A Foregone Conclusion
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Sunday, June 16, 2024


A Foregone Conclusion


Members of the National Unity Party attend the party's 22nd anniversary at its head office in Rangoon in September. (Photo: AFP)

Burma prepares for an election where the winner is already past the finish line

Burma’s voters go to the polls in November weighed down by the depressing certainty that, however they cast their ballots, the government of the country will be placed in the hands of legislators committed to the policies followed by the military regime they replace.

The regime won’t even have to indulge any further in the kind of vote-rigging it’s clearly been engineering in the campaign so far.  The two pro-regime parties will field three times the number of candidates representing all the remaining 35 parties and are assured of large majorities in the national and regional parliaments.

Apart from the two pro-regime parties, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and the National Unity Party (NUP), no party will be contesting the election on anything like a national scale.

The USDP, which grew out of the regime-supported civic movement, the Union Solidarity and Development Association, will compete for at least 1,150 of the 1,163 seats in the national and regional parliaments—a massive electoral effort made possible by easy access to regime funding.

The NUP, formerly the Burmese Socialist Programme Party and founded by Burma’s late dictator Ne Win, will field candidates in 999 constituencies, hoping to win more than the 10 seats it captured in the 1990 election. Since its 1990 debacle, the NUP has been dormant, while quietly supporting the regime.

The opposition National Democratic Force (NDF), led by a group of former leaders of the now defunct National League for Democracy (NLD), will field 163 candidates, hardly enough to make more than a small dent in the USDP election assault. Lack of funding has also forced the NDF to restrict its election campaign to Rangoon Division.

Rangoon is one of 14 divisions and states where Burma’s 27 million registered voters will be asked to cast ballots for candidates standing for election to three separate parliaments—the Pyithu Hluttaw (People’s Parliament), Amyotha Hluttaw (Nationalities Parliament) and one of 14 regional parliaments.

The People’s Parliament will have 440 seats, but 110 of them will be reserved for non-elected military representatives appointed by the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Similarly, 56 of the 224 seats in the Nationalities Parliament will be reserved for the military.

Regional parliaments will have a total of 665 seats, distributed according to the size of each state and division. Twenty-nine seats will be reserved for minority ethnic groups.

Disputes between some ethnic groups over the regime’s demand for them to join a proposed border guard force have complicated the election scenario, particularly in the Wa Self-Administered Division in Shan State, where the authorities have declined to designate constituencies in four townships.

Disputes between the ethnic groups and the regime have also added weight to calls for an election boycott. Detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose NLD was officially dissolved after failing to register for the election, has urged a boycott, although it’s unclear how much support she commands.

The boycott call is a controversial issue, with even many regime critics saying it will achieve nothing because of the overwhelming strength of the USDP. Proponents argue that if a boycott resulted in a markedly low turnout it could devalue the election result—but cynics respond that the regime will juggle the figures anyway. “It worked for the 2008 constitutional referendum,” said one. “Why not for the November 2010 election?”

Another handicap facing the opposition parties is their overlapping presence in many contests. In Rangoon, for instance, candidates of the NDF and the Democratic Party (Myanmar) will compete against each other in nearly 20 constituencies, which will only serve to split the pro-democracy vote.

The fourth largest party in the November election, the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP), will target regional parliaments rather than the national assembly, where less than half its candidates are bidding for admittance.

The SNDP is the successor of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), which won the second highest number of seats in the 1990 election, but then fell foul of the regime—the party’s chairman, Hkun Htun Oo, was among several Shan leaders sentenced to long terms of imprisonment for high treason after attending a meeting of opposition and ethnic groups in Shan State in February 2005.

Hkun Htun Oo, who is serving a 93-year prison term, is in good company—one of 2,100 disenfranchised political prisoners.

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Jeff Wrote:
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s decision not to vote in the elections is an important development that will hopefully focus the world’s attention on these so-called “elections”. As an activist following the Burma elections for some time, I hope to see more and more governments recognize these elections for what they really are – a sham. I recently read a very interesting article on why the upcoming <a href=" http://www.thailawforum.com/burma-election.html"> Burmese elections </a> in November are likely not only to fail to produce any democratic change, but will only strengthen the military’s grip over the nation. It points out that the military junta has basically set the rules and chosen the players leaving voters little real choice or impact. When the constitution kicks in after the elections, it will be nearly impossible to enact political changes and it will be even harder to dislodge the military from its choke hold on Burma.

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