Sunday, April 4, 2010

Election in Myanmar - All is Not Well

With the announcement of the Political Parties Registration Bylaw, the scene is now set for the holding of the long-awaited 2010 elections in Myanmar.  While some groups are registering parties, many existing opposition parties remain undecided. 
The parties do not now have the leisure of debating the legality of the Constitution or the electoral laws since they have to register within 60 days of the announcement of the Political Parties Registration Bylaw. Decisions will need to be made quickly if they want to compete, while at the same time, the parties will need to focus on their election manifestos.
At least seven political groups are now preparing to register with the Election Commission. They include: 1. National Unity Party (NUP) formerly the Burmese Socialist Programme Party, 2. Democratic Party (DPM), 3.Union of Myanmar National Political Force, 4.88 Generation Students Union of Myanmar, 5.Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), backed by the SPDC. 
The government-backed USDA and some of its allied parties have been allowed to campaign extensively even prior to the promulgation of the election laws, for over a year now.  It is learnt a prominent Shan political leader, Shwe Ohn is also planning to contest the elections. 
The Kachin State Progressive Party (KSPP) led by Dr Manam Tuja, former leader of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) is entering the electoral fray with the requisite 15 Central Committee members and a minimum of 500 party members in Kachin State. The party is now preparing to register itself within the 60 days as stipulated in the party registration law, and its leaders have promised to work for the progress and development of education, health and the social status of Kachin nationals.
The Democratic Party - Myanmar (DPM) headed by veteran politician U Thu Wai along with few alliance partners are gearing up to contest the forthcoming elections. The DPM has been working towards forming a political party since the end of last year to contest the elections but could not do so officially because electoral laws were not announced till recently. 
A group of Chin politicians are now preparing to participate in the general elections. It maybe recalled in the 1990 elections, Chin State was divided into 13 constituencies and Chin National League for Democracy won four seats, Zomi National Congress won two seats, Mara People’s Party won one seat, National United Party won one seat and the National League of Democracy won four seats in Parliament. However, as part of a crack-down by the regime on politicians and parties, many parties including the Chin National League for Democracy-(CNLD), Zomi National Congress-(ZNC) and the Mara People’s Party-(MPP) were banned.  Now Chin political activists want a new party to contest the election, which can include all politicians in the various townships in Chin State. 
Similarly, several prominent Karen nationals are reportedly busy forming political parties to contest this year's general election, while others are preparing to stand individually. Three Karen political parties were formed at the time of the 1990 elections: the Karen State Nationals Organization (KSNO), the Union Karen League, and the Karen National Congress for Democracy. The KSNO won in one constituency while the National League for Democracy (NLD) won in 10 of the 14 constituencies in Karen State. 
The ruling Junta have issued the white ID cards used for foreign nationals to Muslim communities in northern Arakan State to vote in the election  However, its likely that Muslim communities in Maungdaw and Buthidaung may vote for their Muslim leaders and not junta associates. This is due to their dislike of the regime and the oppression and discrimination of Muslims in Myanmar. 
However, Myanmar’s biggest Opposition party the National League for Democracy (NLD) has announced that it would not register for 2010 election because it’s of the opinion the election laws are unfair and unjust. This means Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s party; NLD will have no role in the military-led political process
The NLD is angered by the military junta’s restrictive election laws, which bar current and former prisoners from taking part. Many NLD members are among the 2,100 political detainees in Burma, the most famous of whom is Ms Suu Kyi. The party faces dissolution if it refuses to register. The NLD won the last election in 1990 by a landslide but was never allowed to rule.
Similarly, some of the Kachin, Chin and Karen nationals have taken the decision not to take part in the election. This will allow the ruling SPDC to disband them or take whatever necessary measures against them. However, if the SPDC miscalculates and the ethnic ceasefire groups fight back and the fighting intensifies, the SPDC may change its game plan and use the instability as a pretext to postpone elections indefinitely.
The election in Myanmar has been widely dismissed as unfair. This is because while electoral laws provide for a relatively ‘free’ vote on voting day with representatives of political parties present at the polling station, the extensive powers given to the Election Commission effectively nullifies that ‘freedom’. 
In other words, the Election Commission will pre-screen political parties and candidates that will be allowed to run. Only those who are not deemed ‘dangerous’ to the SPDC will be allowed to proceed to the voting stage. At that point, the people will be ‘free’ to choose between SPDC candidates and candidates that are friendly to the regime.
Once again these measures expose the well-orchestrated strategies of the regime and its determination to shape the outcome of the elections. The political parties and the candidates that want to compete and represent their constituencies will have to come up with strategies that will not disqualify them prior to voting day.
The reluctance of the opposition parties and ethnic parties, to participate in the elections suggest it’s a sham electoral process orchestrated by an oppressive military regime that’s in power for nearly three decades. 
Similarly it also reflects that Myanmar’s national reconciliation process leading to democratization of the country could not be achieved without the participation of all the ethnic groups and political parties in Myanmar. All this reflects that every thing is not well with the election in Myanmar. 
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at