Elections in Burma: Than Shwe moves to ensure funerals with “pomp and honour”
AsiaNews spoke with Tint Swe about the current situation and future developments in Myanmar. He is a member of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB) set up after the 1990 elections. After fleeing to India, he has been living in New Delhi since 21 December 1991.
Burma’s current military junta has learnt two lessons since it took power, two decades ago. Like the soldiers trained by the Japanese Imperial Army in 1940 to fetch water with leaky bottles, they realised that demonstrations like those organised by students in 1988 (hence labelled 8888) had to be prevented at all costs, even if it meant doing away with quality education. Students might pay two-week tuition fees for a year education; medical students might not know where the liver is, but that is okay so long as they do not take part in any demonstrations, whether on 8 August 1988, 9 September 1999 or 10 October 2010.
The second lesson the junta took away from the past was never allow free and fair elections as it did in 1990 when the NLD led by Aung San Suu Kyi won an overwhelming victory. Elections this year will in fact not be a repeat of those of 1990. The generals are indeed fetching water with a bottle leaking from all parts.
Generalissimo Than Shwe and his team have showed a remarkably wicked cleverness in organising the elections on 7-11 November of this year. It took them 14 years to write a constitution, albeit full of flaws, and submitted it to a referendum for approval in May 2008 when the country and its people were struggling with the aftermath of cyclone Nargis. The junta’s Election Commission also adopted an election law designed to exclude the winners of the 1990 election and Aung San Suu Kyi, the only leader who could move public opinion, both at home and abroad.
Similarly, ten parties that took part in the 1990 election were the latest casualties in this policy of exclusion. The Election Commission also banned an additional five parties, leaving 37 parties in the run. Earlier, the commission had also banned the NLD.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed his concern in regards to the ban of Aung San Suu Kyi’s party. However, whilst the junta did its job thoroughly, the United Nations only stuck to words, no action. The NLD, for its part, engaged in grassroots politics as its leaders organised meetings and conferences across the country.
Burma’s Kachin minority knows how to deal politically with the junta. Its leaders tend to keep their lips sealed with the media, and are able to hide their anger even though they are pressure from the military.
The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) signed a ceasefire agreement with the government, but has tried to delay attempts to get it to become a border police. In a smart move, some KIO have left the organisation to set up the Kachin State Progressive Party (KSSP). However, in an even smarter move, the military junta through the Election Commission has rejected its application for recognition and has prevented Kachin candidates from running as independents. The issue is much more than about ethnic or regional politics since the regime’s own party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), would not be expected to win in Kachin State if the KSPP were allowed to run.
Indeed, in order to ensure that officers of all ranks, including U Thein Sein, U Shwe Mann, U Tin Aung Myint Oo and I Maung Oo, are elected, the Commission is letting them run in ridings in the capital, Naypyidaw, where they and their cronies live.
Without the NLD, the USDP is thus expected to win. Yet, to ensure victory, the law stipulates that results will be deemed valid if they are announced on TV, radio and government newspapers, irrespective of whether the official count has been completed or not, as was the case in the controversial constitutional referendum of 2008.
What it boils down to is that only two parties are vying for power in these elections, the USDP, which is running 1,163 candidates, and the National Unity Party (NUP), with 980 candidates. The first is led by U Thein Sein, the current prime minister; the second is connected to former Burmese dictator Ne Win, which won ten seats in the 1990 elections. The latter is remembered for its 26-year rule and for turning Burma into one of the least developed countries in the world by 1987.
For those who want to look beyond 2010, the new year will usher an era where parliament includes 25 per cent army officers, more than 50 per cent from the USPD, and less than 25 per cent from the NUP. Only a lucky few from other parties can hope to seat in the new legislature. All of them will be under the thumb of Generalissimo Than Shwe in association with Maung Aye. This is the kind of change that can be expected.
However, three A’s will shape the generalissimo’s term in office, namely the armed forces, his age and Aung San Suu Kyi. Unfortunately, for him that is, two of these three factors are against him.
Than Shwe’s final lesson will be, not to follow in the footsteps of Ne Win and Saw Maung, who fell from grace, and were eventually repudiated during their funeral. Hence, the generalissimo had an urgent need to pick this year, not elect, people would ensure that he and his wife are given a funeral with full pomp and honour.