Yangon (AsiaNews) – “All Burmese are depressed. They were not interested in the elections that just took place,” said Ashin Panna Siri, a Buddhist monk who spoke to AsiaNews. He fled Myanmar in 2008 after spending a year in prison and today lives in India. He dismisses the recent election as a “farce” put on by the military, ostensibly to set up democracy in the country, when in fact “Less than half of the people cast their ballot”. Indeed, “The military knew people would not vote. For this reason, they prearranged marked ballots before the elections.” In the meantime, security services are preparing for the release this Saturday of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi after 18 months of house arrest.
Ashin Panna Siri, from a Monastery in Mandalay, was held in the Monywa prison camp for seven months for taking part in monk-led protests in September 2007. He was later moved to a location near the border with the Indian state of Mizoram where he was able to escape. Now he lives in New Delhi.
He does not mince his words in condemning the Burmese junta for its abuses, starting with the recent elections. Pro-junta parties won an overwhelming victory in the first general elections in 20 years. However, opposition parties complained about vote rigging and are organising “a joint street demonstration” in the coming days.
Official results are expected within a week, military sources said. However, Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which is close to the junta leadership, has already claimed victory in 37 electoral districts out of 45 in Yangon alone.
However, allegations of fraud, vote rigging and ballot stuffing hover over the results. “We cannot accept these results,” Ashin Panna Siri told AsiaNews. “It is one-sided and unfair. There was no level playing field.”
“Buddhist monks can neither vote nor run for office,” he explained. Yet, they “can mobilise public opinion and this enrages the junta.” For this reason, following the failed Saffron revolution of 2007, the military began “monitoring communications in and out of monasteries,” trying “to prevent information form circulating.” Indeed, even if monks cannot play any active role in the country’s politics, they are still subject to “arbitrary arrest and forced into silence.”
What they can do is help others. In fact, Ashin urges his fellow monks to “help alleviate the suffering of the people” of Burma. He also wants to see them play a role in changing the system, even if it is controlled by the military, in order to go back to the historic Panglong Agreement of 1947, in which General Aung San, hero of the struggle for national independence and Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, along with representatives of the Shan, Kachin and Chin ethnic minorities, set up a power-sharing system that would ensure internal autonomy for minority groups within the Burmese Union.
“After General Aung San’s assassination, the Panglong Agreement quickly fell apart. We are trying to organise ourselves with minority leaders to revive the agreement,” Ashin said. Likewise, “We are also asking for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the imprisoned monks and nuns as well as political prisoners.”
In the meantime, Burmese security services are preparing for Aung San Suu Kyi’s release. Her house arrest expires in a few days time, on Saturday, in fact. However, the last word belongs to Senior General Than Shwe, head of the ruling military junta. “Things are happening,” said an anonymous official, “but the final decision has not been made.”
Ms Aung San, who has spent 15 of the past 21 years under arrest, said through her lawyers that she would not accept any strings attached to her release. Her lawyer, Nyan Win, said that his client “should be released on 13 November when her sentence ends”, but that it should be “without any conditions” because, as in the past, she “will not tolerate any limits on her personal freedom.”
(Nirmala Carvalho contributed reporting)