Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Looking toward the 2010 elections - Commentary

By Htet Win
Mizzima News

04 August 2008 - Even though the operational strength of the political opposition has been significantly impaired by the military government, they still – albeit on condition that the junta does not cheat in the polling – have a chance to win the forthcoming multiparty elections scheduled for 2010.

But the country is desperately in need of many more democratically-minded politicians to move the country forward at a manageable pace. This fact is compounded by the current detention of most leading nationalist, and opposition, politicians.

However, opposition political parties can rest assured that they would gain the majority of public support in the coming election, even if they are opposed by figures hand-picked from organizations such as the junta-inspired Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA).

"That [an opposition victory in the 2010 voting] would not be primarily because the general public likes the opposition parties, but largely because the public is so fed up with the military government and its prescriptions such as the USDA, which is led by the likes of Industry (1) Minister Aung Thaung and Information Minister Brigadier General Kyaw Hsan, who are senior executives with USDA," said a political observer and a leading businessman who maintains a close relationship with top-ranking military personnel.

But why is the public so fed up with the current state? Reasons include the government's suppression of opposition protests in late 2007 that saw 30 people killed – including some monks – and the government's negligence to the widespread devastation inflicted by last May's Cyclone Nargis – which resulted in 138,000 potential deaths and displaced an estimated 2 million others.

"Because of the late September 2007 movement, the political influence of monks has become significant – whether of conscious design or not," the observer explained.

Another major factor in the public's discontent is that the junta's power thirst has led to the country's prolonged economic hardship, causing the increased suffering of 50 million people over the course of the past three decades.

In this scenario, what the public and the political opposition need is a single, nationalist political party to replace the military government forever.

To solidify the position of nationalist politicians, domestic opponents and international pressure must be steadfastly unified in order to push the military government to release political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi. Prominent international actors in this endeavor must include ASEAN, the UN and China. The military government has no choice but to move if and when its giant neighbor – China – presses it to do so.

"In this regard, China's genuine attitude toward Myanmar's greater openness is widely expected. Still, China seems to be satisfied with Myanmar's present progress, which favors the first to exploit the country for its own economic interests," analyzed a Rangoon-based lawyer.

Yet the lawyer further cautioned that while the military government itself has not proven efficient in guiding the country in a positive direction, they are too self-centered to give space for those who – regardless of being outside or inside Burma – support the country's real progress.

Also, ASEAN, the UN, and China could encourage the junta to open a dialogue with opposition groups. Dialogue is the best way. However, because of the limited number of capable political representatives, there would be an influx of political opportunists into Burma's already unstable political environment – especially in the lead-up to the 2010 elections.

In this scenario, there could exist after the election a new government with similar traits as to the present military regime. The new government, though, would be hamstrung by the inclusion of young persons who are chiefly concerned about financial clout and not necessarily politically mature – and definitely most of whom are not nationalists but opportunists probably coming from celebrity and business circles.

The less the number of nationalist politicians that contest the election, the more those in favor of entrenching military rule win.

"The forthcoming election, the fifth step of Myanmar's political roadmap, is expected to be accomplished," said a senior pro-government figure and representative at the National Convention, which laid down the principles to a new draft constitution ensuring the military's control over any elected government.

"The military government seems to have already calculated that the formation of an inefficient government would lead to yet another military coup, although it would be rule-based this time," the National Convention representative recently said, referring to a clause that the president must transfer power to the Commander-in-Chief during a state of emergency.

If this situation is to be avoided, and the 2010 elections are to be a step in the right direction, some fundamental changes must first come to Burma.

Conditions, currently, to support a free and fair election are still not inadequate. To overcome this obstacle, local media will have to be empowered so as to permit them to inform the people of their choices and to raise awareness about how important their polls are in the removal of the military government and road to democracy.

There are now many people who keep themselves away from politics although they may be interested in politics. It is correct to say that Burmese people live in a land of fear, which the military has created. To overcome this fear, they must have the capacity to listen to the radio, to read newspapers – especially those of informed external media outlets – and to actively partake in the coming political events of the country.

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