Eyeing Beyond 2010 Election

Published on December 16, 2008

Eyeing Beyond 2010 Election

By Nehginpao Kipgen


The Korea Times – December 16, 2008

It is saddening to see a government sentencing its own citizens to prison terms ranging from six months to 65 years. The alleged criminals include some of the most admired artists, revered monks and peaceful activists, people who patriotically love their country.

 Nehginpao Kipgen

  Nehginpao Kipgen

The international community’s political rhetoric, lacking any substantive action, has emboldened Myanmar’s military generals to advance their seven-step roadmap toward a “disciplined and flourishing democracy” slowly, but steadily.

It was not surprising to see the lukewarm reaction of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon toward a largely symbolic petition submitted to him by 112 former world leaders. They asked him to visit Myanmar in the wake of its rampant arrests in recent weeks and months.

The December 3 petitioners include Jimmy Carter and Tony Blair.

Ban, through his spokesperson Michele Montas, responded to the letter and said: “… will not be able to do so without reasonable expectations of a meaningful outcome, which is what we have been saying all along …”

What could that paper tiger achieve anyway? Had the same petition been sent by the same number of incumbent world leaders, it might have had better leverage. The move was encouraging, but it will have minimal impact, if any.

It would be more efficacious for the 112 former world leaders to convince their own governments to take pragmatic action in line with what they asked the U.N. chief to do.

The U.N. Security Council can initiate effective action, the U.N. Secretary-General can implement it; not vice-versa. Ban sees the limitations of his office in the absence of any enforcement mechanism.

If Ban were to go Myanmar without achieving any substantive results, he could demean the secretary general’s office. His basic demands, such as the release of political prisoners and the initiation of dialogue with opposition groups, have not materialized.

Instead of listening to repeated calls for them to release political prisoners, Myanmar’s military authority, in recent weeks, have handed down long prison terms to anyone who, to them, might disturb the upcoming 2010 election.

On the other hand, the military was sending another clear message to the international community. Senior General Than Shwe was heard bragging about the 15-year existence of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) and its count of 24.6 million members and rising.

On the fourth day of the association’s 15th anniversary on Nov. 29, Senior General Than Shwe said: “… plans are well underway to see to the remaining steps including the 2010 transition work program. So, it is fair to say that the future of the state structure is certain to materialize.”

In the new constitution, 25 percent of the seats in both houses of parliament (House of Representatives and House of Nationalities) are reserved for the military. Any future amendment of the constitution will require the voting approval of more than 75 percent. In other words, the constitution has been designed to perpetuate the military’s rule.

The military generals learnt a lesson from the 1990 general election: any free and fair election will favor the National League for Democracy (NLD) as well as other democratic opposition groups. It remains to be seen whether or not the NLD will be allowed to participate in the upcoming election.

If the NLD is barred from the 2010 election, or if the party chooses not to participate, Myanmar’s future political scenario seems murkier. With the new government busy with its own agendas, the NLD will continue to lobby the international community to recognize the 1990 election result.

The 2010 election will bring a transition in Myanmar, but the new government will still, directly or indirectly, be under the military. The result of the 1990 general elections will become bygone history.

Per usual, the international community will have mixed responses to the 2010 election outcome. While most Western nations will not, or will perhaps reluctantly recognize the result, many Asian governments will welcome it as a positive step toward democracy.

These conflicting approaches have given the military generals political breathing space. Sanctions versus engagements, and/or appeasements, by the international community are responsible for the survival of Myanmar’s military regime.

One must not, however, believe that successful implementation of the State Peace and Development Council’s seven-step roadmap will bring an end to Myanmar’s decades-old political problems.

We will continue to see simmering political turmoil in the country. The military generals are indifferent to, and even antipathetic toward, federalism, which has been the basic demand of the country’s ethnic nationalities, other than the Myanmarese

Any long lasting solution to Myanmar’s problems needs the sincerity, honesty and participation of all ethnic groups. They all should be brought into confidence, their legitimate demands considered. This process of democratization has to be inclusive.

Myanmar’s political landscape could still dramatically change before and after the 2010 general elections if the international community steps up to embark on a coordinated “stick and carrot” approach.

Meanwhile, the capability of the military junta should not be underestimated. The regime has pride in having over 400,000 personnel, one of the largest armies in the region. Also, the military is well protected by the U.N. Security Council veto structure.

If the international community is sincere and serious about finding a solution to Myanmar’s political problems, it should take substantive action. There are ways to bring down, or to convince, the military generals.

Military intervention, a model of the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear standoff, and the U.N. Security Council Resolution would be some of the swiftest, if not most effective, tools to bring true democratic change to Myanmar. However, none of the above is likely to happen in the near future.

If no realistic action is on the agenda, the international community should look beyond the 2010 election and start planning for new policies and strategies to pursue toward a new military-controlled government.


Nehginpao Kipgen is the General Secretary of US-based Kuki International Forum (www.kukiforum.com) and a researcher on the rise of political conflicts in modern Burma (1947-2004).

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