By Aung Din, Executive Director of U.S. Campaign for Burma, Washington, DC
The military regime’s plan to hold an election in Myanmar in 2010 has attracted the international community’s attention. Many hope that this election will be a small step towards democracy and positive change. For those who live in pluralist societies, an election sounds encouraging.
This will not be the first election the regime held. After taking over power through bloodshed in September 1988, the regime held an election in 1990 to place its favored party, the National Unity Party (NUP), into power. To secure the NUP’s victory, the regime jailed democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior leaders of her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD).
However, to the surprise of the regime, the NLD won a landslide victory, securing 82 percent of the parliamentary seats. As the election result was not in their favor, the regime refused to transfer power.
Instead, many elected representatives were arrested, tortured, imprisoned and driven out of the country.
Now the regime has called for an election again after twenty brutal years. This time, the regime is prepared not to have history repeat itself. Its 2008 Constitution, the product of a 13-year-long process grants supreme power to the military.
A set of unfair and unjust electoral laws are in place. The regime’s handpicked election commission is up and running. Restrictions on political parties are overwhelming, including forcing them to expel party members who are in prison for their political activity.
The regime’s prime minister has formed a new party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), and declared to secure the victory. The Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), the regime’s rough equivalent of Hitler’s Brown Shirt, is campaigning for the USDP and preparing to control all polling stations.
The USDA’s involvement in the assassination attempt on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and its violent attack against anyone challenging the regime’s rule are well documented. Any candidates not anointed by the regime will face severe scrutiny over their campaign funds and any connections with foreign organizations. The commission is ready to declare their victory void if they win.
The NLD and its ethnic allies made the right decision not to participate in this corrupted process. This election is designed to legitimize and legalize military rule in Myanmar. This election will produce only the façade of a civilian government comprised of former and current generals, who will govern the country under the command of the Commander-in-Chief. The international community should follow the NLD in not recognizing this electoral farce. However, some are buying into this sham.
Even before the NLD made the decision, some diplomats and foreign observers were peddling the storyline that this election is “the only game in town” and they wanted the NLD to play in it. When the NLD decided not to join, they said the NLD was wrong. After the NLD passed the deadline to re-register the party at the election commission, they assumed that the NLD has been disbanded. Now, some are beginning to say that “there are democrats other than Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD”. They believe the NLD has quit politics, and they have to support other democrats who will contest in the elections.
Despite being forced to disband, the NLD has not quit from politics. It quit playing the regime’s game.
The NLD continues to exist as a political force regardless of whether the regime recognizes it or not.
The NLD continues to serve the interests of the people of Myanmar, make efforts to improve their lives, strengthen and solidify their support, and educate them not to vote.
The NLD still believes meaningful political dialogue between the military, democracy forces and ethnic representatives is the only means to solve the Myanmar’s wrenching problems peacefully.
There may be other democrats. But they do not represent the majority of the people of Myanmar, like the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi. Her popularity remains unchanged as the one and only national figure who can bring real national reconciliation to Myanmar. Any political process without her will never be successful.
Discounting Aung San Suu Kyi is like removing Martin Luther King Jr. from the American civil rights movement or Nelson Mandela from South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement or Vaclav Havel from Czech’s “Velvet Revolution”. Without Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD, this election will void of legitimacy.
The international community should denounce it and pressure the regime to establish a meaningful political dialogue without further delay.
We expect and implore the international community will stand firmly on the side of truth, justice and democracy. Supporting this election will only provide the regime with the legitimacy it seeks while undermining Myanmar’s democracy movement.
Discounting Aung San Suu Kyi is like removing Martin Luther King Jr. from the American civil rights movement.
The writer served over four years in prison as a political prisoner due to his leading role in the nationwide pro-democracy uprising in Myanmar in 1988. He is now the executive director of the Washington, DC-based US campaign for Myanmar.