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February 26, 2010
Myanmar junta delays announcement of 2010 election date


Monks in Burma. Photo: Flickr user antwerpenR

Myanmar, the country formerly known as Burma, has announced elections will take place in fall 2010, but an exact date has not yet been set. The international community is looking towards the elections as a possible move towards a more democratic society.

The country has been ruled by a military junta since 1962.

President Obama has continued support of sanctions against Myanmar but has also showed his desire to engage the country.

A United Nations envoy spent five days in Myanmar this month to monitor human rights but was never permitted to visit Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s main opposition figure. Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, has spent 14 of the past 20 years under some form of confinement. This week her latest appeal was thrown out by the Burmese Supreme Court.

David Williams, a law professor and executive director of the Center for Constitutional Democracy in Plural Societies at Indiana University, joins Worldfocus to discuss the upcoming elections in Myanmar. Williams has written widely on constitutional law and has spoken at the United Nations and U.S. Congress on Burma.

Worldfocus: You recently spoke on a U.N. panel focusing on what the 2008 constitution will mean for upcoming elections. How will the new constitution affect the elections?

Williams: The constitution creates all the new offices to which candidates will be elected, so in a sense it actually creates the elections themselves.

On the other hand, by its terms, the constitution does not technically come fully into effect until the first meeting of the newly elected legislature. In other words, the constitution will not actually govern this first election. Instead, the SPDC (State Peace and Development Council) will run the election in whatever way it sees fit. The SPDC is unlikely to allow a great deal of political freedom in the runup to the election.

Worldfocus: What is the likelihood that the elections will move the country toward greater democracy?

Williams: Not very likely. Even after the election, under the constitution, the military will still be the real power. The constitution gives the military complete, unaccountable authority over its own affairs, which the constitution defines very broadly: being the primary guardian of the constitution (rather than the courts), safeguarding “national solidarity,” participating in the “National political leadership role of the state,” and enlisting the whole people in a militia.

It is possible that, if the military falls asleep at the switch, Burmese citizens may mount a protest movement for constitutional change that will sweep the regime from power. But unless there is constitutional change, Burma will not know anything like true democracy.

Worldfocus: In your opinion, what makes Burma an important international issue?

Williams: It is experiencing the longest ongoing civil war in the world; the government is committing atrocities against its citizens; it is creating regional instability; it is funneling drugs to surrounding countries; it may have opened communications with North Korea about nuclear weapons; it is resource-rich but profoundly misgoverned.

Worldfocus: Do you think Aung San Suu Kyi will be released from house arrest after the elections?

Williams: I think that it is impossible to predict. The regime will release her only if they don’t feel threatened by her at the time.

Worldfocus: Suu Kyi is the best known Burmese figure to the international community. What is her influence inside the country?

Williams: She is almost universally beloved (except by the regime and its close followers), so she provides a unifying force for the democracy movement. Because she is under house arrest, she is not able to take a direct managerial role in her party or the movement. The constitution also prevents her from running for president because her children are foreign citizens. Unless she is released, she also will not be able to campaign for other candidates.

Worldfocus: What role should the U.S. and the Obama administration play leading up to elections in Burma?

Williams: I think that the Obama administration is doing exactly what it should be doing: strongly condemning the regime for its abuses but talking to them to try to get them to change. The SPDC wants closer relations with the US, but that must be conditioned on improvements in human rights and democracy.

– Geneva Sands-Sadowitz

For more on Burma, listen to Worldfocus Radio: Burmese Political Change.

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Comments

5 comments

#5

It is Burma not Myanmar. B U R M A. Burma if you respect its history, culture and people. Burma. Now one more time with feeling. BURMA!

#4

We’re getting no new information on the Burmese “Civil War.” Well, the average American couldn’t find Burma on a map for $1,000,000,000(one try). But that same American can give us a detailed hx of every American Idol season: “Burma, what Burma?”

#3

What a joke!

#2

Above Paul is really ” Ehrlich ” – honest,but he in in no way practical, which the past 40 years had shown. From 1965 France, UK, Germany, USA boosted the than Government in Myanmar with money and Intelligence and Armee Equipment & training, since 1990 China, Israel, Italy, Serbia & Russia is doing so. Not for Myanmar not for the people just for them self, Money Talks.
Mr Williams said:”..it is funneling drugs to surrounding countries..”,- in real all these surrounding countries are providing all the chemicals for the drugs, USA set up in the 70th all the Heroin Factories to finance CIA operations in Laos and Vietnam.
— Aung San Su Kyi does not need to be free or stand election to make her party win, in 1990 she was at same situation as today and they got 80 over %, which as officially announced by the Army
s Election commission.
Changing a constitution is the most modern since years, without this Thai Mr Thaksin would never had become PM in Thailand as his father was a strong believer in Communist China.
— Rape and all these bad things happen, should never, but all over where a conflict is kept on going by all sides as in Karen state. Irak, Afghanistan is no exception as bad as it is.
The over 100.000 Myanmar young girls daily raped in a ” Forzed Married ” stolen – highjacked from Northern Myanmar to serve Chines one child polizy men,– is not of any interest in the west and here. Why cause here is only ( which is good enough ) a Kareen Lobby pushing. China can do what they do.
—- The UN Human Rights envoy met with General Tin Oo from the NLD which should be as good as to meet Aung San Su Kyi,- even maybe better as he was a second highest Army General in Myanmar and might can read and evaluate the situation much better than ASSK.
What Mr Paul the ” Ehrlich ” misses out is an understanding how it could work. He only shows the way how it sure never worked and will never work. In other ways Paul directs a ” No Change Initiative “.
Mr Obama does not have his / this policy on Myanmar, it is a general new approach of the USA.
Elections in Afghanistan, rigged and with Kharzais Brother since 7 Years beeing paid by CIA was also not the right way.
Does Aung San Su Kyi really need to be a President or so, I admire one as Sonya Ghandi which for the sake of peace in Idea gave first Choice to one all Indians could and can live with, even the opposition to her was also just a fraction of India but would have created an always standing problem.
Aung San Su Kyi should look a bit around how other democratic leader get much more successful than her, just by a different approach.
At the end it helps mainly the people, history of the past 10 years had proven it many times.
Best RGDS
Daniel Kraft
Belgium

#1

What has the revised American policy on Burma achieved? Democracy is impossible with the Junta persisting in state rape, slavery and forcing children into the army. Total oppression must be met now by Total Sanctions by the world.

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