leaders of the country will be fluent in Chinese next time they visit Beijing.
Shortly after the Burmese military crushed a pro-democracy movement 22 years ago, China was one of the first neighboring countries to back the newly installed junta, providing it with arms, jet fighters, naval ships and ammunition. Since then, its unwavering support for the regime in Burma has only grown.
Before 1988, China had supported and financed hardcore Burmese communist insurgents that waged bloody civil war against the Burmese regime.
China’s strategic shift toward Burma shows a more pragmatic approach than its previous ideological war.
Indeed, sadly, the policy shift does nothing more than preserve the brutal regime in Burma, and plays a destructive role toward Burma’s embattled democracy movement.
Outside of Burma, Beijing’s policy toward Naypyidaw has raised heated debate between pro-sanctions and anti-sanctions groups. The argument now is that it is time to counter China’s growing political and business clout in Burma. Western companies and governments feel that this is all just a case of too little, too late—time to follow Beijing’s footsteps.
Li Junhua, the current Chinese ambassador to Burma, told Xinhua news agency that Thein Sein’s state visit would certainly push the two countries’ strategic and mutually beneficial cooperation toward a new high.
Burma’s military leaders often call China their “most important friendly neighbor,” and they can now continue to develop their strategic relations with Beijing after putting to bed November’s general election.
But it takes two to tango—Beijing realized that Naypyidaw has much to offer.
Burma has offered strategic access to the Bay of Bengal. Underlining this deepening strategic cooperation, Chinese naval ships last year made a port call for the first time in Burmese territorial waters.
During his visit, Thein Sein is expected to discuss in depth the issue of China’s navy docking in Burmese ports, and the Chinese desire to provide naval protection for its oil and gas facilities at the Burmese seaport of Kyaukpyu in the Bay of Bengal.
Informed sources have said that Chinese officials are not suggesting a Chinese navy base in Burma, but simply having the permission to dock their warships at Burma’s ports while they are patrolling the Indian Ocean and Somali coast.
Returning from a counter-piracy operation in the Indian Ocean in August 2010, two warships, the Guangzhou and the Chaohu, docked at Thilawa Port, near Rangoon, for a five-day visit.
Other issues of mutual concern, such as border security, military relations and business agreements, are expected to take a back seat on this particular visit.
China has also played a friendly intermediary role between Burma and North Korea since the two countries formally restored diplomatic relations in 2007.
Interestingly, the previous regime’s secret military missions to North Korea were taken via China.
It can safely be said that Beijing approves of and backs Burma’s desire to develop military contacts with North Korea. Overall, it looks like China’s role as a big brother to Burma will continue, and we can foresee China and Burma developing deeper military ties.
China also protects Burma from the teeth of the UN Security Council.
Various Burmese military leaders have either quietly or openly expressed admiration for China’s economic growth—it is the model they want to follow in their quest for economic reform. In fact, they fondly talk about Shanghai’s skyscrapers, with no mention of New York.
No doubt then that China is an important ally for the repressive regime to fend off the scathing opinions of Western governments, which have long criticized the junta’s appalling human rights records and are now backing the establishment of a UN Commission of Inquiry into crimes against humanity in Burma. China protects the regime and bullies the Western critics to back off any Naypyidaw when it faces a crucial censure or resolution.
Since November’s deeply flawed election has won international backing, Chinese officials will strengthen their hand with the confidence that Naypyidaw owes them, and that they have much more to gain from Burma’s new government.
Ambassador Li praised Thein Sein’s first presidential speech delivered, suggesting that it provided a strong signal to the people of Burma and the international community that the new government will make greater efforts in developing the economy, speed up its rate of opening doors to the outside world, improve the living standards of its people, and strengthen the ties between different nationalities based on foundations laid by the previous government.
Li told Xinhua that Burma’s new government is more self-confident and more active diplomatically, after seeing Thein Sein at the Asean Summit in Indonesia.
Consequently, as Beijing spreads its wings of influence in Asia, Thein Sein’s visit will be seen as an important step in ensuring that close neighbor Burma remains a strategic ally in the foreseeable future.
It doesn’t matter to Beijing how many political prisoners are being locked up or how many ethnic minorities are slaughtered in the ongoing civil war in Burma—as long as the regime is stable, and China’s national interests are untouched.
To Chinese, as the saying goes—it doesn’t matter whether it is a white cat or a black cat, as long as it can catch mice.
Burma: demographics of disciplined democracy – David Scott Mathieson
Open Democracy: Fri 27 May 2011
What if you held an election and you weren’t sure how many people showed up? A simple question regarding the veracity of the last elections held in Burma, on 7 November 2011: how many people actually live in the country? It may seem straightforward, and after all it’s a fundamental question when determining voting lists, and yet there is a great variety of estimates.
Burma has not had an effective nationwide census for decades: previous ones took place during British colonial rule in 1931, under the post-war social-democratic government in 1953, and by the self-described socialist government in 1983. The population in the last census, despite that count not being able to access considerable parts of the country due to civil war, was 35,442,972. What is Burma’s population now, in 2011?
The Rangoon-based United Nations agency, the Myanmar Information Management Unit (MIMU), released a map in 2009 with a breakdown of the population of all of Burma’s fourteen administrative units (states and divisions/regions); based on figures from Burma’s ministry of home affairs, it finds the total population to be 44,209,146. The Lonely Planet tourist guide (2009) claims 47.4 million. The United States’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimates the population at 48,137,741. Many newspapers reporting on the Burmese elections variously say 50, 51, 52, 54 or 57 million – numbers all likely based on internet searches through disparate figures on a variety of websites. United Nations millennium development goals (MDG) data compiled in 2008 projects the 2010 figure for Burma at 50,495,000.
The statistical yearbook for 2008 of Burma’s ministry of national planning and economic development gives the population figure as 57,504,000. The latest official figure in 2010, from the Burmese government’s ministry of immigration and population, estimates that 59.12 million people live in Burma: 29.39 million men, and 29.73 million women. These numbers stem from a census of some kind conducted in 2007, in cooperation with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The survey estimates that the population growth rate is 2.02% annually.
So, estimates from the lowest to the highest figures in just a two-three-year timescale – in calculations from the Burmese government, the United Nations, and international organisation – produces a differential of 15 million people. Isn’t that gap a little too wide to conduct anything approaching a credible election?
The politics of verticality
The Burmese electoral process itself, few observers would now disagree, was a gigantic fix to ensure military dominance. Its ingredients were rigged electoral laws interpreted by a pro-military electoral commission; the arrest and incarceration of more than 2,200 political opponents; a behemoth military party called the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) that, with 18 million nominal members and a nationwide structure of offices and financial assets is difficult to beat; and a constitution that guarantees wide-ranging operational latitude and invests ultimate power in the Burmese military.
On voting day, 7 November 2011, the USDP won more than 77% of the seats in the two national-level parliaments, and a clear majority in the fourteen regional and state-based assemblies. The electoral commission announced that 22 million of the 29 million eligible voters cast ballots, a turnout of around 75%-80%. The USDP won more than 875 of the 1,157 seats open to contest in the three levels of assemblies. In addition, a military quota ensured by the constitution reserves one-quarter of seats to serving military officers, underlining the Burmese military’s overwhelming domination of all political decision-making.
There were reports of widespread irregularities, including the use of advance-voting ballots to swing seats in favor of the USDP during the closing stages of ballot-counting. But look beyond the rigged process to the basics of the elections. A central law of psephology (the statistical analysis of elections) is to establish an accurate estimate of the population, clearly demarcated electorates and the eligible voters contained therein, and a system of tallying votes. It is not known clearly how closely observed these prerequisites were ahead of the vote, though significant questions can be asked.
The very task of estimating Burma’s population is predominantly part of the system of authoritarian control. To monitor society, the authorities have long employed a draconian system of household registration. Every house must have a list of inhabitants that are regularly reported to local authorities, at the suburb (or in Burma, the ward), or village level. Visitors are either denied permission to stay overnight or must be registered with the authorities. It is prohibited for foreigners to stay overnight in a private Burmese home, and all hotel-registration lists are reported daily to local police and immigration authorities.
This system is vertically integrated. Regular population numbers of small communities are relayed up to the next stage of monitoring control: from village to village tract, next to township, then to state or division/region level, and ultimately to national authorities. This is not unique to authoritarian systems, but in practice it grants latitude to local authorities to act in any way to ensure that good news flows up the system. In a country such as Burma where avoiding the attention of authorities is a basic survival strategy, compliance by officials and citizens to accord with expectations is often the norm, despite questions of veracity or efficiency of the information. Positive news is an essential ingredient of loyalty in repressive states.
The inconvenient variables
What few analyses of the Burmese population include is the number of demographic factors that challenge any accurate assessment: displacement through conflict and development projects, work migration to neighbouring countries, transmigration to look for work inside Burma, statelessness (of the Rohingya Muslim minority, hinterland hill-tribes, and other marginalised populations), and haphazard or incomplete citizenship registration.
Burma remains an extremely poor country, sharing rugged and underdeveloped borderlands with Bangladesh, India, China, Laos, and Thailand; with simmering conflict, especially in the eastern borderlands; and with a bewildering ethno-linguistic patchwork of peoples, defined by the SPDC as amounting to 135 “national race groups”. This is a shortlist of seven inconvenient intervening variables that any assessment of Burma’s demographics must face
For more than a decade, there has been a major problem of conflict and development-induced displacement in eastern Burma. The annual survey of the Thailand-Burma Border Consortium (TBBC) estimates that 460,000 civilians were internally displaced in 2010: in a mixture of nominally government controlled areas, ceasefire militia enclaves, and free-fire zones contested by state and anti-state forces.
These populations are a mix of recognised citizens of the Burmese state, and those whose births were not officially registered but have spent most of their lives under insurgent administration. In several townships in border areas, no voting was held on 7 November; the areas included the Wa special region in the north, and parts of the country where conflict is still raging in the Karen and Shan states. Those unable to vote include tens of thousands of hill-tribe minorities such as the Lahu, Akha, Palaung and others, especially in the northern states, who live on the fringes of state control and have never been officially counted.
There are more than 140,000 documented refugees in nine (unofficially) recognised camps in Thailand. These numbers have stayed largely constant since 1984 when the first major waves of refugees started to cross. More than 60,000 refugees have been resettled to third countries from these camps since 2005.
The ethnic Shan have only one very small recognised camp; most of the people fleeing across that border enter the migrant-worker population, and easily number several tens of thousands. India has approximately 50,000 ethnic Chin refugees in Mizoram, and several thousand in Delhi. Refugees also travel to Malaysia, where some people estimate 30-50,000 people from Burma are there, either working or applying for refugee status. Some refugees retain their citizenship.
The Rohingya Muslim minority
Burma’s most persecuted ethno-religious minority is the estimated 1 million Rohingya. They have been the target of large-scale and brutal military expulsions into Bangladesh (in 1978 and 1991), and denied citizenship and basic rights for three decades. Many Rohingya were (paradoxically) granted voting rights in 2008 and 2010 through the issuance of temporary identity-cards, and Rohingya political parties were permitted to contest the election (in which they were trounced, though military-aligned Rohingya businessmen were permitted to contest and win seats through the USDP). An estimated 250,000 Rohingya live as refugees or undocumented migrants in Bangladesh, tens of thousands more as migrant labor in the middle east and Pakistan.
Chinese migration to northern Burma
Chinese migration to Burma has demonstrably increased since the early 1990s, especially to Burma’s second largest city, Mandalay. Many Chinese migrants purchase citizenship, using business contacts with officials to secure it; others are temporary labourers, such as the tens of thousands of road-builders and dam-construction workers in Kachin state. There are no hard official figures on the size of this migration, but the presence of recent Chinese immigrants in northern Burma is clear to any visitors, and a source of periodic tension between ethnic Burmese and the new arrivals.
Burmese labourers leave their country in massive numbers, some for short-term work, others for many years. The standard figure for Burmese workers in Thailand is 2 million, but in the absence of a fully functioning registration system, official figures are much lower. Migrant workers from Burma also travel to Malaysia and Singapore, in lesser numbers, but where working conditions are often marginally better. Some of these workers were permitted to vote in the elections, if they were legally recognised as migrant workers, and cast advance ballots at Burmese embassies. Some migrant workers refused to vote, fearing that officials would be able to exhort money from them or their families back in Burma if they engage with embassy officials.
Struck off household lists
Many people, especially Rohingya, who leave Burma because of persecution or for work are often struck off household-registration lists because they have left the country illegally. Many migrant workers leave their Burmese ID card inside Burma, with their parents or family members, as it is illegal to take the card outside of Burma. Dissidents and others who have illegally left the country for clandestine training or work are regularly charged with breaches of the migration act and sentenced to long prison terms.
Internal labor migration
It became clear after cyclone Nargis in 2008 that large numbers of landless labourers who had been working in the Irrawaddy delta (and may not have ever been counted either as temporary residents or as residents) were amongst the 140,000 listed officially as dead or missing count. The experience of the constitutional referendum of 2008 is instructive in other ways. When Human Rights Watch interviewed survivors of the cyclone from 2008-10, we encountered many who said they were not included in village-household lists because of their isolated location; many said they were never given the opportunity to cast votes as local authorities completed it for them.
The swift counting of the tally in 2008, not an arduous task in a simple yes-or-no vote but still a challenge considering Burma’s lack of development and infrastructure, was reached within a couple of weeks, and publicly announced down to the individual vote: a 92% approval of the constitution from a 98% voter turnout. It seems obvious that the repressive apparatus of state control in Burma is bottom-up: local authorities know they must deliver positive, even if erroneous, news to the next layer of control all the way up to central authorities in Naypyidaw. There are many other variables of transmigration not taken in to account in official figures: how many people in Burma move within the country for work but fail to register with the authorities?
At an extremely and necessarily rough estimate, are 3-5 million people not included as Burmese citizens with voting rights?
Charles Seife’s new book Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception details how governments and corporations throw around deceitful figures. He writes: “In skillful hands, phony data, bogus statistics, and bad mathematics can make the most fanciful idea, the most outrageous falsehood seem true. They can be used to bludgeon enemies, to destroy critics, and to squelch debate.” The obsession with numerical detail by Burma’s authoritarian system is a prime example of what Seife calls “disestimation”: granting credibility to a figure that is derived with too much uncertainty.
An accurate estimate of the population is crucial for conducting elections; and it must be hoped that a genuinely free and fair election in Burma will take place one day. It is also crucial for increasing development projects and the disbursal of humanitarian assistance. What Burma’s new parliament, a reshuffled version of the former ruling military council, needs to do in 2011 is to prioritise credible population statistics that serve the needs of local development in health, education, land management, and economic reforms (such as urgently needed micro-financing projects).
These fundamentals are being lost in the haze of a system of control, and the various responses by communities to maintain survival. If the United Nations system circulates widely different figures, how will they coordinate with national authorities and local communities to reach those in acute need?
Any agenda for international engagement with Burma has to include reconciling the variables of communities that are not included on official registers; and more consideration of people who are used by the state when it suits them, and ignored when it doesn’t.
Aung San Suu Kyi to test limits of freedom with Burma tour – Julian Ryall
The Telegraph: Thu 26 May 2011
Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese democracy leader, is to test the will of the nation’s military-controlled government through a series of public speeches outside Rangoon.
Six months after the government ended her seven-year spell of house arrest, Ms Suu Kyi has made it clear that she intends to go ahead with rallies that will culminate in a visit to Burma’s former capital, Mandalay, The Times quoted a close political ally as saying.
“She told me recently that she has decided, and that shewill go to the countryside in one or two months’ time,” Win Tin, a close friend of Ms Suu Kyi and one of the founders of the National League for Democracy, told the Times.
Mr Win, who spent 20 years as a political prisoner, said he had received indications from the government that there was no threat to Ms Suu Kyi’s personal safety, but that clashes between her supporters and the military were possible.
Ms Suu Kyi’s decision to tour the country will be welcomed by her supporters, who have been disappointed at the slow rate of political change in Burma and the NLD’s failure to be more forceful in politics since her release.
Exile groups have been calling for the Nobel Peace Prize winner to “test the waters of her supposed freedom” and to campaign outside the capital, although there are risks attached to this strategy.
The last time that Ms Suu Kyi campaigned outside Rangoon, in 2003, her vehicles were attacked by government-sponsored protestors. She narrowly avoided serious injust herself, but was arrested and ordered to be held under house arrest until last November. In all, she has spent 15 of the last 22 years in detention.
Burmese continues fleeing to Northeast India – Nava Thakuria
Weekly Blitz: Thu 26 May 2011
Officially Burma (Myanmar or Brahmadesh) may have transformed into a democracy after the 2010 November general election, but the ground realities for the poor Burmese remain the same. And the outcome is the continuous fleeing of Burmese to neighbouring India, Bangladesh and Thailand. If the earlier exodus was of pro-democracy political activists, now more and more common Burmese are leaving the poverty stricken country.
For India, the burden of refugees primarily from Chin State of Burma is carried by Mizoram. With its around10 lakh population, the Burma and Bangladesh bordering Indian State gives shelter to nearly 80,000 migrants. Leaving aside two thousand Burmese recognized by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and staying in New Delhi, the rest arescattered in Mizoram, Nagaland and Manipur.
“The people outside Burma start believing that the country has changed after the polls. But in reality, the election was fought and won by mostly the military men. So even after the military brand State Peace and Development Council, which ruled Burma for decades, is dissolved and the Parliaments are functioning, the common people are suffering a lot,” said a Burmese youth, now staying in Indian bordering town Saiha.
The youth, who migrated from Chin to Mizoram few months back for a better life and presently working as a daily labour, also added that there are serious crisis of food in Chin State after the phenomena of bamboo flowering last year. The Burmese government in Nay Pie Taw remains reluctant for the relief and rehabilitation of Chin people.
“When some parts of Mizoram also faced the bamboo flowering in early 2010, there were constant flow of relief from New Delhi and also international aid agencies. But for our people in Chin, neither the government initiated to send relief nor it allowed the outside aid agencies to serve the people in distress,” asserted the educated youth, who wanted anonymity, during an interview with this writer at Aizawl recently.
Pu Kim, a Burmese political activist who is recognized by the UNHCR and now based in New Delhi, argues that the so-called change of Burma for democratization is useless, as the military clout remains powerful and the judiciary has still no jurisdiction over the armed forces in the country.
“Many historic political events may take place in Burma in the last few months including the November election, release of pro-dem
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