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Burma’s Undemocratic Election

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Burma's military leader Than Shwe has urged people to make what he called the "correct choices" when elections are held at some point later this year.

According to a Japanese newspaper the regime has set the date of the 10th of October for the elections.

They will be the first since 1990, when the military refused to recognise the opposition's victory.

Ronald Aung Naing finds out what the landmark election means to the Burmese community in Thailand.


In a small kitchen in Chiang Mai, Daw Par Lay is remembering the last election in Burma.

“The government backed party with the symbol of a grain of rice gave us 200 Kyat each. At that time, two kilograms of rice is about 20 kyat and we can get about 20 kilo of rice. But, we refused. Our group of farmers decided to vote for Aung San Suu Kyi’s party with the symbol of bamboo hat. We wore the bamboo hats with yellow and while lines together and voted for opposition party.”

Her party went on to win a landslide victory in 1990 election but the military refused to honor the results.

Daw Par says their hopes were shattered.

“For our poor people, we hoped that after Aung San Suu Kyi’s party had won, we believed that the commodity prices would be lower down. And, we hoped we will get the supplies for our farming works.”

Life for Daw Par Lay became more difficult and finally she moved to Thailand as an illegal migrant worker.

The Burmese military are promising that the first election in twenty years will take place this year.

Win Min, an academic teaching Burmese affairs in Chiang Mai University and Phayap University, says it’s a face saving exercise.

“The intention of holding the election is to improve the legitimacy and but also to prevent or reduce the possibilities of anti-government demonstrations. On the side of the regime, it is clear that it is for their benefit not for the people”.

According to the country’s new constitution - that copied from the old Indonesian constitution - the military are automatically given 25 percent of the seats in parliament.

Win Min says the military will use power and money to win the remaining seats.

“They are going to avoid what happened in 1990 by making sure that they will win election. That means they will use all means possible to win the election. That means there can be vote rigging. There cannot be free and fair election.”

The main opposition party National League for Democracy says a fair election can’t take place unless all the political prisoners are released and there is a genuine democratic dialogue between the military and the opposition.

Western powers such as the United States and the EU are calling on the military regime to take meaningful steps to ensure credible elections.

But the regime never listens to the international pressure.

Khin , coordinator of the lobby group Burma Partnership, says the regime never listens to international calls to put pressure on the regime to have a credible change.

“There is very high possibility that this regime will not listen to anybody at all and just move on with their plan. And hold this election. In that case, for us, we will continue to fight. We will continue to struggle for this real change, genuine change in the country. And, that is where we stand. And, those who are advocating the 2010 election, they can do if they see as it is one opportunity or that going to have some positive change out of it. Then, the result will actually be seen.”

The regime backed political groups have started campaigning..

Win Min think that there will be some openness in the campaign.

“The hope may not come immediately after the election. But, through the process, I mean, after second term or third term, there may be some hope to opening up of political system or economic system because that is what happened in Indonesia, what had happened in Thailand, what had happened in the Philippines. You know, once they start the electoral system, many generals in Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines thought that they could control the process. They could control for some time, but they could not control all the time. I am sure that there will be a chance for Burma to see the changes through the electoral process. If not now, it could be in immediate or long term future.”

Back in the kitchen in Chiang Mai, Daw Par Lay said she hopes to get another chance to vote for genuine opposition.

“I want to vote also this time. But it would be too expensive for us to go back to Burma and come back to Thailand. I wish I could have a chance to vote.”

Last Updated ( Monday, 18 January 2010 09:51 )  

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