Friday, July 31, 2009

Verdict on Hold

The Irrawaddy News

Did astrologers advise Snr-Gen Than Shwe to postpone the verdict in the trial of opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi? Or was it a ploy by Than Shwe, a former psychological warfare officer, to buy more time? Or did Chinese leaders tell the Burmese to postpone the ruling?

Whatever the reason, the delay is part of the twists and turns of politics in military-ruled Burma and more drama is likely to follow.

The delay should not be taken as a sign of weakness on the part of the stubborn military regime, however. It is likely that the regime is just buying time to deflect both domestic and international pressure.

The postponement of the verdict shows that the regime leaders who are prepared to impose a prison sentence on Suu Kyi wish to avoid unpleasant consequences: the outrage from the international community and more pressure from the West and neighboring countries.

The regime has no control over the sustained international pressure—UN chief Ban Ki-moon and international leaders appealed for the release of Suu Kyi and more than 2,100 political prisoners. The US, EU and Asean nations are keeping to a unified stance: free Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners.

The domestic factor may also have played a part.

Security has been beefed up in Rangoon and the countryside where small protests may occur. More riot police are deployed and more military trucks and police have moved into Rangoon.

The generals don’t want to take risks at this time, and it is perhaps a smart move to postpone the court decision.

The fact is the case is political: the regime wants to exclude Suu Kyi from politics and especially from the coming 2010 election.

However, as her supporters say, Suu Kyi is no coward, and she is ready to face reality in the military-ruled country. Suu Kyi is prepared for the worst—her lawyers said that she was stockpiling books and medicines.

Though behind bars, Suu Kyi recently commented on the regime’s planned election. Knowing that Ban had made a high level visit to Burma to discuss political issues and her release, Suu Kyi’s lawyer said she had one important message for Ban.

The message is that the UN should be prepared to denounce the upcoming elections in Burma as illegitimate if the regime does not implement national reconciliation beforehand.

Her stance on the election alone sends a strong message to the UN and the international community. She wants the generals to embrace national reconciliation.

But the generals like to talk tough, as the state-run newspapers testify. The editorials reflecting the opinion of ruling general Than Shwe and his hardliners clearly demonstrate their uncompromising stance.

“Myanmar [Burma] is an independent, sovereign county with the rights to formulate and prescribe appropriate law, and to form a government with suitable administrative machinery,” The New Light of Myanmar thundered on Wednesday.

The same newspaper said that Burma has no political prisoners, and it asked the international community not to interfere in the court ruling, saying that Burma [junta] has its own judicial system.

The paper stated there are “external interferences” in the case, and that while the Suu Kyi trial is going on in “accord with the law,” no one should call for the release of political prisoners, including Suu Kyi.

The more they talk tough in The New Light of Myanmar the more it shows the generals’ level of paranoia.

“Threatening and unnecessarily attempting to influence the trial should be avoided. Anyone should not be involved [sic] in such acts as favoring the defendant, favoring the plaintiff and using influence,” it said.

But why did they postpone the verdict?

It shouldn’t come as a surprise if the regime continues to postpone the verdict in the coming months. The generals are good at buying time and manipulating domestic and international opinion.

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