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After Burma’s Elections

October 19th, 2010

Banya Hongsar, Canberra : November 7th is just in a few days.
This day will be interpreted as one of either darkness of light in
Burmese political history. However, it is time to think beyond the
November 7th general elections in the country, and consider instead
what lies in store for Burma both internally and internationally. A
small country like Burma cannot advance its regional power unless
the nature of running the country is changed. China is looking to
capitalize on its national interest in Burma at every opportunity.
China’s investment in Burma, worth US $ 2.7 billion, is at stake, and
will greatly influence the relationship between China and the newly
formed Burmese government in the post election period. From
another front, over 2 million migrant workers and displaced
Burmese people in Thailand will be pressing for their own issues,
and the new government will have to deal with the Royal Thai
government as it seeks further cooperation in the repatriation of
displaced people from its border camps back into Burma. The newly
formed, most likely military-linked Burmese government will be
under pressure from western governments, including the United
States of America and the European Union, to release political
prisoners and allow opposition organizations to operate freely after
the elections. Thinking beyond the day of the upcoming elections is
necessary for those who are committed to working for constitutional
and institutional change in Burma. I will explore some possible
scenarios for Burma’s post election-political landscape. Four topic
will be discussed in this article; - China’s interest in Burma
- The State Peace and Development Council’s (SPDC) – Union
Solidarity and Development Party’s (USDP) new policy for
functional change - The National League for Democracy (NLD)
and the National Democratic Front’s (NDF) new battle ground
- Ethnic leaders’ voices in national politics
20 years’ worth of US and EU- led western pressure on Burma has
not worked, and the west is seeking a new ‘engagement policy’ with
reserved ‘sanction measures’ toward Burma’s regime. China has
favored a pro-engagement policy of contributing financial and
military assistance and Burma remains unchanged and
undemocratic. The US has given full support for Burma’s road to
democracy over the past twenty years. The Burmese people owe
gratitude to the US government and its people for this support.
However, the Burmese people have to stand up for themselves and
their rights for the next 10 to 20 years. The US’s policy on Burma
will be tested again for the next few years, as to whether it can
counter-balance on China’s influence on Burma. It is time that
Burmese leaders from both the ruling military elite and from
opposition forces think of the impact of China’s interest in Burma,
and whether or not China’s influence conflicts with Burma’s
national interest. This is the reason why thinking beyond the
elections underpins the future survival of Burma’s road to
democracy under a united national spirit. Burma’s national interest
is not divided, but rather unites all the disparate ethnic groups in
Burma. China is only interested in a weaker Burma, because a
strong, united Burma does not fit in to its economic strategy.
Thinking beyond the elections both among Burmese and non-
Burmese leaders is in greater national interest, both in terms of
security and for Burma’s future. As it stands now, The Asia Times
reported on September 16th that two new pipelines from Burma to
China have been planned, one for crude oil and one for natural gas,
have been planned, both of which stretch well over 2 thousand miles
and will be finished by 2013; the article also alleged that China’s
foreign investments in make up 11.5% of total foreign investments
in Burma. China gains but Burma pains. China will not tolerate to
any armed group who harms its national and economic interests in
Burma. Burmese leaders both exiled and living in-country cannot
escape the obligations of the bi-literal agreements between China
and Burma, and the investment agreements signed by the current
military government. China has used its economic power beyond its
borders a great deal in the last 10 years, and Burma is the source of
China’s closest available resources.
A functional change might possibly be seen on a small scale in the
post-election period in Burma. Every sign indicates that the current
ruling military regime, under the guise of its newly formed political
party the USDP, will be elected will and mobilize its post election
legitimacy under the new constitution. Opposition forces led by the
NLD have had only limited avenues for the last 20 years to force the
ruling generals into dialogue, and NLD leader Daw Aung San Suu
Kyi will be looking a new strategy that could foster her forces when
she is released from house- detention in mid November. It is very
likely that the ruling SPDC-USDP will begin building alliance with
other minor parties or ethnic leaders interested in who are
committed with the ‘tune of the SPDC-USDP’ line. Should this
happen, local newly elected members of parliament will have the
opportunity to enact gradual changes on a local administrative level
within ethnic states and regions in the realms of health, education
and local economies. During the campaigns leading up to the
elections, many Burmese-civilian candidates pledged that, if elected,
they will run a smarter and stronger debate within the
parliamentary framework that could pressure the ruling military
generals for further compromises on local issues. Local members of
parliament will likely be seeking greater autonomy from the
government over issues of health, education and business to satisfy
local constituencies. If both the State and National parliaments
could use their mandates within the parliamentary circle, functional
and constitutional changes will be in place, but still very limited
manner compared to what many of Burma’s observers have been
expected so far. The NLD, a well established opposition party in
founded in1988 and the NDF, a newly formed party started by
former senior politicians from the NLD, will be seeking new
grounds to foster its campaign for the next election sooner or later.
The NLD, if they want to flourish, must work with the strong
support of Burma’s ethnic national forces. I called these forces the
‘third force’ in Burma. The second force, in contrast, is led by
former NLD senior politicians and former student activists. In all
likelihood, Rangoon-based senior Burmese civilian an politicians
led by the NLD will be seeking greater support from this third force,
either formally and informally. A visible opposition force could be
vital in pressuring the newly formed government for further
national dialogue. It is vital that this third force is united in spirit
with Burma’s other activist groups, and that alliances are formed to
foster smarter campaigns in the future. The voices of ethnic leaders
deserve to be in Burma’s national politics in the future; indeed, a A
stronger Burma cannot be built without them. A sense of trust must
be established between Burmese and ethnic leaders. China will
mock Burma if the country is weak and the leaders lack regional
power bases. A united Burma will build a strong regional power
that could decrease China’s exploitation of Burma. China is not a
democratic state. China cannot be a champion of democracy while
it rules under a one party-communist system.
Only a united force of Burma comprised of both ethnic and
Burmese leaders could resist further bullying of China on Burma.
United ethnic forces must prove that they are united in a desire for
constitutional change. Their voice must reflect the desires of local
people and citizens of the country. Thinking beyond the election is
vital if opposition forces are prepared to confront the newly formed
military-civilian affiliated government after the 7th of November.
Time is running out for opposition forces both inland and in exile.
The Australian National University’s trained Burma’s observer,
Mortem B. Pederson warned in July 2009, “twenty years of the
same old ’safe’ policies have led nowhere. Whatever this current
transition process is and will become, it is the most significant
political shift in a generation and therefore an opportunity that
simply must not be wasted through continued inflexibility or a lack
of courage or imagination”.
Burmese activists both home and abroad must think beyond the
November 7th elections, and question what is next. Burma could
become ‘a country of prostitution’ as warned by the country’s
founding father in the post-independence period, General Aung
San, unless a united force between ruling Burma and ethnic leaders
is finally achieved to work towards the goal of a new democratic
political institution.
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