Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Myanmar Elections. And the winner is … the junta

No prize for guessing the real winners of the Nov. 7 election in Myanmar. The junta’s decision to bar foreign observers and foreign journalists from covering the polls came as no surprise. It confirmed what we knew all along: There will be an election that is anything but free and fair — and whose outcome has been decided long beforehand.

The junta has done everything to make sure it retains control of the government. Myanmar’s military will automatically receive 20 percent of the seats in the parliament. The junta also barred political figures and parties that might upset their desired outcome. Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi remained in detention and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party, which was robbed of its victory in the country’s last election in 1990, was dissolved.

The generals must have taken a page from the history of Indonesia’s elections under Soeharto in the 1980s and 1990s. The junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) will be the civilian face of what is essentially a military-controlled party, in the same way that Golkar was used by Soeharto and his generals. Myanmar’s junta learned from the best, and then improvised by barring foreign monitoring.

Since Soeharto is now dead and the nation has moved on to become a democracy (or some would say, a semi-democracy), it is unlikely that the Indonesian government will be blamed for inspiring Myanmar’s generals. But Jakarta will still have to take a stand on the electoral process of a fellow ASEAN member state. With Indonesia set to chair ASEAN next year, the region and the world are waiting to see how Jakarta responds.

The way the election has been managed is a gross violation of the values enshrined in the ASEAN Charter. While ASEAN continues to uphold the principle of non-interference, Myanmar’s junta is making a complete mockery of the charter’s provisions on freedom, human rights and democracy.

Since we already know how the election will run, and what its outcome will be, the Indonesian government may as well form its opinion now instead of waiting until Nov. 7, and start sounding out support for the prospect of expelling Myanmar from ASEAN. Anything less will only serve to undermine Indonesia’s chairmanship next year. Jakarta Post

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