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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 108

Burma: The Verdict of the People Can not be Stamped Out

by - Zin Linn*

2007 is an important year for the democracy movement in Burma. Political and diplomatic analysts are unanimous on this score. This is notwithstanding the latest Junta decision to extend the detention of symbol Burmese hope, Suu Kyi, for another year. For the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), a priority is drafting of the Constitution by the National Convention this year.

It also has a dream, a day dream at that a referendum on the new constitution followed by elections in 2008. Majority of the people do not agree with the road map designed to put in place military dominated rule. The Junta is going out of its way to court the support of ASEAN and other neighbouring countries especially China and India for its constitutional makeover. At the same time it is riding roughshod over the National League for Democracy (NLD) which is the only challenger to its supremacy at home.

On May 27, the Burmese observed the 17th anniversary of NLD's decisive victory in the 1990 General Elections. NLD had won 392 of the 485 seats on offer in Parliament. NLD allies, the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) won 23 seats and the Arakan League for Democracy (ALD) bagged 11 seats in what was certainly one of the free and fair elections that had taken place in the South-East Asia region.

In the contemporary history of Burma, that election will remain an important bench mark for decades to come. For a variety of reasons.

After 26 years of military dictatorship, the people got an opportunity to vote for a government of their choice. However, instead of transferring power as it promised before polls, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) decreed that the newly elected representatives would report to a national convention which would be charged with the task of drafting a new democratic constitution. The decree, 1/90 Declaration was issued on July 27, 1990.

A constitution is a contract between the people and the government of a nation. Only a statute that is willingly accepted by the people will endure the test of time. The National League for Democracy believes that if a genuine multi-party democracy is to be established in Burma, a constitution based on democratic principles is an absolute necessity.

The NLD was set up to usher in a genuine democratic system which lives upto the aspirations and hopes of the people and contributes to building a strong Union of Burma. It believes that the state derives its power from the people. And a democratic nation must have the rule of law and a constitution that guarantees human rights, and basic freedoms - of worship, expression and association. Moreover, the NLD believes that the foundation for a strong, lasting and prosperous union has to be laid through a national convention where all the ethnic groups of Burma are represented and decide collectively the destiny of the nation. The landslide victory in 1990 was a public endorsement of what all the NLD has come to stand for.

Unfortunately, SPDC and its earlier incarnation, SLORC adopted means fair and foul to undo the electoral verdict. First, it invalidated the result, and then it sacked the MPs. They were also disqualified them from standing for elections again. When the MPs resisted pressure to resign, false cases were slapped and they were thrown into jail. Once this exercise was complete and 200 members were eased out, the Junta said "Parliament is not being constituted as we don't have enough elected members".

96 of the 426 elected MPs passed away during the 17 years. Three MPs died in police custody. Tin Maung Win, NLD MP of Khayan Constituency (1), Rangoon Division, passed away on January18, 1991 in the notorious Insein Prison. Hla Than from Coco Islands Constituency (also Rangoon Division) died on August 2, 1996 at the guard ward in Rangoon General Hospital. Saw Win (a.k.a) Kyaw Zaw Lin, who had won Htee Lin Constituency (Magwe Division) on Aug 7, 1998 in Thayawaddy Prison.

Three law makers passed away soon after their release from jail. Kyaw Min of Bassein West Constituency (Irrawaddy Division), died of liver cirrhosis on July1, 1999 in Rangoon General Hospital. San San Win, who represents the Ahlon Constituency (Rangoon Division), passed away in 2000 and Hla Maung who had won Kyainseikkyi seat from Karen State died November 27, 2003.

Win Ko who represented Ye Oo Constituency (Sagaing Division), was assassinated in Kunming, China, on Nov 1, 1992 and Hla Pe, (Pyaw Bwe Constituency, Mandalay Division), was eliminated on the outskirts of Bangkok on June 16, 1993. At least 12 law makers are languishing in the Junta's notorious prison. And the appeals by the international community -United Nations General Assembly including for their release have gone in vain. In fact, there are some 1000 political prisoners. They include the 1991 Nobel Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi but the Junta has withstood the pressure calls for their release.

Suu Kyi and NLD stand for dialogue as they firmly believe in Gandhian values and concepts. But the Junta has cold shouldered NLD and ignored its dialogue offer. So NLD has no place at the National Convention the Junta has convened. The second-largest pro-democracy party, the Shan National League for Democracy (SNLD), did not turn up dubbing the convention as undemocratic. The United Nationalities Alliance (UNA), which represents the ethnic parties of Shans, Karens, Kachins, Chins, Arakans, Mons and Karennis also declared ahead of the convention that they would not go to the forum in the absence of the NLD.

It goes without saying that minus NLD the junta's national convention becomes a farce with no genuine democratic principles and objectives. SPDC's Convention has three foremost objectives. First whitewash the premeditated massacre at Depayin. Second do away with the result of the 1990 General Elections. Third persuade regional governments to support a sugar-coated military-monopolized parliament as a legislative body of Burma.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi says: " Democracy means pluralism. That means many parties, many strands of thought. That means that we have to be able to disagree. That means we have to be able to agree to disagree. Because of that, the holding of political prisoners saps peoples' confidence in the possibility of change. If people are going to be arrested for expressing their opinions, their political opinions, then how can we say that there is a hope for political freedom in Burma, and without political freedom, how can there be democracy? So, we repeat, again and again, we reiterate, that the release of political prisoners is the most important thing for all those who truly wish to bring about change in Burma.

However, present situation in Burma shows that the military junta has been adamantly marching along the anti-democracy road. For instance, 29 pro-democracy activists including Su Su Nway, the winner of the John Humphrey Freedom Award, were arrested on 15 May as they bumped into plain clothes security police and members of the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) on their way to a pagoda in Insein Township. On the same day, 13 NLD members from Hlaingtharyar township of Rangoon were arrested. Another 15 members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) who staged prayer services at a pagoda in Mingaladon were also temporarily detained by the military authorities. The authorities charged them with trying to stir up unrest by exploiting religious practice.

The state-run newspaper the New Light of Myanmar said the arrests were made by peace-loving people to prevent instigators from trying to cause insecurity and strife. The '88 Generation Students', a student group, condemned the action. It is improper and immoral to assault, perturb, harass and detain those praying peacefully for Aung San Suu Kyi. The student group urged the government to release Aung San Suu Kyi for the sake of national reconciliation.

In an unprecedented gesture, 59 former presidents and prime ministers around the world have sent a signed appeal for the unconditional release of the Nobel laureate who has been in the jail for past 11 years. The appeal followed an initiative taken by a former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) made a similar demand. Both appeals have fallen on deaf ears.

ASEAN countries and the international community have been frustrated by the slow pace of political reform in Burma. The military junta should review its policy on the NLD, stop brutal and inhumane oppressions and act in accordance with international standards of human rights.

On 30 April 2007, a seminar on Burma held on the sidelines of the 116th Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) meeting in Bali openly acknowledged that the Myanmar military junta's misrule had a spill over effect on the region and its stability. Speaker of the Indonesian Parliament Agung Laksono said that all parliamentarians have a role in encouraging the restoration of civil, political and democratic rights in Burma. There is agreement that all lovers of Burma must rally in support of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution on Burma.

On the 17th anniversary of Burma's 1990 General Elections, the key regional players China, India, Japan and ASEAN should recognize their obligation to Burma. They must urge SPDC to give up its fruitless policies and unproductive plans. If the junta is reluctant to recognize the will of its own people, the consequences that follow may not be to its likings. People's will cannot be wished away nor their aspirations just as the verdict in a popular election cannot be brushed aside for days no end.

*Zin Linn is a Burmese journalist living in exile. He is an executive member of the Burma Media Association (BMA).

- Asian Tribune -

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