Monday, May 18, 2009

The impact of the junta's latest gambit

by Swe Win
Mizzima News

The decision of the Burmese military junta to jail Aung San Suu Kyi on trumped-up charges is a clear indication that it will never loosen its absolute grip on power, dashing the faint hopes of those who want to break the political deadlock by participating in the planned 2010 election. The move has not only revealed the uncompromising stance of the junta’s chief, Senior General Than Shwe, but also further radicalized Burmese politics.

It is nothing uncustomary for the regime to jail political dissidents on charges shamelessly concocted out of non-political and trivial issues. A leading member of Aung San Suu Kyi’s party – National League for Democracy (NLD) – U Khin Maung Swe, who was released from imprisonment last year, spent 14 years behind bars on charges of distributing false news to the foreign media.

A fellow NLD member was jailed for allegedly possessing a fake national identity card while another was jailed for complicity in the illegal production of a [politically sensitive] music album. On every occasion, the regime paints the picture that its dissidents are punished not for their political activities, but rather under other irrelevant criminal codes--a ploy to support its claim that
there are no political prisoners, only criminals.

Now it seems an American citizen, John Yettaw, who sneaked into Aung San Suu Kyi’s house by swimming across Inya Lake, has given Than Shwe a rare chance to use a similar tactic against Burma’s leader of the democratic movement.

Than Shwe’s latest gambit belittles the debates that have been raging among individuals and groups inside and outside Burma over the 2010 election. The strongest argument of those who favor the election is that instead of continuing fruitless confrontation with the regime, opposition forces should use the election as a chance to gain a certain political space which can be gradually expanded for further democratic changes.

The argument comes from a diverse group of people: some who are genuinely frustrated with the unending political deadlock and the ageing NLD leadership and thus welcome the election as “better than nothing”; some simply resentful of the political dominance Aung San Suu Kyi and her party have long occupied in Burma; and some mere opportunists who are eager to make a personal profit out of the election.

However, the mischievous act to incarcerate Aung San Suu Kyi has almost magically muted the voices of such arguments. It is now easier for Burmese people and the international community to discern that the military regime has no intention at all to budge even a bit further towards political transition and that the 2010 election will not change the political landscape of Burma.

This situation has also brought to an end the awkward political crisis facing the NLD over the election: participation means compliance with unjust provisions of the junta’s 2008 Constitution and being accused of lack of political maneuvering while non-participation can bring charges against party leaders for being recalcitrant with a disregard for the misery of Burmese people. Were it not for the latest incident, the regime’s refusal to accept the demands in NLD’s April 29th "Shwegonedaing Declaration", which calls for the release of all political prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi and a review of the controversial provisions of the 2008 Constitution, would still not have made it less challenging for the party to boycott the upcoming election.

However, regrettably, the regime's action has also silenced the voice of the people, including those from within the NLD leadership, who genuinely wish to seek middle ground and prepare to engage with the junta in order to bring some changes to the current stalemate. Now that it seems more prudent to be cynical towards the regime, we will see more hardliners taking control of the Burmese political stage, which is not good for the future of Burma – not to mention that of Than Shwe and his generals too.

Like the nervous pilot of a crashing plan, Than Shwe no longer cares to justify his actions even in the eyes of his military establishment. After killing monks and committing numerous heinous crimes against his own people, it seems he will not take any risks. In the coming weeks his regime will likely condemn Aung San Suu Kyi to a few years of imprisonment for breaking her house arrest terms by accepting the uninvited visit of an American man and will afterwards issue a statement through the state-run press that out of sympathy for her health she will be taken back to her home and placed under house arrest instead of being forced to serve out her sentence in prison.

After a short period in prison, Yettaw will also likely be released with a clause “in consideration of bilateral relations between Burma and the United States."

The military regime will move on with its roadmap, and the year 2010 will see millions of Burmese lifelessly marching to voting stations. But Burma will remain unchanged.

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