The ruling military junta in Burma has sidelined the opposition and arranged the upcoming parliamentary vote to ensure that they will remain in power after Nov. 7. But ethnic minorities may soon challenge the junta's grip on power.
For the first time in 20 years the Burmese people will vote in parliamentary elections on Sunday. The outcome, however, is a foregone conclusion: the junta will retain power under a new guise.
Twenty-nine million voters will take to the polls to pick the civilian government that will replace the generals who have ruled the country since 1962.
International observers have decried the absence of political opposition, locked-down borders and the threat of military repression reminiscent of the 2007 crackdown of the so-called Saffron revolution.
“[The elections] are a step in the wrong direction,” says Mark Farmener, director of Burma Campaign UK, a human rights group that has called the election a fake. “This has nothing to do with democracy, this is a dictatorship maintaining its control.”
One quarter of the seats in Burma's new parliament have been reserved for military appointees, whatever the outcome. Moreover, many soldiers have simply traded in their fatigues for neckties to campaign for seats.
Two-thirds of the candidates running on Sunday belong to two parties close to the junta: the Party of Solidarity and Development of Union (USDP) and the National Unity Party (NUP).
In 1990 Burma held elections in which the National League for Democracy party (NLD), led by now jailed dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, won 82 percent of votes.
According to Farmener, the military junta did not expect the 1990 outcome. “They thought they had rigged the process enough. This time they are not going to make the same mistake,” he told FRANCE 24.
Suu Kyi will spend election day locked up and the NLD is boycotting the poll, leaving other opposition parties with little prospect of victory.
Officially still in the running, the National Democratic Force (NDF) and the Democratic Party (Myanmar), have managed to field candidates for just 38 percent of seats, according to British ambassador to Burma, Andrew Heyn, writing on the Guardian website guardian.co.uk.
“Because the election laws have made it so difficult for opposition parties to put up candidates, in some constituencies the USDP will be running unopposed,” Heyn wrote.
Trouble brewing at the border
There are also warnings that mounting ethnic tensions could come to overshadow the vote. Armed groups previously allied to the junta who were allowed to oversee ethnic minority areas on Burma’s borders have said they will resist the junta.
“There is no longer any ceasefire or peace. All the ethnic minorities will ally and we will overcome the military dictatorship that betrayed us,” Na Kham Mwe, the leader of a breakaway faction of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) told FRANCE 24.
A deadline for the militias to agree to become part of the Burmese army passed in September.
“Because they are being forced by the regime to become a border guard force under the control of the Burmese army, but without being given any of the kind of political autonomy or respect or rights for their culture, they are resisting,” explained Farmener.
Burmese authorities have barred swathes of ethnic-minority areas from taking part in the election, while there are fears that renewed fighting could see a flood of refugees leave the country.
Date created : 2010-11-05