Thursday, February 28, 2008
BURMA'S SICK JOKE
he ruling military clique of Burma has finally released its rules for the upcoming "referendum" to ratify their illegitimate "constitution" and (they hope) entrench themselves in power forever. One could be forgiven for believing this is but a Monty Python satire of a democratic process. Burma's people will be asked to vote yay or nay on a so-far unknown document: there will be only one permitted answer.
Anyone who distributes leaflets or makes speeches against Myanmar's constitutional referendum can be imprisoned for three years under new rules governing the May vote published by state media Wednesday.While it's usual in normal countries that such decisions of importance would be accompanied by publicly debating the pros and cons, Burma is far from a normal country. In this case, opposing the military constitution is equivalent to tampering with ballot boxes.
The law, enacted Tuesday and published Wednesday in Myanmar-language newspapers, carries a three-year prison term and a fine of $86 for anyone who makes speeches or distributes leaflets to disrupt the voting process, the newspapers said. Tampering with ballot boxes carries the same penalty.In response to the original announcement of the upcoming May referendum, Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party (which won national elections in 1990 by a landslide, and was kept out of power by the generals), said the process was undemocratic. It did not explicitly advocate a "no" vote, which could have landed even more of them in jail. Suu Kyi herself is banned from participating, due to having been married to the late Michael Aris, an Englishman.
This is yet another example of the shameless hypocrisy of the ruling gang. They deny her, a citizen of Burma and no other country, on the basis that she had the "privileges" to stay in a foreign country; Britain would have given her the right to stay with her husband if she chose to go into exile as they had wished she did. She could have probably acquired British citizenship if she had wanted, but she didn't. On the other hand this junta's predecessor, the dictator Ne Win was married to a citizen of a foreign country. One does not lose political rights by marriage, unless one happens to be Daw Suu. She enjoys a special and unique disfavour among the dictators.
Another double standard is apparent in the categories of people not allowed to participate under the new referendum law.
Monks, nuns, high-ranking Christian and Hindu officials, the mentally ill, people living in exile, convicted felons and foreigners are not eligible to participate in the referendum under the law. Islamic clergy are not mentioned, so can apparently vote.Buddhist monks and nuns have no voice, whereas Muslim leaders do. You can bet that soldiers will vote, every single one, and will be told which vote to cast.
The generals' proposed system for entrenching military governance includes one quarter of the parliamentary seats to be reserved for the military. The junta patterned this after Suharto-era "guided democracy" in Indonesia, which also reserved seats for the military in his parliaments. The reason given for this in Indonesia was that military members did not have voting rights, but were guaranteed this (over) representation in compensation. Than Shwe needs no such rationale, he just wants both. The new Indonesia, now a leading light of ASEAN, is calling for Suu Kyi and the NLD to be accorded their rights.
"That's why our concern is how to make the process in Myanmar more credible, meaning to make the process more inclusive by allowing the participation of groups including Madam Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD (her National League for Democracy party), as well as minority groups... in the coming process," he [Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda] added.Meanwhile back in the 45 million-inmate gulag, the non-violent student activists arrested both before and after the monks' uprising in September are now facing up to 20 year prison sentences. Previously charged under the Printing and Publishing Act, about 20 of the high profile dissidents have now been charged with opposition to the National Convention (the military's hand picked body to draw up the unknown constitution).
Student leaders including Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi as well as university students who took part in the Buddhist monk-led nationwide uprising in September 2007 have been charged under decree 5/96 dealing with obstruction or opposition to the National Convention.
Win Maung, the father of the 88 Generation Students leader Pyone Cho, recently visited Insein Prison. He told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, "The new charges were approved on February 20. But, they [prisoners] haven’t been sent to trial yet. University students were also among the group."
Decree 5/96, concerning opposition to the National Convention, was enacted in 1996, said Aung Thein, a lawyer in Rangoon. The National Convention was convened 14 years ago and charged with making recommendations for a draft constitution, which is set to go before voters in a national referendum in May.
Opposition to the National Convention includes leaflet distribution, public gatherings and lobby campaigns. Any person who organized or supported such activities could be charged, said Tate Naing, the secretary of the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma).
Nearly one hundred people remain unaccounted for after the September crackdown. Burma holds approximately 1,850 political prisoners, most at the notorious Insein Prison in Rangoon.