5 April 2012

2012 By-elections: the Regime’s Tool for Legitimizing Disguised Democracy
Burma held by-elections on 1 April 2012 to fill 45 vacant parliamentary seats. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and candidates from her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) contested for all 45 seats and won 43 out of 45 available seats at the parliaments. Comparing with the General Elections in 2010, April 1 byelections were held in a freer and fairer manner and in a much more transparent environment. However, series of irregularities in the pre-election period, and the unprecedented strategic shifts of the government and the military days before and after the by-elections point out that Burma’s road to democracy ahead is long and bumpy, and a possibility of U-turn at the end. As a leading opposition pro-democracy party that has secured the overwhelming public support for the past two decades, the election victory of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy is not surprising. The NLD contested in two out of three elections held since 1990 and won majority seats in both elections, May 1990 and April 2012. The NLD’s by-election success will be honoured and accordingly the NLD representatives including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will have their first opportunity to participate in the country’s legislative affairs. Nevertheless, the NLD as a minority party with a fraction of seats at the parliament is likely to face enormous challenges to meet its political objectives such as the restoration of the rule of law, amendment of 2008 constitution, and building national reconciliation. Therefore, it is crucial that the international community takes well-calculated measures and responds to the ongoing process. The pre-election irregularities reveal that the government had a systematic plan to prevent the NLD winning majority seats until it announced invitations for international witnesses but not observers to verify the credibility of the elections. Obviously, the government is in desperate need of legitimacy for its disguised democracy. Therefore, the planned electoral fraud was withdrawn, and the by-election was used as a tool for international recognition of its reform process and subsequent termination of existing sanctions. While it is doubtful that whether the NLD representatives will be able to achieve its intended goals of three primary objectives, between 400 to 1,000 political prisoners remain in the prisons across the country losing their hopes for freedoms. The conflict in Kachin state remains critical, and the ongoing cease-fire deals with other ethnic nationalities are in a fragile situation. Since the democratic future of Burma is extremely uncertain and in the hands of the ruling ex-generals, the international community must not impede the liberalization process by maintaining its essential measures of the existing sanctions. Although certain measures that might help build up a truly independent civil society and development of the country in terms of health and education and poverty alleviation are welcomed to be lifted, the withdrawal of measures such as restricting investment in government enterprises and natural resources extracting are not encouraged.

Lifting of the crucial sanctions measures against the government will be an insult to the remaining political prisoners and an obstacle in the course of the reform process. The complete removal of sanctions will be discriminative gesture of the international community towards the remaining political prisoners and the people in conflict areas. The liberty of leading activists and politicians, and the election victory of the NLD should not be taken seriously as significant reform measures of the government. Therefore, the European Union, the United States and other democracies who support the development of genuine democracy in Burma must not forget the remaining political prisoners and ethnic nationalities who continue suffer the disguised democracy behind the veil of reforms. They all deserve to enjoy freedoms and victory. The ultimate victory of the entire country that everyone can freely enjoys the true values of democracy, equality, and justice is still far away to achieve it.

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Between 400 to 1,000 political prisoners are losing their hopes for freedom The cease-fire process with ethnic armed forces is in a fragile situation The minority party NLD is taking a serious risk of being defeated by the majority party, the USDP and its ally, military representatives at the parliaments on legislative affairs The ultimate goal of the NLD to amend the undemocratic features of 2008 constitution is likely to be democratically challenged by the USDP and the military representatives at the parliament through their unshaken unity and solidarity Even if the NLD wins majority seats in 2015 General Elections, it will face the biggest challenge of being unable to secure the vital and essential votes from the military for the amendment of 2008 constitution The military led by prospective Senior General Min Aung Hlaing (Min Aung Hlaing is already promoted to Vice-Senior General following the by-election) will be ready to take over the power if the democracy struggle in the parliament are intense and the external movements are escalated. NLD representatives including its leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other leading politicians such as members of 88 Generation Students are in a great danger of being re-arrested if their efforts to amend the constitution, the heart and soul of the military’s disguised dictatorship, escalate.

Burma Independence Advocates Park House 111 Uxbridge Road Ealing London United Kingdom W5 5LB

The Burma Independence Advocates (BIA) is a London-based advocacy organisation and think tank working for the restoration of democratic values in Burma. The organisation is registered as a private company limited by guarantee and was founded in 2009 with the aim of helping the people of Burma achieve the full enjoyment of their fundamental rights and freedoms in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Company number: 7111145.

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