Lately, there are endless reports of people going to Burma, so much so that as the saying goes – chaung pauk tawme, or a river will soon run through the worn footpath. It was therefore refreshing to note that the usually soft-spoken Dr Sein Win, elected Prime Minister of the US-based National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, gave an interview to VOA, in which he calmly pointed out that we are still not at the end game with regards to democracy in Burma.
Sein Win was elected to his constituent state in the 1990 election, which Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won. Power was not transferred. In danger of arrest, he and other MPs fled to the Burma-Thai border, where they formed the Exile Government in the Karen stronghold of Manerplaw, which fell to SLORC’s forces (the former name of the State Peace and Development Council – the Burmese junta).
Sein Win has a doctorate in mathematics from a German university, but has spent the last two decades as a political activist and advocate for Burmese democracy. In 2009, in Malahyde, Ireland, he was re-elected by secret ballot to the Prime Minister post.
Three prominent dissidents including the famous comedian Zarganar who was recently released and was at a National Endowment for Democracy event in DC a few days ago, reiterated points made by Sein Win.
I transcribed and informally translated this.
MC Thar Nyunt Oo’s intro: Even though it is said there are reforms in Burma, because there is still no political solution, there is still a need for overseas-based activist groups, according to Dr Sein Win, PM of the Exile Government or NCGUB. When VOA’s Khin Soe Win interviewed him, Sein Win explained –
“Yes, on our part, we do welcome the changes that show a positive sign. This is a hopeful trend. However, in some areas (change) is not consistent. For example, ceasefires with respect to various ethnic groups. In Kachin State, (the Burman army) is still waging a serious offensive. Besides heated battles, civilians are suffering all kinds of troubles. We do need to look at this, talk about this. The release of political prisoners is not yet complete.
“They let go of the leaders, but there are still many (about 1000) still in prison. So it’s not consistent. Also, in the nature of reforms, it’s not enough just with this one issue. From the background, (just) laws (which come from grass roots debate of the people’s legitimate representatives) must appear.
The 2010 election was rigged and the “constitution” written entirely by the SPDC.
Interviewer: “As they did not recognize the 1990 election, if she (Aung San Suu Kyi) should win the by-election . . . will government recognize the results?”
“I think, they will help organize it so that it’s free and fair. I assume they will accept the emerging results. By-elections are in only over 40 places. The total number is over 450.
“Even though they may do things equitably for these 48 places, when the general
election takes place, they need to be fair.
Q. I have heard that if the NLD registers as a political party, the Exile Government will dissolve itself. What is your opinion?
“Now they will enter (the by-election) and run – in April, the MPs will get into the parliament. Aung San Suu Kyi will get there too. When that happens, whether it will be an Exile Government, or a Parallel Coalition Government, will be something to think about. . . There is the main base which elected the NCGUB. We have something called the Members of Parliamentary Union (outside Burma), and it will be decided there by majority vote.
Q. What is the NCGUB’s future role? Will you go back? Some have been invited.
“Some people say go back, for this to happen, that to happen. That’s not the main point.
“The main point is – how much progress there is inside the country. How much real freedom do the people have? Is there a real political solution? Right now there is not. What Suu Kyi calls a breakthrough is a political solution. The main point is to give full democratic rights. It depends on the constitution”
Note – in the 1990s, Suu Kyi called the constitution “just something written on a slip of paper.”
“In the present SPDC’s constitution, there are points which are not democratic, which are opposed to democracy. Daw Suu has said this clearly too. There are some corrective changes, but they are not solutions. For instance – ceasefire. Ceasefire alone is not the ultimate solution. We’ve had ceasefire with the Kachin for 17 years already, now they’re shooting again. Because problems have not been solved. What we want is a real solution. Go on the right path for politics, economics, social welfare.
“The economy too must be the right system. Now there’s crony capitalism. This is not right for our country. Only when we have the solution can we say there’s democracy”.
In Jeffersonian democracy, it is still a continuous process, not a static situation.
Q. Will you go back to help?
“It’s not necessary to go to Burma to work on Burma issues. It can be done from outside too. OK, right now we have a bit more freedoms, we have more this and that. Ceasefires. But these have not reached the end of the process. What stage has freedom of news reached? Yes, when they invite you, you can go”
(Khin Soe Win was first journalist to go)
“When they talk to you and issue statements, you can listen and report it. But can you really write what you want? There is still censorship. We know that.
“These things must be pointed out. Constructive criticism exists even in a democracy. From the outside we can point these things out. That’s our job.”