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Burma’s elections and ASEAN responses

Friday, September 24th, 2010

After the Burmese military regime’s announcement that it will hold elections in early November 2010, there have been different responses from ASEAN countries. Some countries support the elections, while some urged the regime to allow participation from all parties and to hold free and fair elections.

Since not all ASEAN countries are democratic countries, many are disinterested in the politics behind Burma’s upcoming elections.   The elections are totally based on Burma’s 2008 Constitution and aim to legitimize the military’s role in militarized civilian rule.  According to the Constitution, and already widely known, some military commanders will become party leaders in the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), and they will contest in the elections.  Another group of military commanders will take political power in Burma’s legislature, as the Constitution automatically allocates 25% of union parliamentary seats and 33% of regional seats to the military.  The military commanders will form a government after elections.

The 2008 Constitution and the breakdown of representation in Burma’s legislature is similar to the format laid out in the Indonesian constitution, however, the Burmese army commanders  have never indicated that they intend to withdraw their powers gradually; instead they plan to hold power for a continuous, unending period of time. The foreign ministry of Indonesia has condemned the State Peace and Development Council’s 2008 Constitution, and has encouraged the regime to allow the National League for Democracy and other pro-democracy parties to participate in elections.

The Philippines’ government has also encouraged the Burmese military regime to review the 2008 Constitution and hold a free and fair election.  Just recently, the Philippines held free and fair elections, and the country’s democratic development sets a good example for all ASEAN countries.

Thailand remains quiet on the subject of Burma, and does not want to interfere in Burma’s politics with any official comment on the upcoming elections.  It is clear that even the Thai government has frequently relied on the country’s army to maintain political stability in Thailand.  Thailand has made  its business relationship with Burma, especially regarding border trade and Burmese energy purchases, a high priority. This is the main reason that Thailand has avoided criticizing Burma’s upcoming elections.

The Timorese leaders were strong supporters of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma’s pro-democracy movement when they were struggling for independence of the East Timorese  while in exile.  Currently, they do not want to voice any comment on Burma’s political situation,  and they have not openly criticized or analyzed the current Burmese elections.

Laos and Vietnam both operate under single party rule systems. Neither country has recognized Burma’s democracy movement and or understood the importance of holding elections in Burma. So, they both have kept quiet.

Some ASEAN countries see Burma’s elections as being ‘better than nothing’, and have claimed that Burma will undergo the same experience of a democratic transition as many other countries in Asia.  These countries believe that the elections will make Burma to be open to outside world, and that there will be more space in Burma for civil society organizations.

Clearly, true democratic development and the creation of an open society in Burma cannot only depend on neighboring countries. The Burmese peoples people themselves must use various opportunities to achieve democratic goals.

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