Home News Burma A Ray of Hope in Burma’s By-election

A Ray of Hope in Burma’s By-election

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Download April 1 is a day for fools the world over, but in Burma it’s also voting day this year.

In 1990 Burma’s military junta ignored the results of the election, while the 2010 election was condemned by the United Nations.

But amid signs of positive change within the country, officials promise that elections will be “free and fair” next April.

Nay Thwin has this report from the Thai-Burma border.

On the campaign trail through rural constituencies, Aung San Suu Kyi receives rock star treatment from the crowds.  

In the past five weeks she has been travelling from big cities to rural villages smiling and waving to tens of thousands of flag-waving supporters chanting: “Long live mother Suu”.

“The NLD was formed more than twenty years. We formed the NLD to fight for democracy and to defend the civil rights of our people. And we believe in the principle of non-violence for political means. Our country must not suffer in the fight to achieve the goal. I wish our goal to be the same as what the people want.”

As campaign restrictions have been lifted, Suu Kyi can now travel easily across the country and use public venues for political rallies.

The Burmese Elections Commission lifted the ban after a press conference held by the NLD in Rangoon.

Party spokesman Nyan Win is calling for a “free and fair” election.

"We are facing many dangers to have free and fair elections. In the present situation it is hard to have free and fair elections, I believe, but that’s what we want. We will keep pushing to reach the condition. If the government needs to be pushed, we will push them. If the Election Commission needs to be pushed, we will also push them."

The decision to contest the by-election next April is a big leap for Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy Party, or the NLD, after two decades under house arrest.

The NLD won a landslide victory in the 1990 election, but the junta ignored the result.

Maung Ko Ne is a lawyer who organizes this workshop designed to educate voters.

Eligible voters and members of political parties in Rangoon have participated in the workshop.

Maung Ko Ne believes this election will be different.

“Voters have experienced unfair elections in the past, with fear of pressure from the authorities. But this time will be totally different because the ruling government is different and also the system is not the same. People can vote freely now without any fear in mind.”

The 2010 election, Burma’s first in 20 years, was widely condemned for alleged vote rigging.

The Union Solidarity and Development Party won the election and Thein Sein was installed as president last year.

Under his leadership Burma has embraced political reforms, from releasing political prisoners, making peace deals with ethnic rebel groups and welcoming Suu Kyi back into politics.

On a recent trip to Burma, Vijay Nambiar, a special adviser to the UN chief, said he had high hopes for the upcoming election.

“Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has decided to step into the field of present movement and seek a fight the by election. I think this is a constructive move and we hope to strengthen democracy of this country. The question of UN observers will have to take place only this is the specific request of this country.

And Burma is now “seriously considering” allowing observers from ASEAN to attend the April by-election.

President Thein Sein made the promise to ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan during his last visit to Burma.

If observers are allowed to monitor the poll, it will be a first for the country.

Aung Naing Oo from the Burmese think tank group, the Bahu Institute, thinks Burma is undergoing inevitable changes.

“In every country, changes happen. There are always people who are enthusiastic for change, and people who stick to the status quo for different interests. Of course there are also people in between. The problem between so-called liberals, hard-liners, opposition and ethnic groups will remain at this stage. But if we maintain a democratic system, we can solve any problems and the we will see progress, even if it might be slow in some measures.”

This by-election puts Burma’s future at stake.

German development minister Dirk Niebel recently visited Burma and says the international community will closely observe the polls.

“It’s very important for democracy that the elections are free and fair and also the campaigns has to be free and fair, and the possibility of oppositions also able to campaign as the government parties are. We talked about the situation of developing Myanmar of what would be necessary to lift the sanctions of EU in this issue, and looking forward the process of democratization will be more stable after the by-elections and after opposition party is in the parliament.”


Last Updated ( Monday, 27 February 2012 11:39 )  

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