Though the Burmese military regime claims that its upcoming elections will be free and fair, every round of new election laws takes them farther from that goal. Though over thirty political parties plan to contest the election, the regime refuses to give them a political voice to reach out to their constituents.
After the regime announced the election, it allowed the media more leeway, but beginning in June, the regime put greater restrictions in place, ending any free election coverage. Now the Press Scrutiny Board monitors all election coverage and won’t allow any coverage that is anti-government or anti-election.
“The government wants to make sure that pro-democracy parties . . . do not get their message out through the media,” one editor said to the Irrawaddy.
Each candidate who contests the election must pay a fee of 500,000 kyat (US $500). This has become a significant obstacle for parties that are not affiliated with the government and don’t have access to large financial resources, and also opens up space for more candidates supported by the government.
Candidates who are able to pay the fee face laws limiting the actions of political parties themselves in reaching out to their constituents. Parties cannot display flags, march, or chant slogans in a procession, for example. Meanwhile, military intelligence agents dressed in civilian clothings attend party meetings and campaign events, frightening local people away from attending. “The nearer the election, the more difficulties we have,” the chairman of a contesting party told the Irrawaddy.
In the last Burmese elections in 1990, the National League for Democracy (NLD), lead by Aung San Suu Kyi, was elected but never allowed to take power. Though she and her party clearly have the support of the people, the NLD is prevented from participating in the 2010 election because of an election law preventing political prisoners from participating.
The NLD officially boycotted the election in protest rather than expel its detained members, but a splinter broke off to form the National Democratic Front (NDF). Because the NLD didn’t register for the election, it was disbanded as a political party. These elections cannot represent the will of the people if the party that overwhelmingly won the last election is prevented from even participating.
The United States government has issued several statements concerning the upcoming elections, denouncing its illegitimate and unfair ways. But action speaks louder than words. The US government must take drastic action against the military regime in Burma. It must not recognize the election process and its results. It must support a UN-led Commission of Inquiry to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by the regime. It must place global arms embargo against the regime so that it cannot buy weapons to kill or intimidate innocent civilians.
An election that does not allow political parties the space to campaign or allow leaders with popular support to contest the election cannot have a legitimate result. And the government that is born out of an undemocratic, sham election process cannot and will not deliver genuine democracy and reforms that can truly benefit the people of Burma.