2010 Election: Direction for democracy or autocracy
Opinion / Analysis

2010 Election: Direction for democracy or autocracy

By Apar Hong Mon
April 23, 2010

The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) has recently announced its election laws which many believe will not meet the international standards for a democratic election. The political space for the development of fundamental human rights and freedom of expression for the Burmese people will not take shape unless the ethnic peoples are given some basic rights.

Since coming to the power in 1988, the SPDC/SLORC has sought to enforce state power over the whole country at the cost of driving its own people into poverty or exile. This state of affairs will likely continue in yet after another reconstruction of its image when it assumes power in the 2010 General Election. Meanwhile internationally, the military government has outmaneuvered pressure to its autocratic rule with the tacit support of its Asian neighbors such as China and the other ASEAN members.

Military repression is nothing new to Burma or even Southeast Asia.  Since Burma gained independence from the British in 1948, civil war broke out as a result of non-compromise with the ethnic nationalities.

Burma’s civil war is a product of the underrepresentation and the segregation of the ethnic peoples who have strived for the same political and cultural rights of the Burman majority since the “Panglong Agreement” was created by General Aung San in 1947. “We stand for full freedom of all the races of our country,” he argued shortly after expressing his views on British rule which he felt had “kept the peoples of Burma apart.” But the agreement was ill-conceived and never got off the ground. It left many issues unresolved concerning the rights of the ethnic groups including the Mon, Arakan, and Karen - very little discussion had taken place on how Burma was to be governed after independence and divisions and schisms soon became the norm of politics. Today the ethnic groups are not allowed to form into legal organizations to voice their concerns while the military regime ignores a joint proposal for the formation of a federal union which the ethnic groups presented to them during the National Convention in 2004.

In 1947, before Burma gained its independence; displaying colors of discontent was a common practice among opposing factions as it is today in Thailand’s political arena between the Yellow and Red shirts. Arakanese groups, sharply divided among the various groups, including the communists and nationalists, formed into Red, White, Yellow Flag factions who protested for a separate Arakan State, and is but one example of the many ethnic and political divisions that sprang up after Burma gained independence. And like the Thai protests today, bandits and infiltrators (many Red Shirts are paid up front by Thaksin infiltrators for instigating riots) turned Burma’s hard won independence for freedom and democracy into a chaotic and unruly rebellion on many fronts. So when the military government led by General Ne Win seized state power in 1962, it was a sign of worse things to come. Many people fled as refugees to many areas of the world and internally displaced peoples hid in the jungles of Burma, which has reached to half a million today, highlighting the new international norm for post World War Two conflict in developing countries.  

Many ethnic groups have overwhelmingly rejected the SPDC’s new Constitution which will be a continuation of the policies of Ne Win era who built up the military elite class. The 2008 Constitution only serves the military elite who will continue to escape the crimes they commit against the Burmese people. Many are Ne Win followers who have written their own policies on how Burma is to be governed in their so-called parliament, where twenty-five percent of the seats are for the Burmese Armed Forces, while the ethnic people have little political say in how to govern their own people. When they do express their rights for self-determination they are often labeled as “separatists” or “terrorists” that threaten Burma’s stability, which  is plastered all over Burma's newspapers.

Nowadays, the military government imposes rule over the daily affairs of all the ethnic people who are finding it increasingly difficult to teach in their own language and celebrate their national holidays. Add to this the ongoing human rights violations that continue unabated in the rural areas, hidden from the international community such as arbitrary arrest, killing, torture, forced relocation and portering, and gang rape occurring in the areas where no foreigners are allowed and where an international press is unable to document the horrors committed by the Burmese Army.  

The many weaknesses in the 2008 Constitution are a continuation of the 1974 Constitution and the recent election laws, which will only prolong a political quagmire for the ASEAN countries who wish to do business in Burma - who themselves are no less confounded on how to collectively define what is meant by “human rights” - let alone deal with Burma’s intractable ethnic problem.   

Burma will handle their crises as they see fit by arresting and killing dissidents.  It is absurd to forcibly approve of a Constitution which automatically hands over 25% of the seats for a group of people who are in turn destroying the country from within. 

From the ethnic nationality view point, their rights will not be fair while the majority Burmans are taking at least seven Divisions compare to one Division (State) each for the Karen, Kachin, Karenni, Arakan, Chin, Shan and Mon.  Even though the new Constitution will grant some political space for some of the other ethnic peoples such as Naga, Danu, and Wa, who will form some autonomous region or Administer Zones, the Burmanization policy will continue because the new Constitution does not clearly state our ethnic rights to preserve our culture and literature, except for some ethnic candidates who will be able to sit on the parliament seats. These are very similar to Ne Win’s 1974 Constitution where the ethnic peoples really had no voice in parliament.

Militarily, the SPDC has been applying stronger pressure to the ethnic armed forces to form Border Guard Forces.  If their rights to self-determination and the preserving of their culture are not guaranteed by the new Constitution, they will not give up their arms so easily.

Unless solving the problem politically, forcing the ethnic armed forces to disband their armies will never be the right course of action for Burma’s government and failing to motivate the majority of the Burmese people, as they have recently done with the new party registration laws which restrict the NLD to participate in the upcoming election, will only dash the hopes of Burma’s youth who dream of a better future.

We can only ask: will the SPDC ever learn to give some political space for Burma’s peoples based on trust? This is long overdue no doubt, but peace is the only sure way forward to ensure economic development for the whole country, not brute force and bloodshed, this is one circumstance which is different from the 1948 when most groups opted to fight militarily against the central government. Today most of the ethnic peoples want peace not war. 


Feedback From
Sun, Sep 16, 2012 at 4:29 PM
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COMMENTS :As media this is one thing a document. The cottnens of this document raise serious ethical and political-justice questions. This is a military dictatorship that cares so little for its people that it refused aid durinng a major natural disaster and then punished the monks who did their best for the people. The fact that portable means of reporting is the journalistic weapon of choice and necessity questions the entire lack of other journalism in Burma.Very glad you've reviewed this film, Ashton. Everything raises awareness. Shanti Om

ခ်ဴပလံင္လိခ္ နကုႝ မန္ ဝွန္ (mon font) ဂြံမာန္ရ


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