Is There Any Hope of “free and fair” 2010 election in Burma?

By Kyaw Hla

“A 70-year-old Arakanese Rohingya politician, Mr. AFK Jilani, the organizer of The National League for Democracy (NLD) for all of Arakan State, is calling for “free and fair elections in Burma in 2010 and transparency…”

A 70-year-old Arakanese Rohingya politician, Mr. AFK Jilani, the organizer of The National League for Democracy (NLD) for all of Arakan State, is calling for “free and fair elections in Burma in 2010 and transparency in the electoral process”.

AFK-Jilani

AFK JilaniBut, he told Kaladan Press recently it will not be free and fair unless the military government ceases attacks against ethnic groups and reviews the 2008 constitution before the election is held.

“Everybody wants democracy and to live peacefully, who dearly loves their country”, he said.

“It is a good chance to vote in Burma again after 20 long years. Something is better than nothing, according to the common people.”

He believes over 50 percent of the eligible population will vote.

Many registered political parties were banned by the ruling military junta. But, others, including the National League for Democracy (NLD), the National Unity Party (NUP) and the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) were not banned, Mr. Jilani said.
“I hope that NLD party will participate in 2010 elections. They are very eager to exercise their franchise right, but, the party has demanded the military regime amend the 2008 constitution and to release all political prisoners including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi before the elections.”

But, he noted Senior General Than Shwe said that the 2008 constitution will not be changed. If that is the case, the NLD party may not participate in the election.

And, he believes the junta is determined not to lose the elections and will use any means possible to win.

“Without the NLD party’s participation, the elections will not be free, fair and transparent   It is all depends on Sr. Gen. Than Shwe”, he said.

“Without amendments to the 2008 constitution, 25 percent of army personnel will automatically become members of parliament and other pro-government people will participate in the elections as well. Civilians will be forced to vote for the junta’s supporting party and the President and Army Chief will become from army personnel or their supporters,” he said.

“According to the 2008 constitution, the military regime wants disciplined democracy, but, power is going from the top down. An autocrat democratic government will not be able to solve the political issues going on in Burma and also the ethnic conflicts will continue,” he added.

He predicts the ruling military junta’s National United Party (NUP) will nominate candidates from the government side. Some Independent parties will also nominate candidates.

“The Burmese military regime keeps information secret, but, exposes it to their supporters. We can get information from local people. We do not know exactly what the election law is, so far. The government does not want to be defeated again like the 1990 election”, he added.

“The situation on Burma could change if the military government does win, in that, the ruling party’s power could decrease and some minority groups will get some concessions from the government side,” he said.

“The 2010 election will bring a transition period in Burma. But, the new government will directly or indirectly be controlled by military. One significant implication will be that the 1990 general election result will become bygone history”, he added.

He said the previous election, held on May 27, 1990, was free and fair, but, the military regime learned a lesson from that election, in which it was completely defeated.

Therefore, he feels the junta will not allow opposition parties the same freedom to campaign without restrictions in the upcoming elections.

“Earlier, I voted for the NLD party. I was an NLD candidate from Maungdaw South constituency and am still I am an active member of the NLD,” he said.

“I voted in 1990 election with great hope for the restoration of democracy, human rights and rule of law in Burma. I think more than 60 percent voted in the 1990 election. The NLD got 382 seats and won. However, the Burmese junta never handed over power to the winning party. They seized power from the elected government in 1962 under the pretext of ethnic nationalities demanding a federal system of government.

If the international community is sincere and serious about finding a solution to Burma’s political problems, it should compel the junta to restore democracy, human rights and free and fair and inclusive elections in 2010.  There are ways to bring down or convince the military generals.”

An elder from Maugdaw Township said in mobile phone interview, “The 2010 election will not be free and fair because they organized the Village Peace and Development Council (VPDC), with members including educated persons, religious leaders, Buddhist monks and villagers in Maundaw Township. The concerned authorities also gave some advantages to these people. It is just for show to the international community. So, I think, the government will be successful in 2010 elections.”

In a brief entitled “2010 elections: A Recipe for Continued Conflict,” a Regional Human Rights Network, called Altsean-Burma, states that the regime’s preparations for 2010 have already had serious human security impacts in the region-increasing crimes against humanity.

“The Burmese junta’s proposed 2010 elections, the first step in activating the 2008 constitution, will have disastrous impacts on Burma and the region,” ALTSEAN said in a Media Release in October, 2009.

The eleven page brief reveals serious concerns over the possible conduct of the 2010 elections which are likely to disenfranchise an estimated 1.9 million voters.
It also outlines the serious flaws in the 2008 constitution that will intensify the root causes of conflict that has plagued Burma.

Some human rights advocates fear that the 2010 elections will not be “free and fair” and just a way for the military to extend its power.

Mr. Aman Ullah (59), General Secretary of Arakan Rohingya National Organization (ARNO), the main political party of the Rohingya people, said  that the 2010 election is a mockery because the SPDC’s plan is based on a constitution that will legalize dictatorship through a civilian front and a rubber-stamp Parliament to do its bidding. This Constitution reserved substantial blocs of seats in the national and local legislatures for the army, creating a strong new national defense and Security Council and vesting extraordinary powers in the Commander-in-Chief.

“It is only because they want   to secure their rule, to immune their crimes and to protect their property acquired through illegal means. It is a clear indication that the military junta is not ready for change. The 2010 elections will lead nowhere; rather, it will further deteriorate the country’s socio-economic and political situation. Moreover, a free, fair and inclusive constitution making process should be reflected the will of the people, which shall be the basis of the authority of government. But the constitution making process was controlled absolutely by that sham National Convention. No public meetings on the constitution were allowed, no suggestions from the people were collected and no comments from the people were printed in the media. Criticism of the convention is banned by a 1996 order that carries a penalty of twenty years’ imprisonment. Therefore, the 2010 election does not seem to be free and fair.

It is confirmed that 2008 referendum is the rehearsal for the 2010 election. The 2008 referendum was held in the midst of the humanitarian emergency created by Cyclone Nargis, in which those trying to organize a “No Vote” were harassed, arrested or beaten up. The rigged referendum delivered an unbelievable result of “92 percent” in favor. Freely voting for the people is still in question,” he said.

“The SPDC may possibly try their best not to release the political prisoners including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The SPDC does not want Daw Suu to play a role in the election in2010. Perhaps they may consider it when there is no alternative left for them.

The SPDC never want to change and will never change the constitution. Maybe some adjustment will be made.  But it is not for some democratic provisions of the constitution or the holding of inclusive free and fair elections under international supervision. Rather it may be for their own purposes because in the 2008 constitution one of the biggest unanswered questions is what will happen to the current top leaders after the elections. To ensure their positions, their security and interests there may likely some alteration.

Most observers have felt that the elections will probably be held no later than May 2010, before the annual monsoon rains. I think it may be in November or December. The Laws and regulations on the elections and registration of political parties have not yet been promulgated.  For the 1990 elections, the political party registration law was promulgated twenty months before the elections, and the election law twelve months before. If the same timeframe was to be followed this time, the political party law should have been promulgated in April and the election law in December 2009 respectively, to meet a 2010 timeframe. Both laws are yet to be released. The longer this key legislation is delayed, the more plausible the argument that an “ambush” strategy is being considered. Much depends on when in 2010 the authorities plan to hold the elections. It seems likely they wish to have certain preparations in place, including candidate lists for their preferred party or parties, before issuing the electoral laws.”

After analyzing these interviews, I am of the opinion the Burmese military ruling junta will prevent free and fair elections by using their own rules and regulations to their advantage. Therefore, I doubt the ruling junta will ever hand over power to any other party and the ethnic problems will not be solved and the Burma will go deeply into chaos.

Kyaw Hla, reporter with Kaladan Press Network (KPN), based in Chittagong, Bangladesh.

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