Friday, 10 July 2020

John Aglionby


“As Burma's assembly pushes closer to a final constitution, is the country really on the brink of a new democratic age.”


Burma's ruling junta today reconvened its constitution-drafting convention, for what is being billed as one of the last sessions before a draft constitution is finalised.


Few people outside the governing inner circle, however, regard the 1,000-member assembly, which began 13 years ago and last met eight months ago, as little more than a charade to postpone meaningful political reform, rather than the beginning of a concrete seven-point roadmap to democracy, as the generals like to describe it.


Their second step, which should begin next year according to government officials in Rangoon, will be a transition period during which the government will slowly be civilianised.


The main reason most analysts reject the regime's bluster is that the National League for Democracy (NLD), which won Burma's last general election in 1990 but has never been allowed to govern, is not only staying away, it is being condemned by the government.


The information minister, Brigadeer General Kyaw Hsan, yesterday accused the NLD of "sticking steadfastly to confrontation" and not "focusing on the national interest."


The NLD's demands are "intended to jeopardise the national convention and to grab power through a shortcut", he said.


The generals' determination to tighten their 42-year grip on power can be seen by how completely isolated the NLD leader and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest, has become in recent months.


"They're saying she's irrelevant and she's completely in isolation," said one foreign aid worker who regularly visits Burma. Ms Suu Kyi yesterday marked her 4,000th day in detention, where she has sporadically been throughout the past 17 years.


Another minority party, the New Mon State party, has downgraded its presence to observer status at this convention session, to register its protest at the lack of meaningful progress. It is likely to make little difference.


That the generals will brook no opposition has been shown in the last fortnight by the arrest of five leaders of the 1988 pro-democracy movement. U Htay Kywe, Ko Ko Gyi, Paw U Tun, Min Zeya and Pyone Cho are currently being questioned at a military guesthouse "to prevent instability of the state and to prevent terrorist acts from occurring here", Gen Kyaw Hsan said.


In a rare show of defiance, the men's supporters have organised a petition to demand their release, which has allegedly attracted 120,000 names. They also urged people to wear white today in a sign of solidarity.


The regime's repression of ethnic minorities in eastern Burma is also continuing hundreds of miles away from the foreign journalists who had been allowed in for the start of the showcase convention.


The Thailand Burma Border Consortium, a group of non-governmental organisations working in the area, is soon to release a report claiming 82,000 people from 230 villages have been newly displaced in the last year as a result of armed conflict and human rights abuses by the Burmese army. The report estimates there are about half a million internally displaced people in the border areas.


The one ray of hope for pro-democracy campaigners is that last month the United States succeeded, for the first time, in getting Burma placed on the formal agenda of the United Nations Security Council. This was despite Chinese objections that US claims about the Burmese junta posing a threat to international peace and stability, were "preposterous".


Rangoon has dismissed events at the UN as a US-orchestrated plot to topple the regime. Activists hope the Security Council will pass a binding resolution demanding Ms Suu Kyi's immediate release and democratic change. They are likely to be disappointed.


China, in an apparent race with India to grab as much trade with Burma as possible, seems certain to veto any stern measures.


As with the convention, there will probably be much talk in New York but few concrete outcomes. Meanwhile, for the majority of Burmese people, life will continue to be hard, if not more difficult.



  Source: Guardian Unlimited, October 10, 2006