TIME TO BOYCOTT  ILLEGITIMATE 2010 ELECTIONS IN BURMA

 

By Ethan Bourne

BurmaWatchUSA  Editor

 

Elections to be held in 2010 are sham elections that are induced to legitimize the military regime of Senior General Than Shwe and his followers. The same method was used by General Ne Win when he wanted to legitimize his power. History has proved that the military regime led by General Than Shwe  even purged one of his own factions (General Khin Nyunt’s intelligence branch)as he saw it as a precarious menace to his power stronghold. History has proved that General Than Shwe has gotten rid of the members of the Sangha ‘s Order who are Buddha’s Sons in the bloody crackdown of the Saffron Revolution in 2007. Over 48 million Burmese have been suffering from the human rights violations, abuses of all sorts and economic mismanagement of the few generals who headquarter themselves in Naypyidaw.

 

In retrospect, in March 1988, student-led demonstrations broke out in Rangoon in response to the worsening economic situation and evolved into a call for regime change. Despite repeated violent crackdowns by the military and police, the demonstrations increased in size as many in the general public joined the students. During mass demonstrations on August 8, 1988, military forces killed more than 1,000 demonstrators. At a rally following this massacre Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of General Aung San, made her first political speech and assumed the role of opposition leader.

In September 1988, a military coup deposed Ne Win’s Burmese Socialist Program Party (BSPP), suspended the constitution, and established a new ruling junta called the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). In an effort to “restore order,” the SLORC sent the army into the streets to suppress the ongoing public demonstrations. An estimated additional 3,000 were killed, and more than 10,000 students fled into the hills and border areas. Many left the country.

 

The SLORC ruled by martial law until national parliamentary elections were held in May 1990. These elections were generally judged to be free and fair. Many assumed that voters were not intimidated because the military incorrectly assumed that their candidates would win. The results were an overwhelming victory for Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party, which won 392 of the 485 seats, even though she was under house arrest. However, the SLORC refused to honor the results or call the parliament into session. The SLORC instead imprisoned many political activists and maintained its grip on power.

 

The ruling junta changed its name to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in 1997, but did not change its policy of autocratic control and repression of the democratic opposition. It continued to subject Aung San Suu Kyi to varying forms of detention and other restrictions on her movement, which it periodically lifted only to reinstate later. In 2000, the SPDC began talks with the political opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi. These talks were followed by the release of political prisoners and some increase in political freedoms for the NLD. In May 2002, Aung San Suu Kyi was allowed to leave her home, and she subsequently traveled widely throughout the country, where she was greeted by large crowds. On May 30, 2003, Aung San Suu Kyi and a convoy of her supporters were attacked by a group of regime-affiliated thugs. Many members of the convoy were killed or injured, and others disappeared. Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of her party were detained, and the military government forcibly closed the offices of the NLD. Today, only the NLD headquarters in Rangoon is open, all the party’s other offices remain closed, and Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest.

In October 2004, hard-line members of the senior leadership consolidated their power by ousting Prime Minister General Khin Nyunt and removing him and his allies from control of the government and military intelligence apparatus. In late November 2004, the junta announced it would release approximately 9,000 prisoners it claimed had been improperly jailed by Khin Nyunt’s National Intelligence Bureau. Approximately 86 of those released had been imprisoned for their political beliefs, including Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi, both key figures in the 1988 demonstrations. On July 6, 2005, authorities released 323 additional political prisoners and on January 3, 2007, the authorities released over 2,800 prisoners, of whom over 40 were political prisoners. Following their release, some of these activists began to reorganize and slowly resume their political activities. Following a sharp increase in fuel prices on August 15, 2007, pro-democracy groups began a series of peaceful marches and demonstrations to protest the deteriorating economic situation in Burma. The regime responded by arbitrarily detaining over 150 pro-democracy activists between August 15 and September 11, including re-arresting Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi. On August 28, as popular dissatisfaction spread, Buddhist monks began leading peaceful marches. On September 5, security forces violently broke up demonstrations by monks resulting in injuries and triggering calls for a nationwide response and a government apology. Beginning on September 18, monks resumed their peaceful protests in several cities throughout the country. These marches grew quickly to include ordinary citizens, culminating in a gathering of approximately 10,000 protestors in Rangoon on September 24. On September 25, the regime tried to stop the protests by imposing a curfew and banning public gatherings. On September 26 and 27, the regime renewed its violent crackdown, shooting, beating, and arbitrarily detaining thousands of monks, pro-democracy activists, and onlookers. The regime confirmed the deaths of only 10 protestors, but some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) estimated the number of casualties to be much higher, and in his December 7, 2007 report to the UN General Assembly, Special Rapporteur Paulo Sergio Pinheiro stated that there were over 30 fatalities in Rangoon associated with the September 2007 protests. In retribution for leading protest marches, monks were beaten and arrested, many monks were disrobed, and several monasteries were raided, ransacked, and closed. In addition to the more than 1,100 political prisoners whose arrests predate the September 2007 crackdown, another thousand or more were detained due to their participation in the recent protests. Activists continued to be arrested through December 2008.

 

In February 2008 the government announced that it had completed its draft of a new constitution and would hold a referendum in May to be followed by multi-party elections in 2010. While the referendum law provided for a secret ballot, free debate was not permitted and activities considered “interfering with the referendum” carried a three-year prison sentence. Despite the devastation from by Cyclone Nargis, the regime insisted on carrying out the referendum, and voting took place on May 10 in most of the country and on May 24 in areas affected by the cyclone. The referendum was rife with irregularities; voters arriving at polling stations were advised that their ballots had already been cast; officials distributed ballots that had previously been completed; vote counts in most areas were conducted in secret; and voters were intimidated by officials to vote in support of the constitution. On May 27, the government announced that 92.5% of voters approved the constitution, with a 98% voter turnout. Observers do not consider those figures to be credible.

 

Cyclone Nargis hit Irrawaddy and Rangoon Divisions on the evening of May 2 and morning of May 3, 2008. The storm devastated a huge swath of the Irrawaddy Delta region, wiping out entire villages and leaving an estimated 138,000 Burmese dead or missing (Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)) and approximately 2.4 million people affected by the storm. The regime was criticized for its initial reluctance to grant access to the affected region by international donors.

Starting in November 2008 the government imposed harsh sentences on large numbers of political prisoners it had arrested over the course of the previous year, including Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi. These trials were closed and did not meet minimum standards of due process. Some attorneys who attempted to vigorously represent their clients were harassed by the regime and at least four were detained themselves. The imprisoned activists were convicted, mainly in closed-door hearings, of unlawful association, illegally distributing print and video media, or generally destabilizing public security and the security of the state and were given lengthy sentences, some as long as 68 years.

 

 

Considering the ongoing human rights violations committed by the regime and  the deteriorating social and economic conditions  created by the SPDC, 2010 elections are aimed at nothing better but to hold  on to power and continue to sink Burma into deeper and more chaotic, social and economic crisis. Elections were held in 1990 and the National League for Democracy, the people’s party led by Aung San Suu Kyi won a landslide victory and the elections results must be honored without fail and members of the Parliament must convene a parliament and decide the future of Burma. On the whole 2010 elections are illegitimate  and must be boycotted at all costs.