Political storm brewing (Burma)

May 23, 2008

(from my friends over at SEAPA. Personally, I think that the cyclone is a symbol of things to happen to
that Murderous Junta. You know us Asians, being the superstitious bunch that we are. Well, just watch them. A whole new type of mass murder was introduced to us by them. Death via cyclone. Thing is they let their people die after the cyclone. Like our own gov’t., they too had to have their names on those food bags or no delivery. And the most powerful man in the world did WHAT? Worked on a new missile shield. And Burmese died by the thousands. All that was needed was a simple phone call to the damn Junta. Too much for you, Georgie boy?)

PERSPECTIVE
Political storm brewing
18 May 2008
Source: Bangkok Post
(http://clicks.aweber.com/y/ct/?l=G7UYV&m=1azhzMgXGzKXin&b=nZm_6.yVU9wL9uVQgSx93Q)

The Burmese government’s woefully inadequate response to Cyclone
Nargis, coupled with its opportunistic attempt to sneak by a
referendum on the new constitution while the world concentrates on
the catastrophe, may be laying the groundwork for upheaval, writes
ACHARA ASHAYAGACHAT

The reclusive junta in Burma has adamantly shunned the
international community’s desperate efforts to provide a viable
logistics centre for disaster relief distribution for the hundreds
of thousands of threatened survivors of Cyclone Nargis, while
remaining focussed on the long-planned goal to consolidate its grip
on power through a constitution, the third charter since the
country’s independence from British rule 60 years ago.

The tatmadaw (military) are gearing towards decorating themselves
as members of parliament within the next two years. According to
the all but ratified constitution, the generals would take 25% of
some 500 seats in the 2010 parliament.

On May 10, only a week after Nargis hit the rice-producing areas,
Burmese people throughout the country, except in some 47 townships
in the Irrawaddy delta and Rangoon areas which felt the brunt of
the May 2 cyclone, cast their votes in support of the
junta-sponsored draft constitution.

The military-ruled government announced at the end of last week an
incredibly high voter turnout of 99%, with a 92.4% yes vote. The
drafting of the charter began in January 1993 and was completed
last August, without meaningful participation from opposition and
ethnic groups.

A similar “joyous” result is expected to be announced by the
Burmese government after the referendum for the remaining areas is
held on May 24.

Meanwhile, however, a coalition of opposition and ethnic groups
based outside Burma – including the National Council of the Union
of Burma (NCUB), National Coalition Government of the Union of
Burma (NCGUB), Ethnic Nationalities Council (ENC), Women’s League
of Burma (WLB), Forum for Democracy in Burma (FDB), Students and
Youths Congress of Burma (SYCB) and Nationalities Youth Forum (NYF)
– has denounced the poll, saying there were injustices and cheating
detected on referendum day and rampant vote manipulation tactics
used before the May 10 vote.

Rejection of referendum: A parallel task

Anti-junta critics have urged that alongside the daunting task of
relief and rebuilding in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, it is
also essential to expose the “lies” about the referendum allegedly
spread by the Burmese government to the Burmese people and to the
world.

“Psychologically, people wanted to concentrate their energy to help
the cyclone victims, instead of going to the polling booths,” said
Aung Din, from the US Campaign for Burma.

“In some areas, only 50-60% of the voters turned out, and in some
areas, there were only 25% of the eligible voters. Most of the
polling booths were at schools and dharma yones (public gathering
place at wards and village tracks for religious events). The
military junta used all of its resources, including security
forces, police, the Union Solidarity Development Association
(USDA), the paramilitary organisation Swan Arr Shin, the Fire
Brigade, the Red Cross, the Women’s Affairs Organisation, and local
authorities, in addition to members of commissions and
sub-commissions, to maximise the ‘yes’ votes and minimise the ‘no’
votes.

“As instructed by the top authorities, these junta forces conducted
all sorts of fraudulent acts to make sure that they won. They
collected so many advance votes, and all of them were ‘yes’,” said
Aung Din.

He added that the junta also put up posters with slogans to support
the constitution at polling booths and openly asked for “yes”
votes. In many areas, polling booths were closed at 1.00 p.m. or
2.00 p.m. The inside-country opposition groups – led by the
National League for Democracy under the leadership of Nobel
laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as members of the 88 Generation
Students (which comprises mostly senior but mentally-strong Burmese
intellectuals), All Burma Monks’ Alliance, All Burma Federation of
Student Unions, Generation Wave and many other activists – tried to
encourage the people to cast a “no” vote and tried to monitor the
pooling booths. But their attempts were mostly blocked by
checkpoints set up outside of Rangoon.

Aung Maw Zaw, who is with the FDB, concluded that the international
community should boycott the “unfair and unfree polling” and
pressure the regime to deal with the life-and-death issue of aid
dissemination.

“It is unethical and inhumane that the government insisted on
holding this referendum amid the catastrophe that has befallen its
own people,” he said.

Cyclone’s impact on political struggle

Win Min, a lecturer at the All Ethnic International Open University
(attached to Chiang Mai University), noted that the junta has shown
clearly that nothing, including international pressure and the
cyclone, can deter them. From the perspective of the junta, Nargis
might at first have been considered a blessing in disguise, since
the international spotlight which dimmed slightly due to China’s
crackdown on Tibetan monks prior to the Olympics was again shining
brightly on Burma.

Yet the way the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC)
has managed its aftermath has clearly brought more international
condemnation, and also affected the internal political mood, even
of civilian and uniformed officers.

“Everyone from Aung San Suu Kyi to the government officers and
monks are sad – everyone except perhaps Senior General Than Shwe,”
said the Chiang Mai-based commentator.

Aung Naing Oo, another analyst in Chiang Mai, said the cyclone and
its aftermath would cast a long-term impact on the country’s
economic, social and psychological situation.

He noted that overseas dissidents have been trying to channel their
help into Burma, but the SPDC has turned a blind eye to the
people’s fate and gone ahead with their plan to cement power.

He forecast that the anger, frustration, and trauma visited on the
most-densely populated areas by the tragedy would turn into an
anti-junta force in the near future.

“Yes, in the immediate term, the last thing the people want to do
is go up against the strong army, as they need to struggle for
survival and cope with their daily rehabilitation. But in the
medium term, the more the junta drags on, shunning international
help on the ground and distorting aid relief, the fiercer the
hatred against the junta will grow,” said Aung Naing Oo.

Lian Shakong, ENC secretary-general, remarked that 40% of the
affected people in the Irrawaddy delta are Karen. The more stubborn
the junta remains in refusing aid, the more Karen people will feel
that they have no choice but to resort to an armed struggle in the
years to come.

Teddy Buri, a Karenni MP in exile, also banked on the ripe timing
to cook up forces against the junta.

“We cannot tell when it will happen, but this time if things break
out, the junta will not easily control the results. Even the
Saffron Revolution last September was beyond anyone’s anticipation,
including the opposition groups outside the country. On one hand,
the cyclone is a catalyst for political change,” he said.

Khuensai Jaiyen, a Shan activist in Chiang Mai, said the monks’
movement and the cyclone aftermath have bridged some part of the
gap between the ethnic groups and the Burmese opposition groups.

“Hostility which used to exist has somehow been reconciled, as the
ethnic groups feel that the tatmadaw are against any race and any
religion.

“The generals fear a federalism that would give the ethnic groups
something of a free hand. This half-a-century phobia of them
(ethnic peoples) should be stopped,” he added.

Aung Naing Oo remarked that the generals also fear that external
assistance for their people in the post-cyclone era would bring
more trust among the Burmese people for foreign elements, and they
would lose their grip of control.

Charm Tong, a member of the Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN),
said that in the post-referendum period the ethnic minorities are
still continuing to work for a tripartite dialogue, which must be
the first step in a political process for Burma’s future.

“Despite the use of force and intimidation, the opposition and
ethnic groups have been able to embark on political education – the
nationwide campaign to oppose the referendum was at least an
opportunity for people to be organised against the regime,” she said.

Charm Tong said the next campaign for opposition and ethnic groups
is an invoking of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) process, an
international concept which basically states that when a state
fails to look after the needs of its people in a humanitarian
crisis the international community has a responsibility to step in.
Supporters of R2P view it as a method of establishing a basis for
humanitarian intervention, as the regime is blocking and delaying
aid to the survivors of Cyclone Nargis not only from the
international community but also from local groups. For example,
monks trying to organise help among communities inside Burma,
especially in the delta and around Rangoon, have reportedly been
harassed by para-military groups. This is just adding to the
unbearably long list of crimes against humanity already committed
by the Burmese military regime, including the rape of ethnic
minority women and forced labour, including of minors. The lives of
the survivors are hanging in the balance. The world can’t just wait
until the SPDC decides to allow aid workers to deliver supplies,”
the Chiang Mai-based activist remarked, adding that the Association
of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) has a responsibility to all the
peoples in the region.

“It is time to prove that there is indeed ‘One Asean at the Heart
of Dynamic Asia’ in addressing the biggest humanitarian disaster to
hit the region since the Aceh tsunami. Failure to do so will
undermine the credibility Asean worked so hard to build at its 40th
anniversary. This applies especially to Thailand, which is hosting
the Asean summit in November this year.

“Asean leaders must also move to persuade China, India and Russia
to exert their influence on the military junta to ensure that
international aid reaches people in cyclone-hit areas immediately.

“Asean members of the UN Security Council (Vietnam, Indonesia)
should support the UN initiatives such as the R2P, and Thailand
must do more than bring aid to the cyclone victims,” said Charm Tong.

The world is waiting to see whether calls like this can penetrate
the indifference of Senior General Than Shwe to the anguish of the
Burmese people, but one thing is sure:

Time is running out, not only for the victims of disaster, but also
for the military regime.

————-

Achara Ashayagachat is a 2008 SEAPA Fellow.

————————————————————
Southeast Asian Press Alliance.
538/1 Samsen Rd., Dusit, Bangkok 10300.
Tel: 66-2-2435579, 66-2-2435373, Fax: 66-2-2448749

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