On why the recent general election in Burma is a sham.
On the 7th November the South-East Asian nation of Burma, also known as Myanmar, will hold its first general election since 1990. As of 1962 the country has been ruled by a military government, which has forcibly crushed every call for democracy since then (most publicly and recently in the October 2007 Saffron Revolution). Given this history of violence, authoritarianism, and either the manipulation or dismissal of election and referendum results, instead of being a step towards democracy and much needed change the regime will use the results of the election as false evidence of its legitimacy. The Burmese elections are therefore widely regarded as illegitimate.
To make a comparison between the students of Burma and the UK is to see a world of difference. Burmese students are banned from having their own newspapers, their libraries are kept empty, students or tutors who criticise the authorities disappear, and to make a crude analogy, it’s as if the Conservative government had refused to relinquish power upon their defeat in the general election of 1964 and continued to rule ever since (read more at www.newint.org/features/2008/05/01/education/). The plans of the military dictatorship to use these elections as evidence of its legitimacy both to the Burmese people and the international community are highly contentious, given that the leader of the opposition party, Aung San Suu Kyi has been placed under house detention until after the elections, all opposition parties are outlawed from criticising the incumbent government, and that currently there are an estimated 2,200 Burmese people, a large percentage of who are students, in prison for protesting. Likewise, a 2008 referendum returned results that declared 92% of Burmese people, despite just having been catastrophically failed by their government during a hurricane crisis, approved of a highly undemocratic constitution (see www.newint.org/blog/editors/2008/05/09/burmas-referendum-among-ruins/).
The current rulers of Burma are military leaders, and given such a background it is not surprising that during their regime they have pushed their nation into a politically isolated and economically unstable position. The Saffron Revolution was not just a protest against the authoritarian regime but also against the unfeasible living standards, particularly the unaffordable price of food and fuel (www.hrw.org/en/node/10572/section/7). The current dictators are clearly not capable of running a country, yet insist on total control.
This all sounds very pessimistic. There is no changing the fact that these elections will improve nothing, but the point of this article is to highlight that there are actions which can be taken in solidarity. Look up the Burmese election in the news, and remember that when democracy there is defeated, it must find ready help from elsewhere.
Sign the petition calling for the release of various prisoners of conscience, including the leader of the main opposition party leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, at www. amnesty.org.uk/burma
Click onto www.burmacampaign.co.uk for further information and actions to be taken, as well as News Internationalist (www.newint.org/features/1996/06/05/action/).
Also, don’t forget to keep an eye on the UNIfied website for updates and coverage.
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