Friday, February 19, 2010

Burma's continued tricks: the same old story

The junta will delay and rig its proposed election once international observers are out of the way

No country in the world today spends more time hatching new political ploys, on a day to day basis, to fool the world, as much as the current military regime in Burma. The recent release of senior leader U Tin Oo, of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), was good news amid a more opaque political situation.

The opposition senior has spent too long since 2003 under house arrest, along with the NLD's figurehead and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. It is strange that, every time the junta releases a prisoner, it becomes headline news around the world. In the case of Tin Oo, he should not have been under house arrest in the first place.
It is obvious to all that the Rangoon junta continues to manipulate international public opinion, especially the influential Western media, on the situation in Burma.

After all these years, the game of cat and mouse continues unabated. Despite the initial goodwill encounters between US and Burmese senior officials, both in the US and Burma, in the last quarter of last year, the prospect of moving toward national reconciliation and free and fair elections is now as distant as ever.

Washington has learned firsthand that by bending a bit in favour of a broader dialogue with the regime, it has been used and manipulated to the utmost by Rangoon. This should hardly come as a surprise after decades of Burmese manipulation. Now the US has learned the hard way that when dealing with the regime, one needs more than just goodwill and good rationales. Washington's hope that Asean - of which Burma is a member - would do more to help with the Burmese crisis, has also been dashed for the time being. Indeed, with Vietnam as the new Asean chair, Burma is no longer under its peers' microscope or pressure.

It was almost a hellish experience for Rangoon under the Thai chair because Bangkok constantly put the regime under pressure to free political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi. Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Brunei refused to back the Thai initiatives, which should highlight the concerns of all Asean members. So, this year, under this chair, Asean is not expected to call upon its members to ponder possible joint statements pressing for Suu Kyi's freedom, or advocating free and far elections, or national reconciliation, as the regional grouping has done since 2007.

From now on, the Burmese junta will be free to continue with its own propaganda, using its membership of Asean for publicity. Vietnam will not want to get involved in this mess - or, for that matter, allow Asean to do so - as Hanoi has its own skeletons in the closet. The arrest recently of Vietnamese human rights lawyer Le Cong Dinh, and other activists, has greatly tarnished Hanoi's once excellent image and its reservoir of goodwill in Washington and the rest of the world. In the remaining months of 2010, Vietnam wants to steer clear of any controversy among the Asean members.

Doubtless, Rangoon will continue with its intransigence. It is currently not willing to reveal the date of its proposed election this year. It will probably be a surprise to all when the generals do finally make an announcement. The trick, for them, is to ensure that the poll date will benefit the regime and its candidates the most. At the moment, the election timeframe is a lethal weapon in the junta's armoury. Obviously, the poll will be held in the second half of the year, when the international relief organisations and their representatives have left the country, with the post-Cyclone Nargis relief and rehabilitation plans supposedly to end by June. There will thus be no local or international scrutiny of the poll.

It is a win-win situation for the Rangoon generals. Again. Editorial in The Nation, Bangkok

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