Questions on Burma Polls

Burma plans it first elections in 20 years, but will they be free?

2010.01.05
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Than-Shwe-305.jpg Former junta chief Than Shwe reviews an honor guard in Myanmar in a file photo.
AFP

WASHINGTON—The United States has voiced skepticism about Burma’s upcoming elections and urged the ruling junta to reach out to ethnic minorities and the opposition led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

“So far we have not seen any meaningful steps by the regime to indicate it is putting in place measures that would lead to credible elections,” State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said.

“Much of the opposition's leadership remains in prison, there is no space for political dissent or debate, and no freedom of press.”

Opposition members were similarly skeptical of polls that the junta has confirmed will occur in 2010.

“Most hope that the election will bring about change and that there might be space for democratic forces to work toward their aspirations,” Daw San San, who was elected to parliament in abortive 1990 elections.

“But ... if the 2010 election is to be held based on the 2008 Constitution, then I don’t think we can hope for any democratic changes,” she said in an interview.

Tint Swe, a minister in the exile cabinet of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), said he believes the junta is intentionally giving the opposition too little time to mount a campaign.

“In 1989, Aung San Suu Kyi said a party would need about two years to prepare for an election. Now we don’t know how many months we’ll get. It’s not good for the parties, nor for the people. I suspect the junta is deliberately doing this,” Tint Swe said.

‘Correct choices’

The Southeast Asian country’s military leader, Gen. Than Shwe, has meanwhile urged the Burmese people to make what he called “correct choices” in the polls, though he didn’t indicate what those would be.

In comments to mark Burma’s Independence Day, he called the junta’s seven-stage "road map" to democracy “the sole process for transition.”

No date for elections has been set, but they will be the first since 1990, when the military refused to recognize the opposition’s victory.

Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won by a landslide but was never permitted to take office.

Aung San Suu Kyi has spent most of the last two decades under house arrest, despite widespread international appeals for her release.

New U.S. tack

U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration has taken a new tack on Burma, after decades of sanctions that have failed to push the regime toward greater openness.

Sen. Jim Webb, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs and a leading U.S. advocate for engagement with Burma, said he was “pleased” by Than Shwe's indication that elections would occur.

“I have expressed my view to the Burmese leadership that the United Nations or other international organizations could provide valuable election assistance, and thus enhance the integrity of the process,” Webb, who held a rare meeting with the reclusive Than Shwe in 2009, said.

“I stand ready to help in all appropriate ways as we work toward the day when the Burmese people can fully rejoin the world community.”

Original reporting by San San Tin and Zaw Moe Kyaw for RFA’s Burmese service. Burmese service director: Nancy Shwe. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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COMMENTS

Anonymous
Jan 07, 2010 03:51 AM

I dont think upcoming national election at Burma is Free and Fair at all. The leaders are still the leaders, and the prisoners are still the prisoners. Why do they do that? The world already knew the trick of Junta.

Anonymous
Jan 08, 2010 06:16 AM

General Than Shwe has ONE blind eye and ONE deaf ear. He closed one eye and one ear when he met Sen Webb.
I am sure " He closed his blind eye- so he can see but he closed his NOT deaf ear- so he will ignore what ever he saw".

Anonymous
Jan 12, 2010 08:13 AM

This year will be the sham election Thitsaphout Than Shwe is going to use to try and legitimize his murderous and very illegal hold on power, the world is not as crazy as Thitsaphout Than Shwe hopes they are , you can’t legitimize murder torture rape and slavery. In 1997 and 1998 Thitsaphout Than Shwe ordered a then refugee camp in Thailand at Kway Ka Lote to be attacked. Than Shwe’s brave soldiers shot and murdered unnamed civilians’ as they ran away including women and children, the shear gravity if not just the sadness of these crimes demands justice against the evil regime who ordered this crime against humanity.