Sunday, August 9, 2009

What to do with The Lady

By Larry Jagan

Delays in the trial of Burmese democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi have fuelled the rumour mill about what the secretive junta is really up to as elections draw closer

(Bangkok Post) -The delay in the trial of Burma's democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has fuelled intense speculation about why the military junta is dragging out the court ruling and what its real agenda is. As Burma's top general Than Shwe has often told subordinates, international pressure "is like an elastic band" - when it's pulled tight nothing should be done as it only makes matters worse. When the elastic band is relaxed "we proceed with our plans".

There is no doubt that the international pressure is very taut at the moment, and the delaying tactics appear to fit neatly into Than Shwe's strategy of dealing with the opposition leader's continued detention. But he must know that the campaign in support of Aung San Suu Kyi will not subside.

The democracy icon is poised to learn her fate on Tuesday when the judges reconvene their secret court inside Insein prison. She is on trial for allegedly breaking the conditions of her house arrest, when she gave food and shelter to an uninvited American who swam to her lakeside residence. If found guilty, she faces a maximum of five years in jail.

The verdict was originally scheduled to be announced more than a week ago, but the court postponed its decision on the grounds that it needed more time to consider the legal arguments in relation to the 1974 constitution - which Aung San Suu Kyi's lawyers insist is no longer relevant.

There is no doubt that one of the regime's main concerns is the possibility of street protests when the verdict is announced. The state-run media warned the public against protesting for several days before the scheduled court verdict last week. They particularly wanted to avoid the Aug 8 anniversary of the mass pro-democracy movement which toppled the previous military ruler, Ne Win.

Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty International's Bangkok-based Burma researcher, said the delay could be a tactic to "bait any potential demonstrators or activists anticipating a guilty verdict to identify themselves, and then switch the date of the verdict so there is enough time to crack down on them".

At least 30 National League for Democracy (NLD) activists were arrested in Rangoon and other towns on the eve of the original verdict hearing, although many have since been released.

Some Burma watchers say that Aung San Suu Kyi being found guilty is a fait accompli.

"These charges are a complete and crude fabrication, a pretext to keep Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in detention," the former UN human rights rapporteur for Burma, Professor Paulo Pinheiro, told Spectrum.

British ambassador to Burma Mark Canning, who completed his posting there last month, said: "The trial has been entirely scripted and the end already decided before hand," he said after a rare occasion when he was allowed to attend the court hearing.

Public sentiment echoes that of the diplomats. "No one is in any doubt about the outcome," said Moe Moe, a taxi driver in the country's main commercial city.

"Those men in green in Naypyidaw [the new capital] know she is the people's hero and the real leader of this country."

But is it as cut and dried as the diplomats would have us believe, or is Than Shwe unsure of how to handle the case with one eye on next year's election and the ongoing problem Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters would present him with after a transition to his homegrown version of "democracy"?

Than Shwe plans to announce the formation of an interim government that will hold administrative power for at least one year, until the elections are staged, according to senior military sources in Naypyidaw.

He and other senior generals around him, especially Maung Aye, plan to stand down when the time is right, after the elections planned for next year. New houses are being built for them near Maymeo. The regional commander has confiscated large tracts of land there and new residences for the top military brass are already being built, according to Burmese military sources.

All government ministries have been told to complete all their outstanding work by the end of August, especially the preparation of statistical information.

Aung Thaung, the minister and a close confidant of Than Shwe's, recently told his deputies that there would be a new government soon, and he may no longer be the minister. Most of the current crop of ministers have also told their staff they will no longer be ministers by the end of the year. It is understood that members of the interim government will not be allowed to run in the elections, which is why the ministers will resign their posts and not take part in the pre-election administration.

"According to Than Shwe's plans, all the current ministers will have to resign, if they are to join a political party and fight the forthcoming elections," said the independent Burmese academic, Win Min.

Many analysts believe Than Shwe has been waiting for the verdict to further marginalise Aung San Suu Kyi before proceeding with his plans for a a civilian administration ahead of the elections. "The whole country will really be surprised to see how power is handed over," he reportedly told a high-ranking visiting foreign official.

So far there have been no hints as to who will be in the interim administration. Some analysts speculate that it may even include a senior member of the NLD - which would then preclude them from running for office in next year's elections.

This would also be one way of giving this body credibility - both nationally and internationally. It is possible that Than Shwe wants Aung San Suu Kyi herself to participate in the interim administration, a senior government official recently told Spectrum.

For Than Shwe, there is another major consideration - what to do with Aung San Suu Kyi after the elections. While it may be relatively easy to keep her locked up until then, the problem is that releasing her afterwards would only ensure she would be an enormous thorn in the side of any civilian government.

So Than Shwe's plans must involve finding a way to neutralise her and at the same time give her freedom. That is the key issue Than Shwe now has to grapple with, and until he decides what to do with her, she will remain in detention.

The timing of the election is crucial to what happens next week. All indications are that it is likely to take place towards the end of next year. So the further away it is, the more likely it is that the process will be drawn out - first a verdict, then another delay before sentencing, and appeals to the high court.

If Than Shwe is considering ways to co-opt Aung San Suu Kyi, then there must be secret talks or contact between the two. Leading opposition figures in Rangoon, including her lawyers, categorically dismiss these suggestions. Diplomats are equally sceptical.

"But if there were such talks I wouldn't tell diplomats - and certainly not journalists," a western diplomat in Rangoon told Spectrum. After all, it took months for news of the regime's secret talks with Aung San Suu Kyi to emerge, when she was under house arrest in 2000. Those, brokered by the UN envoy Razali Ismail, led to her release in May 2002.

"Whatever happens, Aung San Suu Kyi will be freed before the elections take place," claimed a senior government official with close links to Than Shwe.

Recent Posts from Burma Wants Freedom and Democracy

Recent posts from WHO is WHO in Burma


The Nuke Light of Myanmar Fan Box
The Nuke Light of Myanmar on Facebook
Promote your Page too