Burmese junta already manipulating upcoming poll

Burma’s strongman, General Than Shwe, was more than happy to confirm that there will be an election in his country this year. The problem is, and will remain for the foreseeable future, the lack of a clear timeline for when the election will be held. Furthermore, none of the necessary laws and measures to make the upcoming poll transparent, free and fair have not been enacted.

The US State Department has made these points clearly, saying: “We have not seen any meaningful steps by the regime to indicate it is putting in place measures that would lead to credible elections. Much of the opposition’s leadership remains in prison, there is no space for political dissent or debate, and no freedom of the press. We continue to urge the Burmese government to address these issues and to engage (the main opposition leader) Aung San Suu Kyi and the democratic opposition, ethnic leaders and other stakeholders in a comprehensive dialogue on democratic reform. This would be a first step towards inclusive elections.”

Despite such a strong international appeal, the military regime is still stubborn. Obviously, the junta wants to ensure victory in the election because it would be disastrous if it loses again. In May 1990, the junta cheated in the polls and won by a supposed landslide against the opposition National League for Democracy, led by Suu Kyi. So, the regime will not make the same mistakes again. The reason for keeping a tight rein over the election date is purely tactical. The announcement will be made when the junta’s handpicked cronies are ready to enter the race. The suspicion is that the election could be held late in the second half of the year, toward the third quarter. The contracts that international humanitarian and relief organisations have with the regime will end in June this year. Renewal of these contracts is not expected. It would take a few weeks for all of their representatives to leave the country. And this is what the junta wants. To hold an election under the watchful eyes of foreign representatives would be a catastrophe.

The regime wants to transform the international relief efforts into votes for it or its surrogates, especially in the area of the Irrawaddy Delta, which was hard-hit by Cyclone Nargis in May 2008. This will not be easy, as these Burmese villagers are now more independent in helping themselves, with some direct assistance from abroad. The role of the burgeoning village-based civil groups, although they are still nascent, could be influential in determining the future of the Burmese junta. The regime is monitoring the activities of local community leaders to prevent any upheaval in the future.

The regime also wants to use the timing to disarm the opposition, including minority groups that have adopted plans to contest the poll. The National League for Democracy, for example, has complained that its representatives are not allowed to hold meetings. Suu Kyi informed top US diplomats of her political plight when they visited her in early November last year.

The regime must come clean on the election. The US and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Burma is a member, have called for an inclusive election that will allow all stakeholders to partake in the political process. So far, the regime has been evasive in its response. It’s the same old story of tactical delays.

Of course, after the election there could be dire consequences. After all, everybody can read the tea-leaves. The generals will likely behave as despicably as they always have, closing all loopholes that might jeopardise them in any way. The outcome could affect the Burmese people as never before. If there is obvious rigging of results, the people might not accept the outcome, and that could lead to the same kind of chaos as in 1988 and 1990. The people have been pushed too far already.

Editorial Desk
The Nation (Thailand)
Publication Date: 07-01-2010

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s