Burma’s Rigged Road Map to Democracy
covering burma and southeast asia
Tuesday, April 23, 2024


Burma’s Rigged Road Map to Democracy

By Htet Aung AUGUST, 2007 - VOLUME 15 NO.8

(Page 2 of 3)

Under the current version of the draft constitution, Burma’s military has reserved 25 percent of parliamentary seats for candidates appointed by the commander-in-chief of the military.


The USDA was also patterned o­n an Indonesian institution, the Golkar—a purportedly apolitical body formed in 1964 with the backing of senior army officers and now the largest political party in the country.

Burma’s generals have been plagued by strife in the country’s ethnic areas for decades. For a successful transition to a civilian-led government, stronger bonds would need to be forged with the country’s several armed ethnic opposition parties, some of whom have boycotted the National Convention.

In this respect, China has served as a model for the possible creation of autonomous regions for ethnic minorities and the apportioning of administrative rights.

According to o­ne exiled Burmese political analyst with close ties to Chinese officials, Beijing has played a substantial role in nudging Burma to complete its constitution. Lt-Gen Thein Sein, chairman of the convention’s Convening Committee, flew to the Chinese capital in June with a large delegation that stayed o­n after his departure to study China’s constitutional model.

China has granted certain constitutional protections to various ethnic groups living in autonomous regions. The exiled analyst suggests that Burma could adopt a similar model in an effort to end hostilities in ethnic regions.

It is also likely, he says, that Beijing will play a mediating role between Naypyidaw and ethnic rebels living along the China-Burma border.

Burma’s military leaders want to disarm the country’s ethnic ceasefire groups before any future elections, but matters could become further complicated if they attempt to do so without compromise. With a new constitution in place and the promise of elections, the junta could not afford a return to civil war.

The junta claims to have reached peace agreements with 17 ethnic groups, but this official tally does not include numerous armed splinter groups operating along the Thai-Burmese border.

Despite so-called peace agreements, the ceasefire groups do not trust the regime and are unlikely to give up their arms. But it is vital that they form viable political parties and stake a claim to any future elections.

What the future holds for the NLD—and what role it might play in future elections—remains unclear. Some observers suggest that the junta could move to outlaw the party.

But the party’s leader, democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, continues to hold substantial political clout and has been a thorn in the side of the regime for almost two decades, despite the fact that she did not even contest the 1990 elections. She was placed under house arrest in 1989.

Her role in any future civilian government in Burma is also a matter of considerable speculation, particularly because of her marriage to a foreign national, British scholar Michael Aris, which, according to the junta, bars her from ever becoming Burma’s head of state.

The National Convention’s draft charter says: “The President of the Union shall be a person who has been residing continuously in the country for at least 20 years up to the time of the election and the President of the Union himself, parents, spouse, children and their spouses shall not owe allegiance to a foreign power, shall not be a subject of a foreign power or citizen of a foreign country. They shall not be persons entitled to the rights and privileges of a subject or citizen of a foreign country.”

Despite the junta’s endless rhetoric about a “discipline-flourishing democracy,” it will always have a stake in political institutions as long as the country is forced to play by its rules.

But Suu Kyi and the NLD cannot be entirely counted out. Whatever else they might signify, they are permanent reminders of the results of the last free elections. Than Shwe knows that in order to push through his tainted road map, he must sideline them permanently. Suu Kyi remains under house arrest and cannot effectively lead her party.

SPDC Secretary-1 Lt-Gen Thein Sein in late June reiterated the junta’s promise that power will be handed over to a civilian government after the election of parliamentary representatives and the formation of a parliament and cabinet.

The junta may feel the road ahead is clear. But as long as armed ethnic minorities continue to demand autonomy and a federalized Burma, any hope the junta might have that the road ahead will be free of obstacles would be misplaced.

Adding Up Burma’s Future

By Htet Aung

What’s in a number? A great deal, if you ask Burma’s ruling generals. The announcement that the National Convention would reconvene for its final session o­n July 18 might seem ordinary o­n its face. But simple addition reveals something more.

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