Friday, 6 August 2010

No sign Burma’s coming election will be free, fair

THE people of Burma, whose dictatorial junta prefers their country to be called Myanmar, has been in the grip of its military rulers since 1962.

Burma has not had an election since 1990. By a landslide Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won that election. But the junta rejected the election results and even put her and her fellow pro-democracy activists in jail.
She has been in prison or under house arrest, with ever so brief periods of temporary liberty, these past 20 years. The junta has been adding trumped up charges against her through the years. Her allies have not been much luckier.

Except China, the socialist-Buddhist Burmese military leaders’ friend and supporter, and of late India, virtually all the countries of the world have been begging the Burmese junta to free Aung San Suu Kyi, to give back the Burmese people their political and economic freedoms and allow them to exercise their basic human rights. Their pleas, and the entreaties of UN and Asean envoys, have fallen on deaf ears.

Nargis bared junta’s self-serving cruelty
Through the years, most Burma watchers—seeing Aung San Suu Kyi’s oppression and the generals’ cruelty to their own people—have come to despise the military junta. This sentiment grew in the aftermath of the catastrophic Cyclone Nargis in 2008.

Nargis destroyed much of Burma’s Irrawaddy Delta and areas of the capital Rangoon (which the generals now call Yangon), lands and people so beautiful and romantic in the stories, novels and poems of Rudyard Kipling and George Orwell. The 160-kilometer winds and heavy rains killed more than 140,000 and destroyed the crops. There was a humanitarian disaster.

The military junta did nothing to rescue the victims. And when planeloads and shiploads of aid came from the rest of mankind, the junta refused to let food, medicine and supplies to be taken by Red Cross and other aid workers to the starving, injured, and homeless Burmese people. The generals were afraid that the foreign bearers of rescue and food packages would turn out to be like Greeks in the Trojan horse.

Elections before end of 2010 a PR exercise
On Thursday, the head and co-founder a new pro-democracy party that was formed to participate in elections Burma’s dictators promised to hold before the end of the year, resigned. Phyo Min Thein, who had been imprisoned for 15 years for joining the bloody 1988 uprising, said, “I do not believe the coming elections will be free and fair.”

What he belatedly came to realize was what wiser and less optimistic pro-democracy Burmese knew at once on reading the so-called “democratic constitution” the junta had prepared for the country. The election rules released last March and the appointment of an untrustworthy set of officials to serve as election commissioners sealed the decision of Aung Sun Suu Kyi and her NLD members not to participate in the election.

What made it obvious that the coming election was nothing more than a public relations gimmick was the junta’s rule that people who have been convicted by the junta of crimes, like Aung San Suu Kyi herself, are disqualified from running for office. This was the generals’ way of making sure Suu Kyi would not ever come out again as the Burmese people’s chosen leader.

On top of these rules obviously skewed against the opposition parties, the junta also did something to make their political party the sure winner. There is in Burma a junta-approved mass-based welfare society, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA). It has 24 to 26 million members. It is the body through which services and doles from the government get to the poor—meaning the members. The generals recently formed a political party called the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). The USDA and the USDP were merged, with the social welfare society being subsumed in the political party.

This is the junta’s way of dominating the election. This made foreign observers—the Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, various European and Asian organizations—condemn the coming elections as nothing but a farce.

“The morphing of Burma’s largest mass-based organization with the military’s political party is a brazen if predictable distortion of the electoral process,” said Elaine Pearson, acting Asia director at Human Rights Watch, last month. “The future of military rule is being shamelessly scripted and played out before our eyes.”

USDA-USDP and the Ton-ton Macout
Human Rights Watch says the military junta has long used the USDA for partisan political purposes. Since the 1990s USDA members have been marching and demonstrating throughout the country. They deliver speeches denouncing Aun San Suu Kyi and the NLD and other opposition parties. They attack the United States, the International Labor Organization and of course extol the virtues of the generals. Burma’s Senior General Tan Shwe is the USDA’s main patron. Its secretary general is U Htay Oo, a retired general who is now the minister for agriculture and irrigation.

The USDA carried out violent attacks on Aung San Suu Kyi in 1996 and 1997. It launched violent mob action against a National League for Democracy motorcade in May 2003. Scores died in that attack. During peaceful demonstrations in August and September 2007, USDA thugs intimidated the pro-democracy protestors. The USDA, now merged with the USDP, joined junta security forces that violently cracked down on Buddhist monks perceived to be anti-government in September 2007.

Doesn’t this remind one of the Ton-Ton Macout in the Duvaliers’ Haiti?

Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD loyalists are right. The election is meant to give the world the false impression that democracy has returned to Burma.

The Philippines, alone, if fellow Asean countries do not wish to take risks, must help intensify international pressure on Burma’s junta, keep on urging it to release political prisoners and enter into an honest dialogue to achieve reconciliation with the opposition. The aim is to make Burma a normal and beautiful nation again.

The manila Times

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