Sunday, November 7, 2010

Burma's sham election

The following is an editorial reprinted from The Irrawaddy, the influential Chiang Mai-based opposition newspaper that chronicles events and political movements inside Burma. With today's sham national election run by the junta, it is important to record the opposition.

Burma's turbulent political history and decades of military rule teach us not to be optimistic. We don't have that privilege. But we do have our thoughts to share.

Burma goes to the polls an election where 29 million eligible voters have a chance to make their choice, The election won't be free, fair and inclusive, however. The process is not only deeply flawed but also anti-democratic—an election held in a prevailing climate of fear, intimidation, harassment, rampant advance voting, and in the absence of independent media and monitors—all signs that the military and its proxy party will remain in charge.

Long before election day, critics wrote off this central part of the regime's "road map" to "disciplined democracy" as a charade to maintain the status quo and perpetuate military rule in civilian clothing. The military is clearly not prepared to return to the barracks.

The election will be held while more than 2,000 political prisoners remain behind bars and Aung San Suu Kyi is still under house arrest, although rumored to be freed shortly after the election.

Suu Kyi and her 1990 election-winning party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), are boycotting the election, a courageous decision but the subject of controversy in some quarters. Even if the NLD had decided to participate in the election, the Election Commission, handpicked by the regime, would have been unlikely to register the opposition party.

Western governments have maintained their stand that the election lacks international legitimacy, suggesting that Burma's diplomatic isolation and sanctions will continue in the post-election period.

The regime-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) is assured of victory on Sunday, so why do the junta leaders need to manipulate the election process?

Advance voting, intimidation and other blatant attempts the fix the election clearly show that the hugely unpopular regime is actually nervous about the outcome and is determined to make sure by hook or by crook that the USDP wins.

The regime campaign is also boosted by state media appeals to the electorate to perform their "democratic duty" and vote. The appeals are coupled with warnings not to heed "fabricated news" from international and exiled media.

Whatever the result, it's likely that the military will be accused for a long time to come of cheating and manipulating the outcome.

What is certain is that the turnout will be low compared to the more than 70 percent of the electorate who voted in 1990. Voters are receiving mixed signals from various campaign groups inside and outside Burma, advising them whether or not to vote. In reality, they are left with little choice.

Young people and some politicians who decided to stand and who are seen as pro-election are not necessarily pro-regime; they are also fed up with Burma's ongoing political stalemate and want to see genuine change.

Although the the script has been written prior to the election, congratulations go out to a number of small, newly established opposition and ethnic parties and individuals who continued to campaign vigorously because they believe they have the right to express their views and engage in a political contest in support of their stand. Their courage and inspiration is exemplary.

But critics and dissidents who urge a boycott of the election also have a case. They are right in supporting their stand on the grounds that the election is only designed to maintain military control.

Nevertheless, it is still better to seize any opportunity to topple the brutal, feudal rulers of Burma, even if it means voting in a sham election.

We believe it's likely that a majority of voters will withhold their support from the USDP and other regime proxy parties. In ethnic regions, we expect minority communities will vote in favor of several ethnic parties that are not associated with the regime parties. They have every right to do so, in defiance of the intimidation to which they are subjected.

Change will come to Burma not because of a sham election but because of the people's inspiration. Now is the time to shake up Burma's military dictatorship and politics of stalemate.

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