Burma’s military democracy
The new legislative season is soon to start in many legislatures around the world. Yet in many countries Parliaments will not be convened because they simply do not exist. Burma (officially Myanmar) is one of these countries where a military junta illegitimately decides what is good and bad on behalf of the 50 million citizens. The Junta is calling elections on 7 November 2010 – the first since 1990. Can we believe that this time it will lead to democracy and expression of free people’s will ?
Earlier this month the military leadership fixed the date for the elections envisaged in the new constitution from 2008. But this is hardly promising for the Burmese. Once among the richest nations in East Asia and the biggest exporter of rice in the world, now this is one of the most impoverished country in the world and over 90% of the population live on less than 60 cents a day. Thousands have been dissenters to the political regime have been imprisoned and thousands killed during protests over the years. Not to mentions the hundreds of thousands people deported from the country on the basis of ethnic and religious differences or the estimated 800 000 forced labourers. But after brutally suppressing the Buddhist monks’ peaceful protests in 2007, the Junta decided to take a democratic course and hold elections. I am asking myself how people with such thinking can organise elections ?
This is how – according to the set of election laws, no prisoners (read political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi) can take part in the elections, even though PM Thein Sein had announced that there will be a general amnesty before the elections. An electoral commission with 17 members chosen by the Junta will have the last say about the election results. Then if this is not enough, 25% of the seats in both the lower and the upper house are reserved for the military. And even after this, a reformist majority succeeds, the military reserves its control over the ministries of the justice, defence and interior ministries.
Then we all expect that a true democracy will immediately spring from Burma, after 48 years of authoritarian rule. After 1968’s coup d’etat a one part system was imposed with the only party being the Socialist Program Party which followed the “Burmese socialist way”. This devastate the economy and lead to great social, ethnic and religious tension. After protests in 1988 a military junta seized power and organised elections in 1990 won by Suun Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD took 392 out if 492 seats). The Junta did not like this and stayed on power, dissolving the NLD, arresting its leaders and continuing the brutal suppressions from the previous decades for 20 more years.
In theory, Burma has now the chance to break with its socialist and military past after half a century of unaccountable and brutal rule. But the election rules are a mockery and even if they were not, one would hardly believe that the democratic movement will be given a real chance. Maybe some sort of “Burmese military Democracy” or “Burmese democratic way” will emerge with the elections as the first facade for the ancient regime.
Yet there is a chance, I think. And it is all democratic nations to realize that by strongly supporting the people of Burma and their democratic movement, they can expand the currently narrow margins for democracy. This time, unlike in 1989 everyone knows that there will be elections, and the old regime will try and transform its political power into economic one by openly holding the main control mechanisms of the country, such as legal system, police and army (and secretly holding many others). We also know that it is one country and not the whole Eastern Europe and the collapsing Yugoslavia and USSR. I strongly hope that the forthcoming discussions in the UN General Assembly will give more visibility to this issue and media and diplomats will not spare time trying to open the black box of Burmese military dictatorship.