Myanmar goes for elections on 7 November sans political leaders as military generals who have shed the uniform and powerful business magnates close to the regime in power in the country spar for seats which largely seem to be predetermined. Aung Suu Kyi the most popular political leader of the country and a Nobel laureate is incarcerated on flimsy charges and her party the National League for Democracy (NLD) has been disqualified though a shadow National Democratic Force is participating. Myanmar’s head of State, Senior General Than Shwe made rounds of New Delhi, capital of the largest democracy and Beijing of the most powerful authoritarian regime recently ironically both endorsing his plans to the hilt. Thus it is time for the World at large to introspect the relevance of elections seemingly to elect generals in civilian clothes and businessmen in league with government.
Formally the elections process was unfolded by the Union Election Commission of Myanmar vide Notification No. 91/2010 as a follow up of Notification No. 89/2010 dated 13-8-2010 which had announced multiparty democracy general elections for the Hluttaws (parliament) to be held on 7 November 2010. With Notification No.90/2010 dated 13-8-2010, the Commission had announced starting and last dates for submission of Hluttaws candidate list, the date to scrutinize applications of candidates and the last date to withdraw applications of candidates if needed. Now Notification 91/2010 outlines in detail the methods, “for Hluttaw candidates representing political parties and independent Hluttaw candidates who submit lists to present their policies, stances and work programmes and causes through talks or in writings for their candidates to win”. The Notification outlines procedures for assembling and giving talks, distribution of publications, applying for permission for assembling and giving talks, need for reporting in advance assembling and giving talks at the party headquarters and branches, publications, restrictions such as on giving public talks and distributing publications with intent to break up or tarnish the image of the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Armed Forces) and so on.
The stringent rules and regulations that have been framed for the Hluttaws elections very clearly denote the manner in which these will be conducted with strict control of government agencies and effective monitoring. Thus “giving public talks and distributing publications with intent to break up or tarnish the image of the Tatmadaw” has been banned and therefore candidates will have to adopt a very mild campaigning format given that the Tatmadaw or the Myanmar Army junta has permeated all walks of public life. Mostly candidates may be bringing up very peripheral social and economic issues which will hardly enthuse the people.
The military junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) opened offices across Myanmar. USDP is headed by Prime Minister Thein Sein The USDP received a major boost after the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) -- a pro-junta organisation with 27 million registered members recently merged with it. The Irrawaddy also reported that more senior officers have resigned from the Army to join the USDP. These include Lt-Gen Thar Aye, Lt-Gen Ohn Myint, Lt-Gen Myint Swe and Lt-Gen Khin Zaw—chiefs of the regime’s bureau of special operations, Lt-Gen Maung Shein, defense services inspection and auditor general, Lt-Gen Tin Aye, chief of ordnance production for Burma’s armed forces, and Lt-Gen Myint Hlaing, chief of air defense.
Lt-Gen Min Aung Hlaing and Lt-Gen Ko Ko heads of bureau of special operations, Lt-Gen Hla Htay Win, armed forces training chief, and Lt-Gen Thura Myint Aung, adjutant general, are reportedly not on the list of resignations. It is rumored that Min Aung Hlaing is expected to become the deputy commander-in-chief of the army and that Hla Htay Win will fill the position vacated by Tin Aye. These reports however need confirmation.
Obviously the democracy, “purge” in the Armed Forces is continuing where the military junta’s main leadership Than Shwe and Maung Ye are ensuring that those who are to side step to the civil street and become heads of various ministries and the government departments as elected representatives of the people are now resigning to participate in the elections. The various criteria being applied may not be clear at present but lack of ambition may be one whereas providing stability within the army structure would be another. With the aging top leadership of the military which is over 80 how the transformation takes place and whether it is smooth or there is turbulence remains to be seen for the Myanmar military junta remains a mystery to outsiders.
Parties other than those supported by the military are finding the going tough. Leader of the National Democratic Force (NDF) party, Khin Muang Swe, has virtually thrown the towel as he is finding the going very tough. The NDF is a break away faction of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party which is now de-registered as a political party and cannot participate in the elections. The NDF which is split from the NLD is now planning to pull out of the elections as it is possibly finding that it would have to compromise on basic issues. Candidates are also required to deposit large sums of money to participate in the Elections which may be a dampener.
What is the value of such elections which will put back the same generals who were holding the reins of power back in civilian clothes and people have restricted choice. But then such is realpolitik that the military junta may just end up earning kudos of its supporters in New Delhi, Beijing as well as in many ASEAN countries which are of course its largest trade partners as well. As for Suu Kyi, she is likely to be charged shortly for her call for non participation in the elections, thus an extended incarceration may be in the offing even after the present term ends just a week after the elections.