Burma’s poll farce

Financial Times
September 5, 2010

Burma’s elections are shaping up to be the detestable sham the dictatorship’s sternest critics have warned. Unlike those held – and then callously ignored – in 1990, no credible opposition is running. Aung San Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy won the 1990 poll, is a prisoner after spending 15 of the past 21 years under arrest. She is barred from participating. Not satisfied with the quarter of parliamentary seats reserved for the military, dozens of officers retired last week so they could contest “civilian” seats. Philip Crowley, a US assistant secretary of state, accurately said of this mockery: “A dictator in civilian clothing is still a dictator.”

Sadly, if predictably, the opposition has splintered under the pressure. Ms Suu Kyi’s NLD party has boycotted the poll. The breakaway National Democratic Force has decided it is better to fight the election, however flawed. Its candidates have faced intimidation, strict censorship and a registration fee of $500, not far short of annual per capita income in the impoverished country. The two main opposition parties are expected to field only 200 candidates against the more than 1,000 standing for the junta-backed Union Solidarity Development party.

The generals must be feeling pretty pleased with themselves. They have rarely looked more secure. Their economic prospects, in contrast to those of their downtrodden countrymen, are rosy. The regime is busily dividing up state assets through a phoney “privatisation” scheme. It is also selling gas to Thailand and will soon start supplying China. India, another big trading partner, treats the regime with kid gloves. All three countries ought to put the interests of Burmese people above their own commercial interests, though the chances they will do so are virtually nil. Even the US has begun to talk to – though not to trade with – the generals. Years of sanctions and cold-shouldering have produced precisely nothing.

Yet the election, however rigged, is not without meaning. General Than Shwe, who has ruled the country since 1992, is now 77. What he laughably calls “a roadmap to democracy” looks like a succession plan. That makes it unpredictable. Military officers may use the ballot to jostle for power. There must be a chance they will descend into infighting or let some true democrats into the political process by the back door. One should not exaggerate. The world is right to expose the process as a farce. But it should also be alive to the possibility, however slim, of surprise.

  1. #1 by dagen on Tuesday, 7 September 2010 - 8:52 am

    Hmmm roadmap huh.
    Havent jib got one too?
    If burma’s roadmap to democracy is = to succession plan then what is jib’s roadmap for really? This is so tricky. I cannot understand. I too stupid. Luckily not stupid enough to eat cintanegara’s rambutan. Actually I dont eat rambutan.

  2. #2 by k1980 on Tuesday, 7 September 2010 - 9:04 am

    Why keep on bashing Burma but close your eyes and ears over much worse poverty-stricken regimes in North Korea, Swaziland, Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea, Zimbabwe, Congo ect?


You must be logged in to post a comment.