Analysis: The April Fools’ Day by-election in Burma
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Analysis: The April Fools’ Day by-election in Burma

So it has come to pass.

Burma’s pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, went through with the campaigning for the by-elections as she said she would.  As her campaign for, she says, 44 out of a total of a reported 660 seats (some reports say over 250), heated up, the reports of harassment by the military junta’s USDP also increased.

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Villagers walk towards a polling station in Wah Thin Kha, Burma Sunday. Pic: AP.

The Union Solidarity Development Party is an offshoot of the former thuggish “brown shirt” organization USDA or Union Solidarity Development Association, which among other things attacked her convoy on May 30, 2003, in the infamous Depayin Massacre, after which Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest for the third time till Nov 13, 2010, a week after the sham election of Nov. 7 the same year.

Near Pegu yesterday, there were reports that an entire village was burned down, as the villagers were attending a National League for Democracy (Suu Kyi’s party) rally.  Throughout the campaign, the NLD was denied auditoriums and stadiums in town centers.  Suu Kyi was forced to give speeches out in the open, in paddy fields in the burning sun.  Her entourage was shot at with jingles (sharpened bicycle spokes), hard betel nuts and clay balls with catapults and one woman was injured.  Only a few international observers have been allowed in, a few days before the April 1 by-election.  One observer from AFREL was deported.

Suu Kyi complained to Derek Mitchell, US Special Representative on his sixth visit to Burma in seven months, of irregularities in the electoral rolls, such as names of dead people appearing.  She also said yesterday in a press conference at her home that there are many cases of intimidation and that the election is unlikely to be free and fair, but she and the NLD are going through with it as “the people want it.” http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/front/archives/2012/03/31/2003529135

In an article in the Washington Times, chief sceptic Dr Maung Zarni, Fellow at London School of Economics, was quoted as saying Burmese will be treated to a bit of political theater on April Fools’ Day, but the power structure will not change.

I am probably the second biggest sceptic after Dr. Zarni.

To scroll back a bit on Burma constitution history, in 1974 (while I still lived in Rangoon, working at the Institute of Economics) there was an election, but even at the university level it was neither free nor fair.  We were told who to vote for and to vote again, when we tried to vote for the late professor of physics to represent us.

In 1990, while under her first long stint of house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi and her party won the country-wide general election, but power was never transferred.  When it became clear that Burma’s constitution writing was going at a glacial pace, (see Ian Findlay’s Burma Redux, p.  60-61) she formed the CRPP or Committee to Represent People’s Parliament, which still exists.

In 2005 the SPDC (the new name of the junta after 1998) set up the King’s Royal City of Naypyidaw, in the heartland.

In 2007, the Saffron Revolution took place, with monks marching and chanting en masse.  During the upheaval, Japanese journalist Kenji Nagaii was shot point blank, his death captured by many camera persons on the scene.

In 2008, a few days after Cyclone Nargis hit, the “Nargis Constitution” – i.e. the Referendum that “legalized” the constitution, was pushed through, while the country was still reeling from the terrible cyclone.

In 2010, “Myanmar” as they call it, became a nominal civilian government, when the top brass changed from army uniform to Burmese traditional dress.  But be mindful that the so-called constitution was written by a few army-designated persons, maybe even by one person, as the late Dr Maung Maung did for dictator Ne Win in the Socialist period 1962-1988.

This “constitution” is a top down one where all the rules and regulations are stacked already to favor the power holders.  I’ve read a copy, when with several well known Burma experts, I helped the Exile Government or NCGUB prepare a Plan for Democracy and Development in 2008-2009.  It can be read on their website.

There’s been a debate over the sincerity or lack thereof of the President, U Thein Sein, until 2010 a top general in the junta, now with changed clothes.  Time Magazine may compare him to Gorbachev, but in the end what he manages to push through will depend on how powerful he is.  As his commands to cease shooting on the front lines in the ongoing ethnic wars in Kachin and Karen States have been ignored twice already, and the “talks” of a few months ago are widely considered to have expired, we can say his power is limited.

In an eloquent interview with a VOA reporter, the recently released Mahn Nyein Maung, legendary KNU (Karen National Union) leader and author of the famed memoir Against the Storm, Across the Waves, claims that he was initially arrested after being deported from China and Thailand (he just stopped short of claiming these two governments were implicated) – “as a hostage.  If the talks went well, I would be released.  If not I could even be given the death sentence.”

At least 600 political prisoners also remain in jail.

Derek Mitchell responded diplomatically to an RFA reporter’s pointed questions.

“We know things are not perfect, but we are watching the situation closely.”

In conclusion, as a sad gift, I give you the Slaves’ Chorus from Verdi’s first breakthrough or “Jewish” opera, Nabucco, which he wrote at a particularly difficult time in his life, when his wife and all his young children had died.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cdAERH_XkCQ

The melody just came to him as he was looking at the first words of the libretto.  At the rehearsal, stage hands were so pleased they shouted and banged the floor in approval.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Va,_pensiero

Here from the English translation:

Oh, my country so beautiful and so lost!
Oh, remembrance so dear and so fatal!

Golden harp of the prophetic seers,
why dost thou hang mute upon the willow?
Rekindle our bosom’s memories,
and speak to us of times gone by!