Upcoming Myanmar poll not for home democracy

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The military regime clearly aims to continue to grip onto power and shows no real intention to build a genuine democracy, observes John Smith Thang.

 

After Myanmar’s military regime was closely scrutinised by the international community earlier this year, on 8 March, it finally came out with an election law and election commission for the upcoming general elections, anticipated to be held later this year.

This election will be the first in 20 years since the last one held in 1990, won by the National League for Democracy. The NLD was not allowed to form a civilian government leaving Burma under military dictatorship till today.

Similarly, Myanmar’s last civilian government lasted from 1948 and ended in 1962, when a military coup led by General Ne Win seized power.  Since then, technically, Myanmar has had no civilian government – for nearly half a century! 

After pressure from the international community, the military regime has made only slight progress in democratisation of the country. The UN General Assembly’s Third Committee passed a resolution on Myanmar’s human rights violations last year. This coincided with the adoption and approval of an Asean human rights body in the same year. Hopefully, this body will be able to monitor and pressure the military regime on its human rights violations within this regional bloc.

US Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Kurt M Campbell’s visits to Myanmar last year and on 9-10 May this year appear to be the only US engagement with Myanmar’s military regime  under the Obama administration’s policy for the democratisation of Myanmar.

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On the other hand, China also has grave concerns regarding its border with Myanmar after the conflict last year between Myanmar military troops and the Han Chinese Kokan ethnic community. Myanmar troops pushed out Han Chinese Kokan ethnics from the northern Shan state territory and intruded into Chinese territory over the border, souring China-Myanmar diplomatic relations.

No real intention

In these politically uncomfortable circumstances, the military regime has to show some progress in its flawed seven-step road-map for democratisation.  As an international showcase, the junta government recently appointed hand-picked election commissioners for the upcoming general election; besides adopting a flawed constitution earlier in 2008, amidst the cyclone Nargis disaster – which killed thousands of  Myanmar citizens, not helped by the government’s callous and irresponsible response. .

This hastily adopted constitution boldly states that 25 per cent of parliamentary seats must be given directly to the military. 

Among the regime’s hand-picked election commissioners is Deputy Supreme Court Judge Thein Soe, Chairman of the Election Commission and who is on the EU’s sanctions blacklist. Most of the Election Commission’s executive members are very close to the junta leaders and almost none of the ethnic minority representatives are included.  Again these election laws already bar Nobel Peace laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her party from participating in elections.

Although under pressure by the international community, the regime deliberately chooses to move ahead unilaterally with the upcoming general election.

Clearly the military regime aims to continue to grip onto power and shows no real intention to build a genuine democracy.  Neither is it concerned about the root causes of the problems faced by the country’s ethnic minority. Nor does it want to serve the general civilian population in the country. The motive of the election is certainly not for domestic democratisation.

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An ethnic leader, U Aye Tha Aung, told Kurt M. Campbell during his visit to Myanmar, that he never believed the election to be a solution to Myanmar’s problems. Similarly most Myanmar people don’t believe the regime will solve the country’s crisis.

Rather Myanmar will become a threat to the region by potentially developing a nuclear weapon.  In April, a vessel from North Korea was found docked in Myanmar’s Thilawar Port near Rangoon suspected to be carrying nuclear arms cargo.  If true, this will be a violation of UN Security Council Resolution No. 1874; making Myanmar deserving of international condemnation. Moreover, it is suspected that Myanmar has been importing nuclear weapons technology from North Korea overland via China, according to the South Korea news agency Chosun Ilbo.

It is a challenge to the United States to maintain the right to take independent action, as Kurt M Campbell said.  At the same time, Asian nations and the international community must be staunchly supportive in this matter. The military regime is not concerned about domestic problems it largely leaves on the shoulders of the international community.

John Smith Thang is director of the Chin Democracy and Human Rights Network based in South Korea. He can be reached at cdhrn.kr@gmail.com.

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