Thursday, August 20, 2009

Time for Decisive Action

The Irrawaddy News

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is guilty and her sentence is three years hard labor. That was the judgment handed down by a court in the compound of the notorious Insein Prison on August 11th, 2009. As a result, the military regime in Burma may believe that it has fulfilled its aim of excluding her and the pro-democracy forces from the country's political process.

There should be no doubt that Snr-Gen Than Shwe and the junta have no intention of reconciling with either Suu Kyi or any of the pro-democracy movement and ethnic forces for the interest of the various peoples or the nation.

They have made that blatantly clear time and time again, and now, this latest verdict is a loud resounding "No!" to domestic and international calls for reconciliation and an inclusive political process.

The National League for Democracy (NLD), the leadership of the pro-democracy movement, has decided to appeal the court decision. While exposing the absence of an independent judiciary and the rule of law is crucial to understanding the current state of Burma, is it really possible for a legal case to reform the judiciary system?

When the charges are trumped up, when the verdict is ridiculous and the when the sentence is politically manipulated, is it remotely possible for an appeal to successfully secure the release of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate?

Than Shwe has already given us his answer when he intervened to put his stamp of recognition of the courts' verdict and colluded with the court to sentence her to 18 months house arrest. However, he did not use his omnipresent power to intervene for her release.

His intervention can only be interpreted as a sign that the regime refuses to reconcile with Suu Kyi or to move toward national reconciliation and democratic transition.

It may be that the leadership of our movement has a strategic plan to bring about positive change through taking on the judiciary system and, indeed, in the face of such injustice, it is of course absolutely necessary to fight in the court.

The trial may also encourage international sympathy and support for the movement and contribute to raising public awareness, fueling discontent with the regime’s wily ways.

However, one can't help but worry that the legal battle will divert the NLD's direction away from mobilizing the public, which is surely the most critical challenge at this current juncture; critical because the response to the looming challenge will define the future of the country's political process. This challenge is the 2010 election.

The forthcoming election—which will exclude all democrats from the nation's political process—will soon be accomplished, just as the referendum was accomplished, unless pro-democracy groups can change Than Shwe and his military clique’s minds.

The election result will be just as rigged as the referendum's—unless, of course, the pro-democracy groups can change the rules of game beforehand.

The election will activate the military constitution, but will otherwise go nowhere except to legalize military rule in Burma.

The NLD proposed to the regime through its ''Shwe-Gone-Taing Declaration'' that it would consider participating in the election if certain conditions were met. Two vital conditions are the release of its leader, Daw Aung san Suu Kyi, and all other political prisoners, and the review and revision of the 2008 constitution. The NLD has indeed offered some middle ground to break t the country's political deadlock.

Again, Than Shwe has said “No” by transferring Suu Kyi to Insein Prison and bringing yet more charges against her.

In my opinion, in the face of all these refusals, the leadership of the pro-democracy movement is left with no choice but to oppose the elections in 2010 and must state so urgently and without diversion.

This is the right moment for them to bring all political forces on board to boycott the elections.

Time is running out for the leadership of the pro-democracy movement. The place for today's strategic battle is in the political arena, supported by the people. It is time for the leadership to take decisive action to prepare and mobilize for a mass boycott of the 2010 elections.

Aung Moe Zaw is chairman of the Democratic Party for a New Society, an opposition group based in exile.

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