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ျမန္မာစာမ်က္ႏွာ | Myanmar Peace Monitor
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Burma’s 2010 elections reveal ugly truths

Burma’s military junta is enjoying being a media celebrity in the build-up to elections it previously announced would be held at the end of this year in an attempt to....

Burma’s military junta is enjoying being a media celebrity in the build-up to elections it previously announced would be held at the end of this year in an attempt to “guide flourishing democracy”. With the people of Burma lacking freedom for five decades and experiencing so many wrongs since 1990, the mere advertisement of an election would seem an easy sell. But the fundamental question is – when will the generals hand over power to a fairly elected government? The logical answer appears to be not any time soon.

Most of Burma’s neighbors on balance seem to prefer the outcome of the election bring a new government to Burma. Yet, no developments are convincing in the purported move toward democracy and peace, as the junta has unilaterally pushed their will upon the people. Nonetheless, not to be discouraged, the generals are marketing their election in the international arena, in particular during the countless meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Recently, some 22 military generals retired from their posts in order to contest the elections as civilians.

The major problem with this election is the prohibition of public assembly and freedom of speech while thousands of pro-democracy activists remain behind bars and millions of ethnic minorities remain denied their basic rights. On top of this, almost all of the state’s media outlets serve as spin-doctors for the junta’s views and position. And for good measure, international election monitoring teams and journalists have been denied entry into the country. In this type of environment, it is certain that there will be no free and fair election in Burma under the military’s watchful eye.

Political parties sprouting up to contest in the polling are in the short-term spoiled by the attention afforded them by exile media groups. Yet, in the long-term the political picture reflects a typical scene. While the mood of the people to the election is difficult to discern due to a lack of freedom, nobody running for office has as of yet developed any significant policies. Party leaders must develop and promote social, economic and political policies rather than merely parroting rhetorical statements and references to models of quasi-democracy. And what of the supposed ‘third force’? These chameleons have not brought to the table any new policies either, instead simply bowing to the generals’ will.

Moreover, there is no clear timeframe or procedure to hand over power after the election. While contestants are obligated to follow the commands of Senior General Than Shwe, no one knows what will happen next, let alone when the election will happen and how minority parties will line up against the regime.

What the generals do without question believe is that they can sell their brand of democracy to neighboring countries, especially China, India, Thailand, Singapore and other ASEAN states. And they may well be correct. As long as gas, teak and minerals are still in demand, international legitimacy for the Burmese regime is of little interest to its neighbors.

With respect to the election laws and the most recent constitution, they were unilaterally promulgated by the military. The 2008 constitution requires parliamentary bodies comprise 25 percent appointed military candidates. Unsurprisingly, there is zero space for individual liberty, public participation and consensus decision-making throughout the entire process.

With respect to economic factors, Burma’s Human Development and Anti-Corruption Indices are some of the lowest in the world. Though the country is ranked the second largest narcotic exporter in the world, it has run budget deficits for more than five decades. There are no systematic fiscal and monetary policies being implemented. Burma is neither a sound international trade partner nor an attractive destination for Foreign Directed Investment (FDI).

With respect to monetary policy, since 1990 Burma has maintained three genres of foreign exchange: market, fixed and quasi-fixed. As a result, monetary policy cannot effectively pursue global capital investment and money markets. Equally, there is zero incentive for the creation of a vibrant middle class, sustained economic growth or export-driven development. The elections, thus, are of no interest to the international economic community.

The empirical fact is that the legitimate leader of the country is Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The trump card is in her hands. Thousands upon thousands of democracy activists have been selflessly following her leadership in both domestic and international arenas. The game is not yet over and her leadership still overwhelmingly dominates the younger generations of Burma. The struggle between legitimate and illegitimate democrats will continue until the military recognizes the imperative of a true democratic process inclusive of free and fair elections.