Monday, September 7, 2009

Burma’s New Constitution Privileges Soldiers above Civilians

The Irrawaddy News

For decades, politics in Burma has been in crisis and the eventual outcome is often violence and oppression. Subjected to extreme poverty, armed conflicts and natural disaster, the people, like it or not, approved a new constitution in 2008.

The average Burmese citizen probably expects life to be less oppressive under a new civilian government. However, there is no escaping the fact that Burma’s third constitution was designed by the junta to institutionalize its role in politics.

Born with the nation’s independence struggle and believing its role is to safeguard the country from disintegration—a conventional excuse by military leaders to claim legitimacy—the Burmese military has constructed a legal fortress in the new constitution, which it calls its “national political leadership role of the State.”

This is the heart of the military-designed constitution and exemplifies its distrust of civilian politicians, and the role of the public in forming a consensus in society.

In democratic theory, if a single party wins a majority of seats in parliament, a country can enjoy stability and development with the support of the majority of the population. It can also avoid a coalition form of government that can often create instability in politics.

But Burma’s constitution is different, and it is constructed to avoid the dominance of a single civilian party, which could provide a viable opposition to the military rulers.

Soldiers and the Making of Laws

Therefore, the constitution was built around a theory of “disciplined democracy” with 25 percent of the bicameral parliament comprised of military representatives—a maneuver that is intended to avoid another 1990-style election in which the opposition party won a landslide victory.

The military is guarantied 110 out of 440 seats in the Pyithu Hluttaw (People’s Parliament) and 56 out of 224 seats in the Amyotha Hluttaw (Nationalities Parliament). Also, military officials will hold the same share in state and region Hluttaws as well as the leading bodies of self-administrative areas. Section 121/j bans all civil service personnel from contesting in the Hluttaw elections.

Even though it has only 25 percent representation in parliament, the military becomes the dominate block in the legislative process, because to approve or reject a constitutional amendment or legislative bill requires the approval of more than 75 percent of parliament.

In this scenario, there a single political party, even if it had 100 percent unanimity, can not pass its proposed legislation without the approval of the military representatives in parliament. Thus, political parties are forced to seek a coalition or compromise with the military.

However, the constitution stipulates that the military doesn’t need the approval of parliament for legislation related specifically to defense and security affairs. Section 20/b stipulates that “the Defense Services has the right to independently administer and adjudicate all affairs of the armed forces.”

Moreover, Hluttaw committees, commissions and bodies for defense and security affairs must be comprised of a majority of military-appointed representatives, according to Section 115 and 147.

Soldiers and Ruling a Nation

The 2008 constitution stipulates that the president is elected by a Presidential Electoral College, as stated in Clause 60.

The Electoral College is formed into three groups—one each from the Pyithu and Amyotha Hluttaw, and a third entity of appointed representatives of the military drawn from both Hluttaws. The groups will elect three presidential candidates and the military will nominate one candidate.

Like the NLD’s landslide victory in the 1990 election, a political party could win the majority of 330 seats in Pyithu Hluttaw. But it can’t expect their candidate to be elected president and form a government because one of the criteria for the president, as stated in Clause 59/d, is that the president has to be “well acquainted” with military affairs, which limits the chances of a non-military approved candidate being elected but does not make it impossible.

Therefore, the president’s power has been limited in the affairs of defense and security. Without seeking the consent of the president, the commander-in-chief of the military can independently appoint and operate three ministries: Defense, Home Affairs and Border Affairs.

Some constitutional observers may argue that this is a fair sharing of power between the military and a civilian government. But the constitution also offers absolute powers to the military that go against any normal democratic-based constitution.

National Defense and Security Council: A Supreme Power

The most powerful body created by the constitution is the National Defense and Security Council (NDSC). The body is composed of 11 members with the military granted six positions, ensuring that all the important affairs of state brought to the NDSC will be under the effective control of the military.

The NDSC’s four major tasks are: first, the president has to “appoint the commander-in-chief of Defense Services with the [NDSC’s] proposal and approval” as stated in Section 342;

Second, if declaring a state of emergency nationwide, the president must transfer “legislative, executive and judiciary powers to the commander-in-chief,” as stated in Section 417 and 418; third, the commander-in-chief can rule the country a maximum of two years under the state of emergency, and after the period, the NDSC will exercise the three powers under the name of the president, as stated in Section 421, 427 and 431; fourth, Section 429 stipulates that the NDSC will hold the general election in accord with the provisions of the constitution within six months from the day of withdrawing the state of emergency.

In spite of the above-mentioned constitutional rights, the military generals further cemented their power with one more important clause in Section 20/f: “The Defense Services is mainly responsible for safeguarding the Constitution.”

Translation: at any time, Burma can return to total military rule if the generals believe there is a threat to the constitution.

Htet Aung can be reached at htetaung69(@)

Burma Newscasts - Burma’s New Constitution Privileges Soldiers above Civilians
7 September 2009

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Prelude to a Civil War?

The Irrawaddy News

Many were surprised by the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) attack against the Kokang forces.

Some had been so preoccupied with the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi that they were not even aware of the impending crisis. Others could not understand why the Burmese military would turn against their allies who have had a cease-fire agreement for more than 20 years.

Yet others thought that the Burma Army would never dare to incur the wrath of China. After all, had the Chinese not, in June, requested Vice-Snr-Gen Maung Aye to maintain stability on the border? This development was especially surprising to those who were convinced that Burma is a client state of China.

This failure to anticipate events underscores the weakness of the Burmese democracy movement, in particular, and the international community, in general.

We have often failed to understand the strategy and plans of the ruling military government. We have looked at their actions through our own prisms and misinterpreted their intentions. We have tended to see SPDC pronouncements as propaganda and have not paid enough attention to what it is planning to do.

Nobody is happy with military rule in Burma so we dismiss the SPDC “road map” to democracy and its constitution. But how many of us have actually studied the constitution in detail, not to criticize it, but to see how the military actually plans to implement its “road map” policies and how we can use its plans to our advantage?

In 2004, the SPDC announced the “road map,” and last year it announced plans for an election in 2010. We were outraged when the referendum was held two weeks after Cyclone Nargis had devastated the delta and Rangoon. We would not have been surprised had we realized that Snr-Gen Than Shwe takes the “road map” seriously.

He will not allow anything to stand in its way. A series of recent events has also taken some of us unaware—he release of U Win Tin; the first ever post-1990 congress of the National League for Democracy (NLD); Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial, the unseasonable attack on the Karen National Union; the attack on Kokang and now possibly an attack on the Wa.

These seem to be the random acts of a paranoid and unpredictable leader—the image we like to portray of Snr-Gen Than Shwe. But in reality, all these events have a common goal: the success of the 2010 elections. They are the rational outworking of a well-calculated and orchestrated operation plan of the SPDC.

The proposal to the ethnic cease-fire groups to transform themselves into Border Guard Forces (BGF) under the control of the Burma army is also an attempt to clear the decks before the 2010 elections. It was meant to either provoke the cease-fire groups to reject the proposal and be destroyed or frighten them into submission and acceptance of the SPDC road map.

It is clear that the BGF proposal was a provocation. This is because during the past 20 years, nothing of this matter was ever discussed with the cease-fire groups. They were told they could keep their arms and could negotiate with the newly elected government on the political terms they wanted.

Suddenly, in April they were told they had until October 2009 to decide. Analyzing the ceasefires, it is clear that the SPDC never meant to negotiate. The plan was to stop hostile action, provide incentives to entice individual commanders to split from the main groups and slowly weaken the ethnic groups to the point where they could be easily eliminated.

The cease-fire groups cannot accept the BGF because it is actually a plan to destroy the groups by attrition. But if they refuse to accept the proposal, they will be destroyed now, before the elections. The Kokang (MNDAA), the Wa (UWSA) and the Mongla (NDAA) groups rejected the BGF proposal and also refused to accept the SPDC’s road map and constitution. They do not want any changes. Therefore, if nothing changes, the SPDC will move against the UWSA and the NDAA. Which group will be attacked first will depend on the tactical advantage.

What about China? Is the SPDC not beholden to China? The short answer is—no. Whatever we may think about the SPDC, the Burma Army is very proud of the fact that it is “patriotic.” The SPDC has never danced to the tune of a foreign power. It has, rather, made foreign powers big and small dance to its tune. Since the SPDC has been largely ostracized internationally, it has had to depend on China.

But it was never happy about it. When Burma was discussed at the UN Security Council and it had to depend even more on China, the SPDC began to cultivate Russia, so that it would not be at China’s mercy. But Snr-Gen Than Shwe’s problem was solved when John Yettaw decided to take a swim. He enabled the SPDC to ensure that Aung San Suu Kyi would have no role in the election, and he also enabled Than Shwe to raise the stakes and create a direct link with the Obama administration.

This in turn gave Than Shwe the card he needed to ignore China’s wishes and move against the Kokang and Wa.

If Snr-Gen Than Shwe’s calculations are correct, the SPDC will be able to wipe out the Wa and Mongla groups, and the 2010 elections can be held on a less contentious playing field according to schedule.

The unpredictable factor, of course, is how much resistance the Wa army will offer. And what the reaction of the other cease-fire groups will be. Some like the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and the New Mon State Party (NMSP) are in the process of negotiating with the SPDC over the BGF issue.

Other groups like the KNU and the Shan State Army (South) are watching closely to see how the battle develops. If Than Shwe’s calculations are wrong, Burma could face a period of serious instability and the 2010 elections will be jeopardized.

But on the other hand, the SPDC may have decided that the elections could actually lead to democratization, and it is trying to create a pretext to postpone the elections indefinitely.

Harn Yawnghwe is executive director of the Brussels-based Euro-Burma Office.

Burma Newscasts - Prelude to a Civil War?
7 September 2009

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A Roof Over Their Heads

The Irrawaddy News

DEDAYE, Irrawaddy Delta—Forty-two-year-old Khin Htay was promised a house within two or three months. Six months later, she has not heard anything more about it, far less receiving any building materials.

“We don’t feel safe whenever a strong wind blow through this makeshift house,” said Khin Htay, a mother of five from Dedaye Township in the Irrawaddy delta.

Young boys collect water from a fresh-water pond near Laputta Township in Irrawaddy delta. (Photo: Reuters)

Adding to her fears is the memory of losing her husband and seven-month-old daughter when Cyclone Nargis wreaked havoc on her village in May 2008.

“Where shall we all stay if another cyclone destroys our home?” she asked despairingly.

Khin Htay and her young family are just a few of the hundreds of thousands of cyclone survivors who are still living in inadequate shelters some 16 months after the disaster.
The worst natural disaster in the country’s modern history killed close to 140,000 people and severely affected over two million.

About 360,000 homes were destroyed outright by the cyclone, according to official data.

According to UN-HABITAT, which takes a leading role in rebuilding houses for the cyclone survivors, more than 450,000 people are in still dire need of shelter aid.

In a recent statement, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar [Burma] Bishow Parajuli said, "Up to 130,000 families remain exposed and are suffering under severe weather conditions due to a lack of sustainable shelter."

However, humanitarian agencies have claimed that a shortfall of funds has hampered their efforts in rebuilding adequate shelters for the cyclone victims.

According to UN-HABITAT it has received only one-third of its requested amount of funds to rebuild adequate shelters for the displaced survivors.

UN-HABITAT said it requested some US $150 million for repairs and reconstruction under the Post Nargis Recovery and Preparedness Plan (PONREPP). But only about $50 million has been received.

So far, humanitarian agencies have reportedly rebuilt about 25,000 houses. For its part, the Burmese military government claims to have built more than 10,000 houses to date, a very small percentage considering the magnitude of the crisis.

According to the UN, about 209,000 families have reportedly rebuilt their own homes with their own hands over the past year.

But while some families wait for housing materials, others expect housing material and new land.

In Mhawbi Village in Pyapon Township, some families have been told they will be given housing materials, but that they have to find their own land to build on.

“We very much thank the agencies for saying they will build houses for us,” an elderly man from the village said. “But how can we afford the land to build a house on when we don’t have any money?”

Burma Newscasts - A Roof Over Their Heads
7 September 2009

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Junta Targets Ethnic Rebels to Forge Unity Ahead of Polls

The Irrawaddy News

BANGKOK — Burma’s military regime is turning to a familiar strategy—sending in troops—to impose its will on the northeastern corner of the country that shares a border with China’s Yunnan province in the east. The move shatters a 20-year peace deal with an armed ethnic rebel group that controls part of that mountainous terrain.

This eruption of hostilities has much to do with a promised general election next year that the oppressive rulers of Burma, also known as Myanmar, are marching towards. The junta wants a "discipline-flourishing democracy" to take root with the 2010 polls, the first such election after the results of the last one, in 1990, were annulled.

Soldiers from the United Wa State Army patrol a street of Nandeng, in the Wa region of Burma, on September 3. (Photo: AP)

Clashes between Burmese troops and the Kokang, one of four ethnic rebel groups that signed a ceasefire deal in the 1988-89 period, began in early August and escalated by the end of the month in an area close to the Chinese border. Casualty figures are still uncertain.

"About 7,000 troops with tanks, armored vehicles and heavy cannons are trying to control the region," says the US Campaign for Burma, a Washington DC-based group of Burmese political exiles. "The junta is sending 3,000 more troops from other parts of Burma to the region."

By Thursday, an uneasy calm had returned to Laogai, the Kokang capital, now in the hands of the Burmese troops, according to an aid worker in Burma, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Some of the 37,000 people who fled across the border to China after the fight broke out have begun to return," she says.

Sporadic sounds of gunfire were heard, she reveals, adding that the locals were not sure if the defeated Kokang rebels will resort to "guerrilla attacks" on the Burmese troops who have poured into Laogai. This capital has a substantial presence of Chinese businessmen, involved in the border economy of logging, mining and casinos for gambling.

The fighting resulted in an abrupt halt of the agriculture programs being run by the World Food Programme (WFP), the only United Nations (UN) agency that has a permanent presence in a region known for being a poppy-growing area and having a booming narcotics trade.

"Our operations have been suspended," Chris Kaye, the head of the WFP’s operations in Burma, confirmed during a telephone interview from Rangoon, the former capital. "The people in that area are inherently poor and depend on our programs as an alternative to growing poppy."

The UN agency’s work involves assisting the ethnic Kokang to grow tea, paddy and maize as an alternative source of income and to help the locals overcome food insecurity. It followed an announcement by leaders of the ethnic groups to end poppy cultivation by 2005 in the terrain that had been part of this region’s infamous ‘Golden Triangle,’ one of Asia’s largest opium-producing areas.

There are concerns, however, that the attack on the Kokang may not be a limited strike, but part of the junta’s broader plan to go after other armed ethnic groups along the country’s northeastern border. Among those are the Wa, the most armed of the ethnic rebels, with a force of some 25,000, and the smaller Kachin.

They are concerns shaped by the political developments in the ethnic areas of Burma, which has never been able to control all of its borders since gaining independence from the British over six decades ago. The country has 135 registered ethnic groups, of which the Burmans are the largest. Scores of ethnic rebels began separatist battles with the Burmese army to create independent countries.

Peace returned to Burma’s north-eastern border in the late 1980s after the Wa, Kachin and Kokang joined 14 other ethnic rebel movements to sign ceasefire agreements in exchange for greater political autonomy, freedom for their ethnic communities and more economic independence.

"The attack against the Kokang is an attempt to intimidate the other ceasefire groups to fall in line with the regime’s plans for the elections next year," says Win Min, a Burmese national security expert at Payap University in Chiang Mai, located in northern Thailand. "They are going to deal with them one by one to impose what the junta thinks will be unity in the country. But this is only a military-imposed unity."

"It will not be easy for the Burmese army," Win Min added during a telephone interview. "Going after the Wa will result in many casualties because it is the strongest armed ethnic group in the country."

It is a view echoed by others familiar with this region of Burma, which is part of the Shan state and home to the large Shan ethnic community. "If the Burmese regime thinks they will be able to subdue the ethnic rebel groups before next year’s election, they are dreaming," Khuensai Jaiyen, editor of the Shan Herald Agency for News, told IPS. "The fighting on the border is bound to escalate."

Already the attacks against the Kokang have left the ethnic Kachin worried that they may be next in the firing line. "The attacks are a violation of the ceasefire and we are worried about who will be targeted next," says Col James Lum Dau, deputy chief of foreign affairs for the Kachin Independence Organisation. "They want us to change militarily and be under complete Burmese control before the elections. We are against this kind of thing."

"It may be good for them but not for us. This is a military solution and not a political solution," he said in a telephone interview. "We are ready to support the elections that will ensure freedom for us."

Under Burma’s new constitution, approved in a May 2008 referendum plagued with fraud, the country can only have one armed group—the military. And to bring the country’s many armed ethnic groups in line with this provision, the military regime has ordered all rebel groups to become part of a border guard force ahead of the 2010 poll.

The border guard force, which was announced in April, will strip the ethnic rebels of their troop strength and their military independence, since each of these border battalions will come under the wing of a Burmese officer. It was a disarmament plan that the Kokang rejected as did the Wa and Kachin fighters, among others.

"It is unthinkable to expect the Wa to conform to the border guard plan," says a European diplomat who regularly visits Burma. "They have a hatred towards the Burmese; it is deeply rooted."

"There is also opposition to this new force because none of these ethnic groups know what political concessions they will get after the elections," the diplomat, who requested anonymity, told IPS. "The next weeks will reveal if the attacks on the Kokang will force the Wa and others back to the negotiating table about the border guard force."

Burma Newscasts - Junta Targets Ethnic Rebels to Forge Unity Ahead of Polls
7 September 2009

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Inevitable US policy shift on Burma: why and how

by Min Zaw Oo

Mizzima News - The recent visit of US Senator Jim Webb has stirred up speculation and criticism of what the visit could mean for Washington’s Burma policy, especially from traditional supporters of the opposition movement residing in the West. A common, critical sound bite belittles Webb’s visit as a personal trip. But all detractors and critics largely ignore the fundamental facts related to the visit and the inevitability of a US policy shift on Burma.

There are three major underlying reasons encompassing the US’s new policy towards Burma.

Strategic Paradigm Shift

Under President Obama the most fundamental deviation from the Bush administration’s foreign policy is the recognition of the limit of US power in the world. The Bush administration’s neo-conservative worldview called for the use of US power to bring about freedom and democracy. In contrast, Obama and his strategic advisors acknowledge that the extension of US power has reached a critical threshold.

The US has become a declining power in the face of a rising China, Russia and India. Although the US is still the most powerful nation militarily, the US economy is largely interdependent with the Asian economy. China holds the largest percentage of US debt. The combination of Japanese and Chinese ownership of US debt has reached 45 percent of US Treasury securities.

In addition, the military gap is narrowing. A recent study conducted by the RAND Corporation, an influential US think-tank, concludes the Chinese military could defeat US forces in the Taiwan Strait if the US attempted to deter a Chinese offensive to reclaim Taiwan. Meanwhile, Russia has fielded its latest S-400 air-defense system which it claims to be superior to the US’s second-generation Patriot missile system.

During this onset of US power decline the strategic goal of the Obama administration has become the restoration of US dominance in the world. But Obama realizes that the most effective approach to this end will be the utilization of ‘soft power,’ which calls for friendliness rather than coercion.

Under a new strategic paradigm, Obama will deliberately drop democracy promotion from the US’s major foreign policy agenda. He carefully avoided the word ‘democracy’ in his inaugural speech. In contrast, he explicitly proclaimed the US will reach out to non-democracies rather than preaching to them the merits of political transformation in the interests of the US.

This new strategic perspective will shape the US’s policy shift on Burma as well.

The Role of ASEAN

Another strategy shift from the Bush administration has been the US’s perspective on ASEAN. The former administration considered it a non-priority strategic region except in the case of the War on Terror.

The Bush administration refused to ratify the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC), requiring all signatories to refrain from using military force against other member states. Additionally, the issue of Burma used to be an obstacle between the US and ASEAN. The Bush administration promoted more bilateral relations with non-NATO allies such as Thailand and the Philippines, rather than multilateral cooperation with the region as a whole.

While the US kept its distance from ASEAN, China launched an efficacious charm offensive in the region. After ASEAN was hit by the financial crisis in 1997, Chinese economic assistance to countries in the region surpassed US aid, even to traditional US allies Thailand and the Philippines.

China’s ratification of the TAC pacified the fear of ASEAN countries concerning the rise of the dragon. ASEAN, as a consequence, has grown increasingly comfortable with China over the last ten years. China’s total trade with ASEAN has grown by 1,034 percent since 1995, whereas the same figure for the US stands at a mere 75 percent.

The new administration in Washington feels China’s heat in the region. Bilateral relations cannot simply preserve waning US influence in Southeast Asia, in the view of the new administration, with non-NATO allies; the US has to embrace ASEAN as a whole. As a result, Washington acceded to the TAC on July 22nd, 2009.

If the US aims to move closer to ASEAN, Burma cannot be allowed to be a stumbling block between Washington and rising Asian power blocs.

China Factor

The third reason is the strategic role of China in the region. The Burma-China relationship will enter a new chapter after China completes an oil pipeline connecting the Andaman Sea with China’s Yunnan province. The move is alarmingly strategic.

Past Chinese interest in Burma was less critical than many observers have speculated, with trade accounting for a fraction of one percent of overall Chinese exports, while China has failed to transfer any strategic weaponry to Naypyitaw.

However, the 2.9-billion dollar Chinese oil pipeline will drastically transform the role of Burma in China’s strategic calculus. China has been geographically vulnerable to a naval blockade, being confined by Japan to the east, Taiwan to the south and South Korea to the north of China – all US allies. In addition, China lacks a naval force capable of protecting its sea lines.

Chinese security analysts from the Energy Research Institute (ERI) and China Institute of International Studies (CIIS) have long been advocating the construction of overland transnational oil pipelines to China to overcome its energy insecurity in the face of a possible military confrontation with the US.

The projected oil pipeline from Burma will reinforce China’s long-term strategic energy initiative. The pipeline will be much more significant than any existing China-Burma engagements. China may even consider protecting its interest in Burma under a nuclear umbrella.

The pipeline in Burma will be a plausible reason for China to send its advanced submarines, China’s major naval assets, to the Andaman Sea to protect its strategic interest, simultaneously restricting the regional power projection of the US Navy’s 7th fleet.

Although the US is militarily capable of attacking China’s land-based pipelines and pumping stations in Burma, any military action involving a third-country in an event of direct confrontation between the US and China will be politically complicated – especially since the US’s recent accession to the TAC effectively limits Washington’s potential counter measures.

Burma used to be a moral issue for the United States. At this time, however, Washington’s renewed interest in Burma is derived from US security and national interests.

United States’ Policy Review on Burma

In recent weeks the CIA, Pentagon and Department of Energy have been ordered to intensify research on Burma with an aim of compiling a comprehensive report for policy review.

To this extent, Jim Webb is not a lone wolf. Senior senators such as John Kerry and Richard Lugar, a key figure in the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, acknowledge the shortcomings of the current US policy on Burma. Lugar previously broke ranks with his Republican Party on Cuba, calling for normalization of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

As the moral dimension of the Burma policy still looms large in Washington, advocates of new initiatives prefer behind-the-scenes approaches. Although the official position of the State Department is still intact, analysts within the policy circle are busy calculating the pros and cons of the US’s policy on Burma.

The moral dimension of the current policy is set to fade, albeit not entirely dissipated. If US national interest becomes the backbone of its new policy on Burma, Washington’s policy shift concerning Naypyitaw will be unstoppable.

How will the US engage Burma?

Regardless of policy perspectives, the US’s engagement with Burma’s military government will be quite different from the way ASEAN does business.

Democratization and human rights will still be a part of US policy goals in Burma. But the US will drop some major preconditions for engagement, such as the release of Aung Sun Suu Kyi and all political prisoners.

In the near future the two countries will likely experience quid pro quo engagement, ranging from counter-narcotics to political prisoners. Among all initiatives, however, the focus of US policy will be on the 2010 elections.

This is a major shift from the Bush administration, which adamantly demanded that transition in Burma must come through a negotiated settlement between the government and the NLD. While the US’s new policy will hail any conciliatory settlement between the opposition and the government, Washington will no longer hold its breath on a dialogue-driven transition in Burma. The US, in the wake of successful elections, will very likely embrace a military-led transition in the country if the new government manages to free Aung San Suu Kyi and remaining political prisoners after 2010.

The most crucial aspect of the US’s policy on Burma will probably be the legitimacy of the 2010 election. Washington does not want to altogether abandon its moral code, and thus will need a plausible reason to facilitate its policy shift on Burma. The legitimacy of the 2010 election will be the best ticket for the US to move closer to Burma in the near future.

The international community, including the US, has asked the Tatmadaw government to hold an inclusive election. Inclusiveness calls for the political participation of opposition parties, especially the NLD. To legitimize the election the Tatmadaw government has to allow the NLD and other opposition parties to contest. On the other hand, the NLD’s voluntary boycott, per se, will not de-legitimize the election as long as the government formally allows it to participate. Historically, opposition boycotts to elections sponsored by ruling regimes, such as in Bangladesh in 1991 and in Ethiopia in 1995, have proved fruitless.

As long as the elected representatives reflect the actual vote, the 2010 election will be internationally perceived as legitimate.

The election will strategically alter Burma’s political landscape for decades to come. Concurrently, Burma’s relationship with the US will depend on the legitimacy of the election and civilian representation in the post-2010 government reflective of electoral results. If, then, the new government is capable of addressing international concerns on human rights issues, Burma’s relationship with the West will gradually strengthen.

(Min Zaw Oo is a PhD candidate writing a dissertation on the study of 115 transitions to democracy at George Mason University. He holds a MA in security studies from Georgetown University and MS in conflict analysis and resolution from George Mason University.)

Burma Newscasts - Inevitable US policy shift on Burma: why and how
7 September 2009

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