- Government disrespects the
people’s will: Suu Kyi
- Internet cafés must reapply for
a business license
- Chery automobile to build plant
- 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
- Aung San Suu Kyi to test limits
of freedom with Burma tour
- Burmese continues fleeing to
- Myanmar get ready for foreign
- Shan govt militias ‘aiding opium
- 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
- 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
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
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
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
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)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
(Message over 64 KB, truncated)