BurmaNet News, September 15, 2010
editor at burmanet.org
Wed Sep 15 14:22:16 EDT 2010
September 15, 2010 Issue #4042
QUOTE OF THE DAY
In Burma, we should be absolutely clear the situation there is an
affront to humanity. Aung San Suu Kyi's continued detention is an outrage,
she has spent 14 of the last 20 years under house arrest
. Her example is
deeply inspiring. All of us like to think we give up something to go into
democracy and politics. We don't. Compared with these people we do
. They are an inspiration right across the world and we should
stand with them.' David Cameron, Prime Minister, United Kingdom (Press
AFP: Suu Kyi's Myanmar opposition party protests dissolution
AFP: Life of fear for Myanmar monk, 3 years on from protests
Canadian Press: Party of Myanmar's democracy icon says its members are
under constant watch by junta
DVB: Army to vote in separate ballot boxes
Irrawaddy: Restrictions placed on election campaign broadcasts
DPA: Retired Myanmar generals join election fray
ON THE BORDER
SHAN: Shan resistance leader: Junta up to no good
Mizzima: KNU plans ceasefire for UN peace day
Daily Star (Bangladesh): Yangon agrees on tri-nation highway
AFP: France 'shocked' by Myanmar's dissolution of Suu Kyi party
OPINION / OTHER
The Hindu: Make-believe elections Editorial
Irrawaddy: Torn between two capitals Htet Aung
Indiana University: Indiana University expert: Don't pin hopes on Burma's
September 15, Agence France PressQU
Suu Kyi's Myanmar opposition party protests dissolution
Yangon Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's party on Wednesday
protested against its dissolution by authorities in the military-ruled
country for its boycott of the first election in 20 years.
State media, quoting the election commission, reported late Tuesday that
the National League for Democracy had been abolished under controversial
poll rules for failing to re-register ahead of the November 7 vote.
Although the dissolution automatically took effect in May it was the first
time that authorities have formally announced the ban on the NLD, along
with nine other parties.
"The commission has no right or authority over the organisations which did
not register with them," the NLD's long-time spokesman Nyan Win told
reporters at the party's headquarters.
The NLD had not committed any breach of the 1988 political party
registration law, under which it was formed, that would warrant its
dissolution, he added.
The party opted to boycott the upcoming election due to new rules that
would have forced it to expel its own leader and other members who are
serving prisoners in order to participate.
The vote has been widely condemned by activists and the West as a charade
aimed at putting a civilian face on military rule.
Nobel Peace Laureate Suu Kyi has spent most of the past 20 years in
detention, and as a serving prisoner is barred from standing in the poll.
The NLD -- which won a landslide victory in 1990 but was never allowed to
take office -- is planning to sue the government over its dissolution and
the previous unrecognised poll win.
"This process is still ongoing," Nyan Win said. "We will carry on through
peaceful political means."
Four other parties were also dissolved for failing to re-register while
five more -- out of 42 that were initially allowed to run -- were
abolished because they failed to meet requirements on fielding candidates.
Opposition parties have faced formidable hurdles, including a fee of 500
dollars per candidate -- the equivalent of several months' wages for most
people -- and a tight timetable to register people to stand.
The National Democracy Force, a breakaway opposition party created by
former NLD members, is among those planning to contest the vote, a
decision that put it at odds with Suu Kyi, who was in favour of a boycott
by the NLD.
September 15, Agence France Presse
Life of fear for Myanmar monk, 3 years on from protests Rob Bryan
Mandalay, Myanmar U Ottama recalls joining thousands of fellow Buddhist
monks who flooded Myanmar's streets in a saffron-robed protest brutally
crushed by the army. Three years on, he still lives in terror.
"We have to be very careful," he said quietly, taking a break from his
monastic duties in central Mandalay region. "The local authorities have a
list of who was in the movement and I'm on that list."
The 2007 protests began as small rallies against the rising cost of living
but escalated into huge anti-government demonstrations led by crowds of
monks, whose striking attire saw their movement dubbed the "Saffron
Posing the biggest challenge to military rule in nearly two decades, this
peaceful swell of hope and defiance was dealt with mercilessly: at least
31 people were killed by security forces while hundreds were beaten and
Today more than 250 monks are imprisoned, thousands have been disrobed and
key monasteries remain under constant watch for their role in the
September rebellion, according to rights activists.
Monk U Ottama, whose name AFP has changed for his protection, said
government spies are everywhere.
"The majority of monks don't like our regime... but we can do nothing. We
are very unlucky for having a military government," he confided, as
rust-red robes fluttered on the washing line outside.
"I'm still angry with the regime. Whenever I think about them I get very
angry. Every monk feels like me, I think."
Feelings of bitterness towards the junta may still be strong among the
monks, who number up to 400,000 in Myanmar, but U Ottama said they were
"very afraid" of joining -- let alone leading -- further anti-government
He said the authorities had stepped up efforts since 2007 to curry favour
with senior monks -- "to calm them down" and stop them talking about the
regime -- who had then told their juniors to steer clear of dissident
But in hushed corners, with fellow brethren he trusts, U Ottama talks
about politics every day, and when the monastery's lights go out he tunes
his radio to the BBC or Voice of America to get "correct news".
"The Myanmar government says they are the killers of the airwaves," he said.
Economic hardships present a further challenge for the wider population:
since coming under military rule in 1962, Myanmar has slumped from
prosperity to being one of the poorest countries in Asia.
"The people have to work hard for food and clothing and living. They can't
give much thought to politics or creating some movement. That's why they
are not interested in the 2010 election," U Ottama said.
The national poll, scheduled for November 7, will be Myanmar's first
election in two decades but is widely expected to be neither fair nor
A controversial constitution passed in 2008 bars monks from any formal
political role, ending a long tradition in Myanmar. But U Ottama, in his
30s, still thinks they should be able to play a part.
"In Thailand, the Buddhist monks don't take part in politics but they can
have influence on the government," he said. "We should have a chance to
vote, but we have no chances."
The regime's wariness over the monks is understandable: they have a
history of political defiance during Myanmar's most tumultuous periods and
they command deep respect from the people.
But another imminent "revolution" seems unlikely.
"One of the downsides of the 2007 movement was that for this generation,
it was potentially a one shot deal," said Myanmar analyst David Mathieson
of Human Rights Watch.
"It was a very brave and noble thing to do and it got a lot of support,
but the regime knew exactly what to do to -- they brutally crushed it to
send a message. The vast majority of the monks now want nothing to do with
Some of them have found other ways to channel their spiritual leadership.
A senior monk in northern Yangon division said he was focused on local
community work, rather than a political uprising.
"We are all stakeholders. People need to do what we can at a grassroots
level," said the 42-year-old, who says he took part in the Saffron
Revolution "spiritually, not physically".
"I think the monks would be willing to do something like the protests
again but it's difficult because they are not well coordinated
nationally," he said.
But if the approaching election fails to bring reforms, U Ottama hopes the
characteristic Buddhist tolerance of his countrymen -- however constrained
by logistics and fear -- will wear thin.
"If the situation does not change after the election, demonstrations will
happen I think," he said. "We should no longer be patient."
September 15, The Canadian Press
Party of Myanmar's democracy icon says its members are under constant
watch by junta
Yangon, Myanmar Myanmar authorities are keeping supporters of
pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu under constant surveillance, despite the
official dissolution of her party following its decision to boycott
upcoming elections, its spokesman said Wednesday.
National League for Democracy spokesman Nyan Win said he and other party
members are followed by at least three plainclothes officers on
motorcycles wherever they go.
"I believe the authorities still view the NLD as a major political party,"
he said. "Even though we have declared that we will not participate in the
elections, all the NLD leaders are placed under constant surveillance and
At least one party that actually is contesting the election has similar
complaints. Last month the leader of the Democratic Party filed a
complaint with the Election Commission about police intimidation.
Police visited party members' homes in Yangon and asked for personal data
and photographs, said Thu Wai, the party's chairman. "This amounts to
intimidation," he said.
The NLD won the last elections held in 1990 but was barred by the ruling
military from taking power. It decided to boycott this November's vote as
the regime's electoral rules barred Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest,
and other political prisoners from taking part.
Party leaders met Wednesday to discuss the NLD's future, and senior
members said afterward that Suu Kyi plans to file a lawsuit to contest the
party's dissolution, which was formally announced by the regime on
The Election Commission said 37 other parties would take part in the vote
and that campaigning can take place from Sept. 24 through Oct. 30, but
parties must refrain from making speeches that "tarnish the image" of the
Nyan Win maintained that authorities still view the NLD as a "major
political party" and cited the "constant surveillance" of its leaders as
sign of that.
He said Suu Kyi has instructed her party not to take down the party
signboard or its party flag that features a "fighting peacock." She told
members through the party spokesman that "she will never turn her back on
the people or her struggle for democracy."
Myanmar has been ruled by its military for nearly 50 years. It says the
election is a key step toward the transition to civilian rule, although a
pro-junta party looks set to win and the constitution ensures that the
military will control a chunk of seats in the new parliament
September 15, Democratic Voice of Burma
Army to vote in separate ballot boxes Maung Too
Burmese troops and their families in barracks will cast their vote for the
looming elections in separate ballot boxes from ordinary civilians, the
commander of a Rangoon-based army battalion has told DVB.
A directive was issued on 6 September by the War Office in the capital,
Naypyidaw, and signed by Lt. Gen. Thura Myint Aung, who it said was an
official at Burmas defence ministry, although he has been tipped to head
the army following the elections. It was sent to army units across the
country two months prior to the 7 November polls.
Included in the directive was an order for troops to vote for the
junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), led by Burmese
Prime Minister Thein Sein, and to avoid a repeat of the 1990 elections
which the ruling junta lost, despite having held onto power. If soldiers
are found to have voted for parties other than the USDP, their battalion
commanders will be penalised.
In preparation for the vote senior army officials are to appoint a
supervisor and assistant supervisor from soldiers families to man each of
the ballot boxes. According to the directive, every battalion will have
its own box, and the names of the appointed supervisors must be submitted
to Naypyidaw by 15 September.
The Rangoon commander added that each unit will collaborate with local
junta-appointed Election Commission (EC) officials over the building of
the ballot boxes. Troops who will be serving on the frontline on the day
of voting can either cast votes in advance or use a form of long-distance
voting, although it is not clear how this will work.
The polls have already been widely derided by the international community
as a sham aimed at entrenching military power under the guise of a
civilian government. Burma has been under a military dictatorship since
1962, and conditions surrounding the elections appear to have been
tailored to ensure this continues.
Reports such as this of election fraud surface regularly and compound
concerns about the polls being free and fair: the constitution awards a
quarter of parliamentary seats to military officers prior to voting, and
influential members of the junta have taken key positions in the USDP,
which is widely tipped to win.
Moreover, the USDP has announced it will field around 990 candidates,
while the opposition National Democratic Force (NDF) will field around
160. The 500,000 kyat (US$500) fee for each candidate is beyond the reach
of most parties except for the USDP, whose war chest appears huge.
The state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper today announced that 37
parties would be competing in the polls, Burmas first in two decades.
September 15, Irrawaddy
Restrictions placed on election campaign broadcasts Ba Kaung
Burma's Election Commission (EC) has attached a number of restrictions on
the election campaign TV and radio broadcasts political parties will be
allowed to make.
The restrictions, announced on Tuesday, say the 37 parties contesting the
Nov. 7 election can publicize their policy platforms during the allotted
15 minutes that the state-controlled media will carry, but they
must avoid anything that defames or damages the honor of the ruling
government or tarnishes the image of the armed forces, the Tatmadaw.
Live broadcasts will not be allowed and scripts must be submitted seven
days beforehand to the Election Commission for its approval.
The ruling effectively bans any criticism of the government or any mention
of the country's problems, particularly ethnic issues.
The parties face abolition if the EC finds they violate the restrictions.
We have to explain what our country needs and what reforms are necessary
in a delicate way, said Thu Wai, the chairman of the Democratic Party
(Myanmar), who said his party would take advantage of the 15-minute time
The voting process in Burma's first general election in 20 years has still
to be explained fully to the electorate.
But, according to recent reports in the state-media, Burmese voters can
cast at least three ballots for candidates standing for seats in the
People's Parliament, the Nationalities Parliament and the Regional
Parliament. In several places, including Rangoon, ethnic people can cast
an additional vote to choose a candidate competing for parliamentary seats
allotted to ethnic minorities.
The articles also warned that those who are found guilty of obstructing
the people from voting face a sentence of one-year imprisonment or a fine
of 100,000 kyat ($100).
I heard that the different ballot boxes will be separated by color, but I
still don't know how to vote, said a young Rangoon journalist.
While political parties are heavily restricted in reaching out to the
people, the regime has allowed two non-governmental organizations in
Rangoon to give training to the parties on the voting process, according
to Rangoon sources.
Rangoon-based Myanmar Egress and Shalom Foundation, locally known as the
Nyein Foundation, have already conducted various training programs on
voting procedures to members of political parties running in the election,
the sources said. Both organizations are known for their support of the
junta's 2008 Constitution and the upcoming election.
They reportedly gave training to up to 10 political parties including the
National Democratic Force (NDF), Shan National Democratic Party (SNDP),
Democratic Party (Myanmar), Kayin Peoples Party and two other parties
representing the Arakan and Mon people.
The Shalom Foundation was founded in 2001 by the Rev. Saboi Jum, a leading
figure in the ceasefire agreement reached between the regime and the armed
Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), and he is still working as a
peace negotiator between them. He has condemned the KIO for its
persistent refusal to accept the government's border guard force plan.
The Shalom is encouraging people to participate in the election, said a
It is not clear how the two groups conduct their training programs.
When contacted by The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, the secretary-general of
Myanmar Egress, Nay Win Maung, declined to comment on the training.
We have concerns that these NGOs may be campaigning for the junta's proxy
parties,but as long as they are not biased, it should be okay because
people probably don't know how to vote, said Dr.Aye Maung, the chairman
of the Rakhine National Development Party.
Despite confusion about the voting process and restrictions on political
parties, officials of the junta's proxy party, the Union Solidarity and
Development Party (USDP), who are also government ministers, are
reportedly touring the country campaigning.
The USDP is now publishing campaign pamphlets using the state-owned press
machines. It has even done TV programs for campaigning, said a Rangoon
September 15, Deutsche Presse-Agentur
Retired Myanmar generals join election fray
Three of Myanmar's top retired generals have registered to contest the Nov
7 general elections as candidates of the main pro-junta party, officials
Prime Minister Thein Sein, Shwe Mann and Tin Aung Myint Oo, who retired
from their military posts last month, have registered their names as
candidates of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) to run in
townships in Naypyitaw, Myanmar's capital since 2004.
'Their names were in the list approved by the election commission,' an
official who requested anonymity said.
The candidates retired from their military posts as part of a mass
military reshuffle that was seen as part of the ruling military regime's
preparations for the polls, the first to be held in 20 years. The
retirements provided them with the civilian status needed to contest a
'These three top men only needed to compete with candidates from the
National Unity Party because other political parties did not submit for
the list in Naypyitaw,' said an official in Naypyitaw, located 350
kilometres north of Yangon.
The National Unity Party (NUP) is another pro-junta political party set up
to contest the polls.
Altogether, 37 parties have been registered to run, but only the
military-supported parties, such as the USDP and NUP, have been able to
field sufficient candidates to win a majority in the upcoming polls for
the lower, upper and regional houses of parliament.
The registration fee per candidate was $500, a large sum in Myanmar, where
the per-capita annual income is less than $600.
The largest opposition party, the National Democratic Force, was only able
to field 160 candidates because of a lack of funding.
Under Myanmar's new constitution, which goes into effect once a new
parliament is set up, the military would appoint one-quarter of the seats
in the lower and upper houses, giving it veto power over all legislation.
It was widely expected that the first session of parliament would nominate
former military generals, such as Shwe Mann and Tin Aung Myint Oo, as
candidates to be Myanmar's next president.
It was also possible that the current junta chief, Senior General Than
Shwe, would be nominated to be president, observers said.
Under the constitution, Myanmar's next president must have 'military
experience', but it is not necessary for him to be an elected politician.
ON THE BORDER
September 15, Shan Herald Agency for News
Shan resistance leader: Junta up to no good Hseng Khio Fah
Referring to Naypyitaws latest instruction to its border units to make
Shan State Army and United Wa State Army uniforms recently, the leader of
the anti-Naypyitaw Shan State Army (SSA) South Lt-Gen Yawdserk said the
military junta is now playing a dangerous game in order to break ceasefire
groups into pieces.
According to sources from both Shan and Thai security, Naypyitaw had,
earlier this month, reportedly ordered its units based along Thai-Burma
border to make UWSA and SSA uniforms for Burma Army use.
One of them, Infantry Battalion (IB) # 225, based in Shan State Easts
Mongton Township, opposite Thailands Chiangmai, has already been making
the suits since 6 September. The base was assigned to make 100 uniforms
(50 Wa and 50 SSA), according to a source close to the junta in Mongton.
The order said no one must leak out about this directive, but who can
shut the peoples mouths forever?, he said.
A Wa source said, There could be two reasons relating to the uniforms.
The junta units will disguise themselves as SSA and Wa fighters and will
harass villagers to make them misunderstand and view negatively on us. The
other, it is trying to instigate the Wa fighters and SSA fighters to fight
In addition, the Thai security based along the Thai-Burma border confirmed
that the uniforms are already being used in some areas in the West of
Yawd Serk said his headquarters also received the same information from
Shan State South. Villagers said Burma Army soldiers wearing SSA uniforms
ordered them to provide rice and money. Villagers who went to give
supplies were then arrested by the Burma Army that accused them of
supporting the SSA.
Similar incidents were said to have taken place a few years ago in Shan
State South, according to a border watcher based on the Thai-Burma border.
The Burma Army soldiers disguised as SSA fighters asked money from the
teak loggers and shot them to death afterwards, he said.
The junta military, at the same time, has been deploying more troops to
ceasefire groups controlled areas since the 1 September deadline to disarm
themselves had passed. Shan State Norths Tangyan township alone is likely
to have more than 20 Burma Army battalions, sources from the Sino-Burma
On 12 September, a day after Senior General Than Shwe returned from China,
the military junta deployed one tactical command (3 battalions) from
Kyaukme based Military Operations Command (MOC)#1 to its strongest base
Loi Panglong, facing the UWSA. In addition, it is also reportedly planning
to deploy one more infantry division.
Loi Panglong base is high, overlooking the UWSAs bases, a source said.
If the Burma Army launches the offensive from that base, Panghsang (the
Wa capital) could be isolated from its northern forces.
The Wa force facing Loi Panglong is the 418th brigade and one heavy
Nevertheless, an officer from Joint Alliance Command which was formed in
April said juntas recent deployment is just for preparatory stage as all
the battalions have long been stationed in from Shan State, not fresh
units from outside it.
In April, ceasefire groups: the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and Shan State
Army (SSA) North, National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) and Kachin
Independence Army (KIA), those refused to transform themselves into
Napyitaw run border guard forces (BGFs), reached agreement to form a Joint
Command, Control and Communications Centre for their joint defense against
the juntas BGF program.
Latest reports say a clash took place between the SSA North and the Burma
Army in Hsipaw township yesterday evening. One wounded on our side,
confirmed an SSA source. No information on the Burma Army casualties.
It is too early to say whether the clash will bloom into a full-scale
offensive. At present, the Burma Army seems to be focusing on the
elections more than shooting us, said a Shan officer.
September 15, Mizzima News
KNU plans ceasefire for UN peace day Khaing Suu
New Delhi The Karen National Union announced today it will observe a
one-day unilateral ceasefire on September 21 to mark UN International Day
of Peace, but reserve the right to defend itself, the KNU deputy chairman
The KNU would like to demonstrate that its members wanted peace, said
David Takapaw, the vice-chairman and spokesman of the political
organisation that has been taking part in the longest insurgency the world
has known, since January 31, 1949.
Our objective is not only to show that we respect the United Nations and
International law but also to remind the State Peace and Development
Council [SPDC, the juntas name for itself] that peace is possible,
Takapaw told Mizzima.
The KNU central office had informed its battalions of the Karen National
Liberation Army (KNLA) in areas under its control about the ceasefire but
had not officially told the SPDC, which was why it had issued the
statement, he said.
However, Takapaw said if the SPDC launched military offensives on that
day, the KNU would defend itself.
He said the KNU wanted to demonstrate its willingness to solve political
problems through peaceful means and that it respected the official
requests of the United Nations Security Council and Secretary General, and
the statement issued by the G8 in June, that there had to be dialogue to
solve the political problems in Burma.
About 10,000 KNU members have died in the clashes since 1949, without the
toll of Karen civilian deaths. The KNLAs last battle with the SPDC army
was on Monday.
Rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide welcomed the KNU ceasefire
announcement. We warmly welcome the KNUs unilateral declaration as an
important sign of respect for the International Day of Peace and a symbol
of the Karen peoples desire for peace and freedom, East Asia team leader
Benedict Rogers said.
Successive military regimes have conducted brutal offensives against
Karen civilians, and the cruel campaign against the Karens has intensified
in the past 15 years under the current junta, he said in the statement
from the rights group.
Civilians are shot at point-blank range, tortured, raped, used as forced
labour or as human minesweepers, and since 1996, more than 3,500 villages
in eastern Burma alone have been destroyed, he said.
The KNU has demonstrated in its statement today, as it has on many
previous occasions, its desire to resolve the issues by peaceful,
political means, he said.
It is now up to the regime to respond, by calling an end to its campaigns
of brutality, declaring a permanent, nationwide ceasefire, withdrawing its
troops from ethnic areas, and engaging in a meaningful, tripartite
dialogue with the representatives of the ethnic nationalities and the
democracy movement to build a peaceful, federal democracy in Burma that
respects human rights, Rogers said.
The Burma Campaign UK also welcomed the ceasefire today and called on the
UN and the international community to seize the opportunity created by the
KNU to turn it into a nationwide ceasefire.
The Burma Campaign UK warmly welcomes announcement by the Karen National
Union that it will hold a one-day ceasefire. The UN should immediately
call on the dictatorship and other armed groups in Burma to also respect
the one-day ceasefire, Burma Campaign director Mark Farmaner said.
It is the dictatorship in Burma that is the aggressor, deliberately
attacking civilians in breach of the Geneva Conventions and Rome Statute.
This is an opportunity to pressure the dictatorship to end its attacks.
The ball is now in the court of the generals, Farmaner said.
Meanwhile, also in honour of the UN day of peace, the Womens League of
Burma (WLB) would hold prayer ceremonies for peace, essay competitions and
art competitions in Mae Sot and Mae Hong Son, WLB joint general secretary
No. 2 San Nyein Thu said. The WLB will also conduct such ceremonies for
the International Day of Peace in India and Bangladesh.
The UN General Assembly in 2001 set September 21 as the International Day
September 15, The Daily Star (Bangladesh)
Yangon agrees on tri-nation highway
China confirmed Bangladesh that the Myanmarese government has agreed in
principle on the construction of the proposed tri-nation highway
connecting Chittagong-Myanmar-Kunming (China).
Chinese Ambassador to Dhaka Zhang Xianyi on Tuesday informed this to Hasan
Mahmud, state minister for Forests and Environment in a meeting at the
Briefing reporters after the meeting, the minister said Bangladesh earlier
requested China to talk to the Myanmar government about the highway.
Hasan also told the newsmen that construction of deep seaport in
Chittagong region was another agenda of the meeting.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, during her visit to Beijing in March this
year, had sought Chinese assistance in the construction of the deep
Chinese government is examining the proposal, said Hasan.
September 15, Agence France Presse
France 'shocked' by Myanmar's dissolution of Suu Kyi party
Paris France Wednesday voiced profound shock at the dissolution of
Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's party by the ruling
military junta for its boycott of the first election in 20 years.
"This profoundly shocking situation is the result of iniquitous electoral
laws dating from March," foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero told
"Evidently, conditions do not exist for November 7 elections to be
considered democratic and credible."
State media, quoting the election commission, reported late Tuesday that
the National League for Democracy had been abolished under controversial
poll rules for failing to re-register ahead of the November 7 vote.
Although the dissolution automatically took effect in May it was the first
time that authorities had formally announced the ban on the NLD, along
with nine other parties.
OPINION / OTHER
September 14, The Hindu
Make-believe elections Editorial
Recent developments in Myanmar indicate that the ruling junta is on a
quest for a smokescreen of legitimacy before tightening its grip on the
nation in the November 7 election. In the second major reshuffle this
year, 70 senior military officers, including the Army's number three,
General Thura Shwe Mann, quit their posts and are expected to join the
Union Solidarity and Development Party, a proxy political party of the
military. The first shuffle, in April, saw the exit of another group of
senior military men, including Prime Minister Thein Sein. The moves are
intended to give a civilian face to the new parliament, in which a quarter
of the seats are reserved for serving military officers. The retired
officers are expected to contest the remaining seats with no fear of
defeat. By the August 30 deadline for registering candidates, the USDP had
filed over 1,000 nominations while another pro-junta formation, the
National Unity Party, is fielding over 900 candidates. On the other side,
the two main democratic parties the National Democratic Force, which
split from the election-boycotting Aung San Suu Kyi-led National League
for Democracy, and the Democratic Front have been able to put up fewer
than 500 candidates between them. With the registration fee fixed at $500,
they did not have the money to nominate any more.
It has been clear from the start that this election the first in Myanmar
since the historic 1990 contest in which Ms Suu Kyi's party emerged
victorious but was barred from taking power is no transition to
democracy. New election laws barred Ms Suu Kyi, who remains under house
arrest, from contesting because of her convictions by the junta. Under the
rules, the ensuing boycott by her party led to its dissolution. The
military, whether in uniform or in civvies, and pro-military politicians
will dominate the 224-seat House of Nationalities and the 440-seat House
of Representatives. What is less clear is the role Senior General Than
Shwe, head of the State Peace and Development Council, the official name
for the junta, has reserved for himself. It was believed that he too had
stepped down from his post to contest the election as a civilian. But that
has turned out to be unfounded. He is likely to continue at the helm even
after the election and might quit as military chief only when he is
assured of a successor he can trust. But even if he became a civilian
ruler, and for all his engagement with the international community,
including India, the Myanmar strongman cannot hope to acquire real
legitimacy after denying Ms Suu Kyi her rightful place in the country's
September 15, Irrawaddy
Torn between two capitals Htet Aung
Naypyidaw, a remote town located halfway between Burma's two main cities,
Rangoon and Mandalay, has been the country's administrative capital since
junta chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe deemed it so on Nov. 6, 2005.
Five years less one day later, as per the 2008 Constitution, Naypyidaw
will become a Union territory directly governed by the president after
the election on Nov. 7.
The political structure of Burma will change after the election; however,
the question is: will the political dynamism of the country shift from its
old capital, Rangoon, to the new capital whose name translates into
English as The Abode of Kings?
Traditionally, Rangoon has played the pivotal role in Burmese politics, as
well as serving as the country's economic hub ever since colonial times.
However, its status was degraded by the military junta when it packed its
governmental and administrative bags and moved 200 miles north to an
undeveloped site just two miles from Pyinmana.
The construction of the new parliament continued apace with the
construction of eight-lane avenues, an international airport and a 24-hour
electricity supply, as well as the migration of government officials and
their families to the town.
Five years later, Burma's would-be modern metropolis will undergo the
transition from a synthetic ghost town to a hive of parliamentary
activity. Officially, it will become Burma's first civil administration in
The new parliament is composed of 31 buildings, as well as presidential
mansions for the future president and two vice-presidents.
Synthetic, soulless and desperately devoid of social interaction,
Naypyidaw has failed to persuade the staff and families of the United
Nations agencies and foreign diplomatic missions to relocate their
headquarters and embassies, severely undermining its integrity as a
The fact is that most ambassadors, diplomats, INGO heads and their
families are accustomed to living the high life in whatever country they
are assigned. They circulate at cocktail parties, dine at the best
restaurants in the city, send their children to the best international
schools and constantly receive invitations to glamorous society events.
A far cry from a life in bureaucratic Naypyidaw.
When the Union Election Commission opened its doors for political party
registration in March, it was unsurprising that every major national
party, bar one, had its headquarters in Rangoon. The exception was, of
course, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which based its
headquarters in Naypyidaw.
Asked about the political polarization of Rangoon and Naypyidaw, Chan
Htun, a veteran politician and a former ambassador to China said: I see
Rangoon continuing to serve as the center of the democratic movement due
to some key factors, such as population density, the home of the political
parties and the well-established transportation networks linking the
country, while Naypyidaw emerges as the fortress of the ruling party.
But could political tensions between the two cities spill over in the future?
I don't think so, said Wun Tha, an elected representative of the
National League for Democracy in the 1990 election who currently works as
a journalist. Tension usually raises its head in a formidable situation,
for instance, the growing strength of an opposition group threatening or
seeking confrontation with the ruling party. What we are witnessing now is
the would-be ruling party, the USDP, leaving all the other parties far
behind in the race. It feels no threat.
In the newly emerging political landscape, the leadership of the USDP have
chosen isolation in a Naypyidaw where they will quickly fall out of touch
with the everyday needs of the people, not to mention their own members in
more than 400 branches across the country.
How can Naypyidaw expect to become the heart of the country when it has no
soul? It seeks to impress with modernity and money and power, but it lacks
cultural, historical, religious and societal roots. Unlike Rangoon, it is
not a source of pride to the people of Burma.
Shwedagon Pagoda, the country's most sacred and well-known monument, has
stood like a father overlooking Rangoon since the 6th century AD. Like a
cheap counterfeiter, Than Shwe tried to imitate the kings of old by
ordering the construction of a replica Shwedagon in the new capital.
Than Shwe considers himself a king, said Chan Htun. He built the pagoda
as a display of power and as an attempt to create a legacy.
September 15, Indiana University
Indiana University expert: Don't pin hopes on Burma's upcoming elections
Bloomington, Ind. -- The international community will be making a mistake
if it focuses on encouraging Burma's military government to hold "free and
fair" elections in November, says an Indiana University law professor who
has advised the Asian nation's ethnic opposition groups.
David Williams, the John S. Hastings professor of law at the Indiana
University Maurer School of Law and director of the Center for
Constitutional Democracy, said Burma's 2008 constitution guarantees that
the secretive and authoritarian military government will retain power,
regardless of the elections.
"The central focus of the international community should not be free and
fair elections," Williams said. "Instead, it should be seeking ways to
encourage the Burmese government -- both the military, which will still
hold real power after the election, and the new civilian office-holders --
to undertake sustained dialogue with all of the country's stakeholders,
especially its ethnic minorities."
Burma has been torn by civil war for more than half a century. The
military has governed the country since 1962 and officially changed its
name to the Union of Myanmar in 1989.
Williams said the military government, called the State Peace and
Development Council (SPDC), has ensured that its hand-picked candidates
will win in November by imposing restrictions on opponents, including
expensive filing fees, tight deadlines and limits on who can be on the
ballot. Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy
is boycotting the elections because of the rules.
And while the elections may produce a civilian government, the
constitution allows the military to declare a state of emergency, dissolve
the government and seize power -- legally.
But even if the civilian government had real authority, that wouldn't
address the ethnic divisions that lie at the heart of Burma's decades-old
civil war. The only path to true change for Burma, Williams said, is
"trilateral dialogue" among the government, the democratic opposition and
the minorities that have been fighting for a measure of
Williams said the elections could, however, create a new interest group of
civilian politicians who may eventually contend with the military for
power and patronage. Instead of focusing on Burma's elections, he said,
the U.S. and other international parties should establish relationships
with the new civilian legislators and the ethnic resistance armies. Then,
if the situation in Burma turns more fluid, the international actors could
exert influence to promote dialogue with a goal of democratic
"Even if the elections were free and fair, it wouldn't matter," Williams
said, "because under the constitution the military will still rule and the
ethnic minorities will still be at risk. Right now, before the elections
take place, the international community should focus its attention on the
weeks and years after the election, because that is the earliest that real
reform might take place."
To speak with Williams, contact James Boyd at the Maurer School of Law,
812-856-1497 or joboyd at indiana.edu; or Steve Hinnefeld at the IU Office of
University Communications, 812-856-3488 or slhinnef at indiana.edu.
More information about the BurmaNet