Burma’s Road to 3G Democracy
By MIN ZIN Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Writing about the French Revolution, Alexis de Tocqueville observed in the 19th century that “the most perilous moment for bad government is when it seeks to mend its ways.” As evidenced by the break-up of the Soviet Union and the end of the Apartheid regime in South Africa, his theory still proves correct two-hundred years later.

Today in Burma, Snr-Gen Than Shwe's military junta is superficially purporting to mend its ways by calling an election. Is this a potentially perilous moment for his regime? Or is it just another sign of resilient tyranny?

Min Zin is a Burmese journalist in exile.
Burmese history instructs that the perceived prospect of an opening in the country's closed political system, or of a political realignment, emboldens the public to rally behind opposition movements and against the regime.

For example, in 1988, Ne Win’s unexpected resignation, and his support of a change from one-party rule to a multiparty system, greatly boosted the public’s expectation and confidence that meaningful reform could occur and helped the opposition groups rally public support behind their causes.

But the political environment surrounding the 2010 elections may not provide a similar strategic opening for opposition groups to expand their political space. This time around, Than Shwe has taken every possible measure to send a clear signal to the people of Burma that there will be no real change in power after the 2010 elections, and the public should not entertain any false hopes.

For one thing, Than Shwe is revealing his election plan step-by-step, including the yet-to-be-announced election date, in order to show both that he is in complete control of the pace of the campaign and that the election will not be a momentous event.

In addition, the 2008 constitution, the 2010 election laws, recent Election Commission directives and the press censorship board’s increased restrictions on election coverage by local journals have confirmed that the elections are not an opportunity for regime transition, let alone change. Instead, they are a sly attempt to achieve regime durability.

But election cheerleaders, including some diplomats, foreign experts, think-tank groups and, of course, domestic apologists, keep screaming that the 2010 elections could bring some form of political liberalization, and for that reason both the opposition parties and the general public should participate.

Their arguments follow three related lines of discourse: “The election is the only game in town”; “Something is better than nothing”; and “National League for Democracy (NLD) members are not the only democrats in Burma.”

The question we must ask with respect to each argument is: Will participation in the election for this reason lead to genuine political transition and economic development, or will it help provide the semblance of legitimacy the junta craves?

The Election is the only Game in Town

Wrong. To begin with, it cannot be claimed that the election is the only game in town when most of the main opposition parties have chosen not to participate. Even if the 2010 elections, and the new government based on the 2008 Constitution, were the only game in town, they would not provide the path to meaningful reform in Burma because they would not bring about the required state-building effort, a process in which all key parties—democratic opposition groups as well as ethnic resistance groups—rally together and make their voices heard.

The NLD, who won the 1990 election by a landslide, decided not to renew its party registration under the regime’s “unjust election laws” and not to contest the elections. In addition, no less than ten ethnic ceasefire groups refused to disarm and join the elections.

Several of these ceasefire groups held a meeting in May at the headquarters of the United Wa State Army near the China-Burma border, during which the groups reportedly agreed, for their own reasons, to support the NLD’s decision not to compete in the election—saying that an election under the 2008 Constitution would offer no guarantee of ethnic rights in Burma.

As the intractable conflicts between the regime and the NLD and the armed ethnic groups linger on, the center of political gravity will not likely shift toward the regime’s election game plan. Especially given the fact that, according to several media reports, public interest in the 2010 election is very low.

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Moe Aung Wrote:
Myanmar Patriots

Sadly for you the world doesn't revolve round you. Conceit is so unbecoming, whatever century you may be stuck in. You are not suckers, you are just demented.

Myanmar Patriots Wrote:
What load of rubbish!
Venus Wrote: 15/07/2010

"This scholarly article sounds comprehensive application of fundamental IR theories in Myanmar as a case study. Good analysis."

Which fundamental IR theories? Realism, Neo-realism, Structuralism, Global Village, Dependencia, Regime Theory?
What do you think we are? Certainly not suckers. We are Myanmar Patriots.

tocharian Wrote:
Don't worry "Dr." Kyi May Kaung. Your beloved Chinese are still investing (and exploiting) in Burma. It just doesn't show up in the official figures.
Chinese are masters at engaging in clandestine dealings. Just visit any Chinatown in the US where you live. That's the Chinese way of life!

Myat Thu Wrote:
A great analysis from one of the best political thinkers of the 88 Generation.

All the democratic, patriotic activists inside and outside of the country need to start an all-out boycott campaign against this sham election and build up the momentum to the highest level. We should embark on this campaign before the election date is announced. In fact, the earlier the better.

Don't think that boycotting never worked in the past. It may not solve all the problems. But, it is necessary and the best strategic option for the people of Burma to carry on. I am very sure we can make pleasantly surprising big steps in the right direction of democratization if we can build up a necessary momentum of boycotting in time.

Don't wait until the NLD issues the open directives to do so. The message is already clear. Just read between the lines. Please don't wait for Daw Suu to say so. In fact, she already said that. Remember she recently said "citizens have the right to vote and also the right to NOT vote".

Moe Aung Wrote:
Saw Yoe Yoe Poe

Unfortunately there's no sign of your knight in shining armor on the far horizon yet. Even if we cannot rule out the possibility of a de Kerk or some Young Turks, yours is a seemingly optimistic but basically spineless elitist assessment of the situation.

Change will come from within, but to dismiss the popular struggle, however hopeless it seems at this juncture (always long and arduous but when it happens it seems overnight), is just too superficial.

Saw Yoe Yoe Poe Wrote:
A fair assessment, but if not election then any alternative? Boycott and sanction? If it works, it sure worked a long, long time ago. Throughout history, the Burma political landscape has shown many faces and layers, solid and fragile, intertwined and parallel, that it's difficult to find one single solution to solve, let alone to implement national reconciliation. Changes in Burma can and will happen only from within and sadly enough not through/by NLD or ethnic opposition forces, but via military transformation, not in the form of TS lyrics, but some genuine reformer within the military. Maybe not this generation or next and still hope cannot disappear because it is the only option and driving force for peaceful coexistence in Burma.

Derek Tonkin Wrote:
As Ashley South suggests in the July print edition, the only other game in town is dissent. The Burmese people will have to decide whether they want to take part in the elections, despite all its flaws, or follow the logic of Ms Suu Kyi's comment that they may stay away if they wish. Voting offers some choice in a seriously flawed process, but dissent does not seem to have been all that successful.

Kyi May Kaung should not be misled by the AP report of a tumble in investments. Those statistics only relate to contracts signed and registered with the Myanmar Investment Commission during the FY. They are not a guide to investment flows during the year. Much Chinese and Thai investment is unregistered, but legal. Most Western invested hotels at Ngapali are unregistered. Offshore gas exploration and production is also not registered with the MIC as it is based on internationally standard business contracts. Only the pipelines require the creation of an onshore MIC-approved company.

timothy Wrote:
It is very good article examining the effect of participation in election or not. The NLD had wisely been distant itself from wicked election from day one. But NLD failed to educate the people not to involve in the election. It should issue the directive and MIn Zin`s article here should be the directive. Campaign to boycott the election should be started as soon as possible. Every Burmese and think-tank should read this article to prepare for 100% boycott of election. For lone campaigner like me to achieve 100% absent at polling station on election day, this article is my reasoning and logic for boycott.

PB Pulico Wrote:
The arguments are reasonable enough.
But the decision to stay away from the sham election by Daw ASSK and the NLD is absolutely correct. If you want to be right, you have to do it right; no other way to achieve your objective - righteousness is not inflexibility. The people are centre of the game, and NLD is only an active catalyst in the midst of the people. We have full confidence the junta-regime will yield (hardly so on the surface) and come to the negotiating table, or else fall, pretty soon after the sham election.
Don't ask me how. For you will see it written on the wall.

Bomoteseik Wrote:
This is s very comprehensive analysis which reflects history realities that many foreign observers fail to observe. I would like to stress that your analysis on NLD and so called "Third Forces" are very fair and balance. Congratulations Ko Min ZIn for impressive work.


Venus Wrote:
This scholarly article sounds comprehensive application of fundamental IR theories in Myanmar as a case study. Good analysis.

Of course we all see such election process is non-democratic, but what can we expect from nasty power crazy Vampires? We have never reached to perfect democracy , but NLD’s withdrawal proves itself Zero-Sum Game. As Prisoner’s dilemma needs more political players, at-least by participating more parties to become Positive-Sum Game to balance out. Expecting perfect democracy from the regimes is like children begging the moon to give us rice in gold tray as our proverbial childhood longing.

Moe Aung Wrote:
As I have paraphrased Tocqueville before that 'a reforming government is at its most vulnerable', the planned split in the junta between the generals in uniform (with troops under their command and/or guaranteed seats in parliament) and those out of uniform and left to contest the polls appears to be a chink in the chainmail. Even between those appointed to the 25% of seats in the chamber and those who have troops but no part in the legislative body.

Perhaps the weakest link in the chain is the army rank and file, from footsoldiers to NCOs, who are being exploited, ill-treated and excluded from the spoils of military misrule.

It certainly is worth repeating: what are generals without an army? What are officers without troops? Pull the rug from under them.

People Power Movement must improve the odds and level the playing field by winning over the army rank and file. The real battle will be fought not in Naypyidaw but all over the country and Yangon remains the strategic prize to win.

George Than Setkyar Heine Wrote:
"No matter if the regime is clenching or unclenching its fist, the dictator-in-chief is making sure that it is his hand at work. Some may see participation in the elections as an opportunity to sever that hand. But more likely they are simply playing into it, and they risk being crushed when the fist clenches once more" sums up for all suckers falling prey to Than Shwe's wiles today.
The monk murderer has nothing for the people of Burma other than subject them to abject poverty, lay prone to him and penniless as well in order that they would not dare to look up at him, much less argue his actions and bullying.

Of course NLD and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi are right since day one by refusing to dance to his tune and playing the clown.

Thu Wai and his bevy of belles, renegade 8888 students and other suckers will 'rue' the day when Than Shwe clams up and clenches his fist.

Playing Than Shwe's game with his deck of cards, at his table and by his rules begs defeat and humiliation no less I say.

Kyi May Kaung Wrote:
Totally agree with Ko Min Zin.

It's a Sham.

Who wants to invest in Burma (Nyapyidaw government) when even the rats are leaving?

No wonder foreign investment fell 68%.

In future it will fall further. The fist Min Zin describes will tighten when they have "legitimized themselves."

Pity the poor Burmese people who are squeezed out between the fingers like mohinga noodles.

Kyi May Kaung (Ph.D.)

More Articles in This Section

bullet Making Sure Burma Doesn't Go Dutch

bullet Corruption Scandal in Burma: The Canadian Connection

bullet Helping Education to Keep Pace with Reform

bullet Resolving Ethnic Conflicts in Burma—Ceasefires to Sustainable Peace

bullet How the Game Was Lost

bullet Karens at the Crossroads

bullet Building Country Ownership in Burma

bullet Donors Rush Where Angels Feared to Tread

bullet Myanmar: On Claiming Success

bullet Ceasefires Won't Bring Peace

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