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Saturday, February 25, 2012
Upcoming Burma "by-election" already not "F and F"
Peace Rose, photograph Copyright Kyi May Kaung
Upcoming Burma election already not free or fair
Saturday, February 25, 2012 11:47 AM
--- On Sat, 2/25/12, free burma wrote:
From: free burma
Subject: Upcoming Burma election already not free or fair
Date: Saturday, February 25, 2012, 11:35 AM
Contact: Roland Watson, firstname.lastname@example.org
UPCOMING BURMA ELECTION ALREADY NOT FREE OR FAIR
February 25, 2012
Burma is holding a by-election on April 1st for forty-eight seats in
Parliament (just over 10%). International observers view this as a
significant benchmark in the country’s supposed reform to democracy. Both
the U.S. and the E.U. have ended some of their sanctions, with the promise
that more will be eliminated if the election is free and fair.
The judgment of free and fair, however, does not apply only to what
happens on election day. It is the entire process that must be appraised,
starting with the freedom of the candidates to campaign and to speak their
mind. Considering the steps that the military-backed regime has thus far
taken, the upcoming election is already fatally flawed.
Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been campaigning throughout
Burma. On a number of occasions she has been denied permission to use
sports stadiums to hold rallies, with the result that she could not speak
freely to local constituencies.
Much more importantly, though, and which few commentators have noticed,
the regime continues to enforce the requirement (Union Election Committee
notification No. 91/2010, imposed in advance of the fraudulent 2010
national election) that speeches by candidates must be pre-approved, and
that they cannot “criticize the constitution, tarnish the image of the
state or the military, or harm security.” Among other provisions,
candidates have to anticipate the size of the crowds to which they will
speak, and take responsibility for them. It is not permitted to shout
(Notification No. 91/2010 has also just been reinforced by an election
commission statement on February 17, which applies the same provisions to
radio and TV broadcasts.)
In late January Daw Suu did in fact criticize the 2008 Constitution, and
it was just after this that reminders of the requirement began to appear
in pro-regime media. A careful read of this notice makes it clear that
candidates cannot criticize or even comment upon, without fear of arrest
or being banned from the election, the most important issues facing the
country. It is notable that Daw Suu ceased talking about the Constitution
after the notification was publicized. (She changed her focus to “jobs.”)
It appears that she is censoring herself: Bending over backward so as not
to anger the regime.
Alternatively, she may have made a tactical retreat, and will speak
strongly on these subjects once in Parliament. Only time will tell. (It is
difficult to see, though, why the regime will become more tolerant.)
Regardless of what Daw Suu ultimately ends up doing, if the candidates do
not have freedom of speech, or freedom of assembly with voters, then the
election is neither free nor fair. It doers not matter what happens on
April 1st. The election is already discredited.
This is not the only condemnation that can be made. Even though there is
still a month to go, the regime has taken the following dishonest actions:
After free speech and freedom of assembly, probably the most important
factor for an election is freedom of the press. Notwithstanding some minor
changes in the application of current press laws, e.g., images of Daw Suu
can be shown, nothing material has changed. (Consideration of a new press
law has been postponed until after the election.) Burma has an extremely
repressive press environment. Journalists, like the candidates, are
forbidden from discussing the country’s most important problems, including
the Constitution, the on-going civil war and Burma Army atrocities, theft
of land from villagers and bribery and corruption in development projects,
And, along with the refusal to allow the use of sports stadiums, there is
a growing list of other types of “dirty tricks.” Pro-regime militia in
Shan State have ordered villagers to vote for the military party, the
USDP. In the Irrawaddy region, local officials have been warned that they
will be forced to resign if the USDP does not win. There are also reports
of similar threats in the Dawei area, as well as demands by government
officials there that the polls themselves be manipulated, i.e., rigged.
Considering all of this, and again with the proviso that there is still
one month to go, we can already conclude that the vote will not be free or
fair. While it might not be as openly fraudulent as the 2010 general
election, and while most if not all NLD candidates will probably win their
seats, the process by which this occurs will fail to meet democratic
However, the anti-sanctions crowd, starting with the E.U., will no doubt
ignore this and instead argue that since the NLD won that is all that is
required. The end is important, not the means. It is interesting that the
E.U. has said election monitors are not necessary. This, though, is not
linked to a belief that there will be no problems at the polls. Rather,
Europe, which is determined that sanctions end and massive development
proceed, is itself trying to censor news of poll irregularities that would
force it to delay or even terminate its anti-sanctions drive.
Other repression in Burma
The idea that free elections justify ending the sanctions is based on an
implied assumption that other conditions in the country are satisfactory.
As the following list makes clear, other than ingratiating itself with Daw
Suu and the International Community, Burma’s military regime is still as
tyrannical as ever.
The first issue here is not only freedom of speech for candidates, but for
ordinary people as well. The monk Ashin Gambira was detained and is now
being charged, reportedly for entering a locked monastery. But U Gambira
has been outspoken about the lack of real democracy in Burma, how many
monks are still being held as political prisoners, and how monasteries
remain closed, now some four and a half years after the Saffron uprising.
Similarly, another prominent monk, Ashin Pyinnyar Thiha, has been banned
from preaching. Moreover, all of this has been accepted by the elders of
Burma’s Buddhist council, the Maha Nayaka, who are blocking the
re-ordination of the monks who have been released, and who seem determined
to continue their long-standing support of the military regime.
Of course, even though many prominent political prisoners have been
released, one thousand or more prisoners of conscience remain. Indeed, it
is astonishing that the NLD has disputed the assessed totals of political
prisoners tracked by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners
(Burma), which has assiduously worked to identify and help them and their
families since 2000. Not every political prisoner is a recognized
dissident. Villagers who stand up for their rights and are then arrested
are political prisoners as well, as are any individuals who are detained
by the regime for any reason other than overt criminal activity.
The fact that Burma has so many political prisoners destroys the argument
that the NLD winning a few seats in Parliament will signal that democracy
is truly on its way.
The most pressing problem, though, is the continued Civil War. It is
impossible to accept that the by-election has positive significance when
the regime continues to attack the ethnic minorities of the country. Thein
Sein ordered the Tatmadaw to cease and desist, but the commanders have
refused. Some commentators blame rogue generals - hardliners - saying that
a power struggle is underway. More seasoned analysts, though, argue that
the entire presentation is a charade. Thein Sein is a hardliner as well:
Everyone in the regime, including in the Tatmadaw and Parliament, is a
hardliner. All that is occurring is a sophisticated good cop/bad cop
presentation, orchestrated by the only person in Burma who has real power,
Senior General Than Shwe. The puppet theater is being used to mollify
regime opponents, and to provide support to regime apologists including
Asean, the E.U., international corporations, biased academics and retired
diplomats, and business press such as the Financial Times. The surface
objective is to get the U.S. to end its sanctions, but the deeper goal is
to create a drawn-out pseudo-democratic transition - commercial
development before political change - that ensures that the generals and
their cronies own all of the significant business interests in Burma, that
such interests can never be seized, and, most critically, that they will
never be tried for war crimes and other human rights abuses.
Right now the regime is fighting the Kachin Independence Army in Kachin
State and northern Shan State, the Shan State Army in southern Shan State,
the Karenni Army in Karenni State, and both the Karen National Union and
Democratic Karen Buddhist Army in Karen State and Tenassarim Division.
(Even though the conflict has died down in a few areas, it can re-ignite
at any time. The word out of Karen State is that Tatmadaw troops are
acting like conquerers, and preparing for future offensives.)
All of this fighting has been accompanied by Burma Army-perpetrated human
rights violations. Villages have been bombed and women have been raped,
for the latter most recently at the Kachin front and in Karenni State.
Many ethnic villagers have been detained. Returning to an earlier point,
they are all political prisoners, as is KNU leader Mahn Nyein Maung.
Indeed, the women who are known to be being held as sex slaves by Burma
Army units at the Kachin front, and forced to undergo gang rapes every
night, are the most persecuted individuals in the entire country. I would
argue that their freedom is actually the most important issue in Burma. It
is intolerable that anyone would be subjected to such unspeakable torture.
The by-election should not even be held until their whereabouts are
determined and they are freed, using whatever level of force is required.
The regime has responded to this by saying that it will not allow an
inquiry into its atrocities in the ethnic areas, and further that its war
with the Kachin may last three more years. The former is deplorable (as is
the U.N.’s refusal to investigate), and the latter is ridiculous,
considering that it is the Tatmadaw itself which is wholly responsible for
the conflict. The generals are basically saying, we will continue to
attack the Kachin for at least the next three years, or, more practically,
until we defeat the KIA and our Chinese allies can restart the Myitsone
The only acceptable response is that the Tatmadaw immediately cease its
offensives and dismantle all its camps in the ethnic areas. To local
villagers these camps are terrorist outposts, akin to al-Qaeda camps.
There is no solution to the conflict other than their complete removal.
Earlier this month, Daw Suu said that Europe and the U.S. should delay
their decisions about the sanctions until after the by-election. She
should in no way certify the regime’s fraud. Even more, she should stick
to the position that the sanctions not be eliminated, or even reduced,
until the Tatmadaw stops its war of aggression against Burma’s ethnic
minorities, and frees all the political prisoners.