Archive for the ‘Burma’ Category
As expected, the November 7 parliamentary election in Burma was marred by fraud, eliciting condemnation from Burmese citizens and observers, election monitors, citizens in exile, Western governments, some Asian governments like the Philippines and Japan, and the United Nations.
Burmese media outlet in-exile The Irrawaddy enumerated some of the types of irregularities and fraud that took place on election day, as reported by citizens, reporters, and observers under cover: ballot stuffing, lack of secrecy in voting, faulty voters’ lists, unsealed or poorly secured ballot boxes, polling station officers’ bias (telling voters to vote for candidates belonging to the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party — USDP), illegal campaign, party members serving as polling station officers, proxy voting, violence and intimidation. Citizens reported that local officials supporting USDP had been collecting advance votes prior to election day, threatening people that they would lose their jobs or source of livelihood if they do not vote for USDP. These officials also reportedly forced individuals to change their votes if they voted for the opposition. Candidates also reportedly ticked ballots themselves.
Prior to polling day, the election had already been criticized for excluding many ethnic areas deemed critical of the junta. Oppositionists like Aung San Suu Kyi remain in detention and were not allowed to contest the election. International media and election observers were also barred from monitoring the election inside the country. The November 7 election has been generally viewed by citizens and Burma observers as a way to give a false sheen of democracy to a military junta keen on perpetuating its rule and further entrenching itself into Burmese society.
Unrest has been brewing since the lead-up to the polls. On November 5, leaders of six ethnic armies met in Thailand to forge an alliance, agreeing to fight together against the Burmese Army if one of them is attacked by the junta. This stemmed from their refusal to lay down their arms and agree to the demand of the junta to dismantle and join Myanmar’s “Border Guard Force” (BGF). The different ethnic groups have been fighting against the central Burmese government for decades to grant them independence or autonomy, in accordance with the 1947 Panglong Agreement they signed — initiated by General Aung San (Suu Kyi’s father) — which essentially created the country of Burma. (Aung San had since been assassinated, and the Agreement ignored by the central government). Most of them were on ceasefire status with the government, until the deadline to dismantle had passed and the junta started to label one of the ethnic armies, the popular Kachin Independent Army (KIA) as “insurgents,” sparking fears of imminent attack.
Yesterday, November 8, fighting broke out between the Burmese Army and a faction of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) (itself a splinter group from the Karen National Union which is party to the ethnic alliance) at the Thai/Burma border in Myawaddy. Several people reportedly have already been killed or injured, while at least 5,000 refugees have started to pour into the Thai border town of Mae Sot, already home to thousands of Burmese refugees. The DKBA faction, which initiated the attack on government facilities, said this is in reaction to the junta’s decree to dismantle and join the BGF, and the unfairness of the electoral process. The KIA already said they are on high alert, although none of the members of the newly formed alliance have expressed that they will join the DKBA group in fighting against the Burmese Army.
The November 7 parliamentary election in Burma (Myanmar) has been getting opposing opinions from both local and international organizations and governments even before the date of the election was announced by Myanmar’s ruling military junta in August 2010.
Many are calling the election a sham because, as required by the country’s new constitution — drafted by delegates handpicked by the junta and approved through a referendum in 2008 — 25% of all seats will be reserved for the military; government departments shall be headed by individuals with military background; and any amendments to the constitution shall have to be approved by at least 75% of legislators. Furthermore, many political parties from non-Burman ethnic groups, and especially opposition leaders, most notably democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, are not allowed to contest the elections. The military junta dissolved Suu Kyi’s party, which has then split into two factions (for and against contesting the election). Foreign media as well as international observers will not be allowed to monitor the election. Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, won an overwhelming victory in Burma’s 1990 polls — the last time the country had an election. The junta had since ignored the results and locked up Suu Kyi and her party mates. Many of those who are calling for a boycott both from outside Burma, as well as inside (at the risk of being harassed by the military), believe that the 2010 election would effectively nullify the results of the 1990 election, which has been officially recognized by Western governments. The U.S. and other countries have since imposed sanctions against the Burmese government, and have not ceased calling for international pressure on Myanmar to free its political prisoners and to democratise.
Still, some believe that Myanmar should be allowed to hold its election on its own terms, and view the election as one step towards eventual democracy, however unlikely it would be in the short term. They also view the election as one concrete way in which civilians are actually given the rare chance to participate and possibly win seats, however advantageous the constitution is to the military and to the perpetuation of military rule. Some analysts have even said that with the election comes a new government, which would eventually abolish the contentious constitution of 2008 (as Myanmar has consistently experienced in its recent history) and possibly lead to a better form of government.
In the just concluded ASEAN summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, President Aquino called for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, a strong statement from an Asian government, especially from the ASEAN. However, the Burmese prime minister reportedly did not make a commitment on the matter. In a press briefing, presidential communications group Secretary Ricky Carandang told reporters, “It is disappointing not just for the Philippines, I think, but for many of the ASEAN neighbors, many people in the international community. They would’ve viewed the release of Aung San Suu Kyi as a clear indication that the government of Myanmar was serious in taking steps on its roadmap to democracy. The lack of commitment on that was disappointing to the President.” (PDI) In an earlier interview, Philippine foreign affairs secretary Alberto Romulo called the coming election “a farce.” Even before the summit, the Philippine government has already stated that the election could be considered free and fair only if it would include not only the opposition leaders but also political parties from the country’s other ethnic groups. This is consistent with the United Nation’s recent calls for Burma to free Suu Kyi and the rest of the more than 2,000 political prisoners before the polls, and allow them to contest the election. “Without releasing all political prisoners, then there may certainly be some issue of legitimacy or credibility,” UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said in a recent interview in Phnom Penh. In the ASEAN summit, Carandang also said that President Aquino offered to share with Burma the Philippines’ experiences in transitioning to democracy, citing Filipinos’ peaceful moves to a democratic government. Carandang also told the press that the Burmese prime minister also said that Myanmar was willing to accept observers to its elections. The Philippines has not decided whether to send observers. According to another report, only the foreign embassies and missions already in Myanmar could be allowed to send up to five observers to observe polling stations, upon prior approval by the military government.
NAMFREL as an election monitoring organization believes that Myanmar’s election laws are not conducive to internationally accepted conditions for proper election monitoring and observation. In August, NAMFREL and 10 other election monitoring organizations in the region under the banner of the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL), released a statement questioning the unfair practices in the electoral process of Burma, and concluding that the coming election “may not be acceptable to the international community since every single development in Burma provides a strong indication of the fact that the military junta is doing all but to hold a democratic election.” In line with the Philippine government’s stand, NAMFREL encourages the Myanmar government to adhere to the internationally-accepted principles of free and fair election to lend credibility to their proposed road map to democracy and to ensure participation of all ethnic and opposition groups. NAMFREL would also be willing to support efforts by the Philippine government to assist Myanmar in its transition to democracy. NAMFREL is cognizant that any change should come from within the country and with the participation of the military as also reportedly acknowledged by Aung San Suu Kyi herself. As a nation that has struggled through the pains of democratization after years of military control, the Filipinos, we believe, would be in a position to lend a hand in a show of solidarity with our Asian neighbors.