02/23/2012, 00.00
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Thein Sein is an "accidental" reformer, Burmese want real democracy, Burmese exiled leader says

by Dario Salvi
For dissident Tint Swe, Aung San Suu Kyi's election to parliament will bring change but the opposition will not have much weight in the corridors of power. The population backs the struggle and the vote is a "stepping stone", but the new Burmese president is no Gorbachev. He will implement General Than Shwe's plans.

Rome (AsiaNews) - Burmese authorities have lifted restrictions on Aung San Suu Kyi who is running for one of 48 seats up for grabs in the by-elections of 1 April. She will be able to hold rallies in stadiums and other open spaces. Today the Nobel Prize laureate arrived in the northern state of Kachin, scene of fighting between the central government and local rebel groups. She is scheduled to meet local political leaders and address the public.

Burma experts are full of praise for the good intentions expressed by the country's "civilian" government as it implements a series of democratic reforms. Thei Sein's announcement to ASEAN that Myanmar might allow observers from the association of ten South-east Asian nations is part of this trend. In fact, the president said he is seriously considering letting them in.

However, other events cast a shadow over the possibility of real change. This is made the more so by the decision to retry Ashin Gambira, a dissident leader involved in the September 2007 Saffron Revolution who was recently released after receiving a 68-year sentence.

Gambira is going before a court to answer charges of unlawful occupation of a monastery in Yangon after he entered the structure and broke the seals placed by the authorities.

Since he was freed, he has violated several of the terms of his release, including giving interviews in which he criticised the country's leadership.

To understand better Burma's evolving political situation, its journey to democracy and the upcoming by-elections AsiaNews spoke with Tint Swe, a member of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB). The latter is made of Burmese who went into exile after the country's military junta refused to recognise the victory of the National League for Democracy(NLD) in the 1990 parliamentary elections. After fleeing his country for India in 1990, Tint Swe settled in New Delhi on 21 December 1991 where he works in the medical field. He is also the NCGUB's information officer for South Asia and East Timor and the representative of the NLD's representative in India.

Here is the interview Tint Swe granted to AsiaNews:

What are your expectations for the incoming 1st April elections?

Nobody expects much out of the by-election. However it is truly significant as new parliament will be gain endorsement by Aung San Suu Kyi though her party's number is merely minimal. Some of the impossibilities in the legislature body can become probable. It is not the number value that caused the changes already done. Outside Parliament politics is more important than the existing Parliament and the same implication will be true the next parliament where NLD will be sitting.

The manifesto of the National League for Democracy (NLD) clearly tells the voters and the government in power that Aung San Suu Kyi will be working on three most important tasks - to rule of law, amendment of the constitution and peace. So we can witness debates and something new because Aung San Suu Kyi never gives any pledge, which she cannot do.

How do you consider the electoral campaign? And will the vote be free and fair?

The responsible authorities are giving promises of freedom and fairness of the election. The Election Commission chief U Tin Aye's words are let bygones be bygones. It can be interpreted that criticisms on the election held in 2010 was correct and that will not repeat this time. However, people do not believe the promises given by the incumbent regime. So far, there are reports of restrictions and ridiculous measures done by different levels of authorities against Aung San Suu Kyi's election campaign. Unprecedented exam was ordered to University students in Pathein, sport stadiums are not allowed, anti-Aung San Suu Kyi A-4 paper distribution, etc. The local election commission did not allow her to campaign in Kachin State where negotiations are not successful yet. Security can be the reason but joining hands of ethnic peoples and NLD can be seen a threat by the present government.

Aung San Suu Kyi will be probably elected, but even if NLD will conquer all 48 seats, it can determine or change something in the Parliament?

Something will definitely be seen in the Parliament. The NLD carries the weight though the number is minimal. Not all decisions need voting. Not all candidates of regime's party are pro-dictatorship. Non-USDP (Union Solidarity and Development Party) will be encouraged. Ethnic parties will work with NLD which has said of internal peace. The president U Thein Sein and those who are on the side of reform definitely seek Aung San Suu Kyi's weight and endorsement.

Anyway, whatever will be the result it have a major "political" importance. I mean, if NLD wins the majority of the seats it means that Burmese people is with the opposition (as it seems to be).

The majority of the population has been striving for democracy. The legislative bodies of all levels have minimal number of pro-democracy representatives. This number will be marginally added. The struggle will go on till the number does represent the majority. However, NLD's presence is politically important for all - NLD, U Thein Sein's government and the international community. April election is a stepping-stone for the future of NLD as well as of the country.

In your opinion, are recent reforms made by Burmese government sincere and real? I.e. release of political prisoners, peace agreement with minority group and so on.

The over a half-decade experience tells us that the military and or semi-military regimes are not trustworthy at all. General Ne Win, Senior General Saw Maung and Senior General Than Shwe are examples. The USDP is seen a bit different from BSPP (Burma Socialist Program Party). It looks better but the current USDP government has credentials of mob attack against Aung San Suu Kyi and pro-democracy activists. Additionally it was USDP, which orchestrated vote stealing in the election held in 2010. It is wrong to give credit to the USDP government but to those who have sacrificed. The changes are not matched with the lives of those who died, jailed and fled the country.

What do you think about recent success of Burmese worker after a protest? Is it a sign of people's power? Will it pave the way for trade unions in the near future?

Yes, workers are in the mood to fight their rights. In fact, it is not only the workers but also all others such as students, artists, media and civil societies, which are correctly exploiting the situation. The International Labour Organization (ILO) has been working hard with gradual success. The Federation of Trade Unions - Burma (FTUB) and other labour groups have been the semi-official representatives of labour force. ILO wants them a say. Unfortunately, FTUB has been announced unlawful association by the military regime. That means all wrong doings of the military junta are the real obstacles for the USDP regime. It was the civil society movement, which made Myitson dam project to halt. More can be expected.

Reform process started by incumbent president Thein Sein is genuine and they represent a major breakdown thinking about Than Shwe rule?

U Thein Sein got reputation of reformist by chance not by desire. He was former Prime Minister and chosen by Than Swe who wanted his exit smooth. Than Shwe did not want Burma to be democratic but he cared for his own. He saw the last days of Muammar Muhammad Gaddafi and Hosni Mubarak. He might want to die like Kim Il-sung. Then he chose his own man Thein Sein.

Then Thein Sen becomes the successor who has to implement the plan agreed with his boss. In the history of Burma, he is like U Nu whose luck favoured him to take lead after assassination of Aung San in 1947. The important fact is that Thein Sein follows what he agreed with Than Shwe.

Otherwise Than Shwe has to be put under house arrest to do all different from what State Peace and Development Council (SDPC)'s doings. But Thein Sein is not the second Mikhail Gorbachev.

Is it true that in Burma there are two different sides, behind the curtain, in parliament, one reformist and the second against it? And in the middle, most part of parliamentarians are waiting for the winning side?  In addition, what is the role of the Army?

The theory is relevant but everywhere there is such and it is normal. The army as well as the autocrats had the tradition of follow-the-order mechanism of workings since 1962. Old habits are awfully difficult to change. The orders come but they do not know what to do exactly. Even some policy makers are confused. It is right to seek outside opinions. However, there are exploiters who just want for their own. The country needs to choose the right organizations and right consultants. Aung San Suu Kyi knows it well but so far, she is just an invitee. At parliament level, it is still difficult to see the impact because most of all elected in 2010 are half-cooked. We cannot expect much during this tenure.

Do you agree with Aung San Suu Kyi when she asked to wait for the 1 April election before removing Western sanctions?

I have more reservations then Aung San Suu Kyi on this issue. It is not enough to lift all sanctions even the April election was said to be fairly conducted. Restrictive and unjust laws are the first to be removed before the sanctions. UN human rights envoy's reports are also the criteria. Assurance for internal peace process must also be considered. Above all the 2008 constitution must be amended.

How do you see future in Burma? Did you change your view in the last 12 months?

Yes, there will be more changes in a year. But it could be more for face value. For millions of refugees and migrant workers the ground is still not fertile. Changes in Naypyitaw do not mean that. One-year work cannot make tangible development in country's economy, health and education. The Burma Army needs to cope with the changing situation. It will take time hopefully not for 12 years!

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See also
Burmese Dissident: little hope from United States - Myanmar summit
Tint Swe: The military junta - not sanctions – cause of Burmese people’s suffering
World tired of dictatorships like that of Burma
World not realising military junta does not want to change, Burmese exile says
Aung San Suu Kyi “pivotal” for change in Myanmar, Burmese exile says