Sham Elections In Burma
Burmese residents are issued five types of I D cards—the National I D Card, the Scrutinized Citizen Card, the Foreign Citizen Card, the Temporary National I D Card and another card called ‘Pyu Naingan Tha’. Now the military regime has decided to issue voter I D card to all citizens living in Burma to ensure a high voter turn out when the elections are held later this year after two decades. The immigration department has been issuing a white colour card, called Temporary National ID cards to the Muslim community in Arakan state. Strangely, it lists the card holder’s race as Muslim and his/her religion as Islam. On the back of the card, it says this person does not have the right to claim Burmese citizenship. Now there is a proposal to issue pink ID cards to Muslims in northern Arakan.
The cards issued to Muslims is an effort to gain Muslims’ support for the government-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party in the forthcoming elections.
The military junta has another plan to weaken the National League for Democracy, whose symbol of a Burmese hat during the 1990 election became iconic among the Burmese pro-democracy movement. Now the same has been allotted to the splinter group, National Democratic Force, which is taking part in the sham elections. Early this year, the pro-democracy party decided to boycott the elections after heated debate as one of the conditions for its participation was to expel Aung San Suu Kyi from the NLD. It seems the Burmese junta is trying to create fissures in the party and the break-away group is the result of this vicious plan.
The elections have been projected as an attempt to “guide flourishing democracy”. No one expects this farcical vote to bring any change, much less a change in the regime. These elections will be an ugly exercise and may have uglier consequences.
The wily generals are marketing these elections at the international arena, particularly all the platforms provided by the toothless Association of South-East Asian Nations. In recent weeks two dozen generals have shed uniform in order to take part in the forthcoming elections. An election commission has been set up, which is composed of ex-generals. The Burmese pro-democracy activists have coined a phrase, ‘bulletocracy’ for the brand of government that the junta has inflicted on the people. The military junta is apparently working to a plan. As Naing Ko Ko, former political prisoner, says, the generals believe “they can sell their bulletocracy to the neighbouring countries, especially China, India, Thailand, Singapore and ASEAN. As long as the gas, teak and minerals are still being traded, international legitimacy for the Burmese regime is of little interest to its neighbours.”
The people are paying the price for the perpetuation of the ruthless
military regime. Burma’s human development index and anti-corruption index are one of the lowest in the world.
Now the junta is reportedly developing a nuclear and missile programme. In the junta’s scheme of things, nuclear empowerment and missile acquisition may give it legitimacy and greater clout vis-à-vis its neighbours. The global community needs to view it with serious concern, as it will pose a serious threat to regional security. A documentary by the Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), has alleged that Naypyidaw is developing nuclear weapons and a missiles system with help from North Korea. Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile proliferation is an open secret.
India’s volatile neighbourhood already has too many nuclear powers. Burma is under no threat either from India or China. Experts believe if the junta achieves its goal, Burmese missiles could target neighboring countries, as well as threaten US military activities in the Indian Ocean.
The nuclear and missile programme is the result of the junta’s xenophobia and pathological suspicions of the outside world. Gen Than Swe, the Burmese strongman, who came to power in 1992, thought if he followed the North Korean example, Burma would not need to care about the US or even China. In other words, if the regime acquired nuclear weapons, others will respect it.
Burmese army defector Maj Sai Thein Win, who is a missiles expert, said recently that the junta is constructing nuclear and missiles facilities at two sites in Magwe and Mandalay divisions in central Burma. The defected major is quoted in the documentary as saying that the Burmese government “wants to have rockets and nuclear warheads”.
The Security Council resolutions 1718 and 1874 ban all North Korean arms exports. If Burma’s nuclear plan is confirmed, it will face similar restrictions. One thing is clear Burma can be trusted to be as defiant as North Korea. The secret project sites are in Myaing, a town in Magwe Division, and Pyin Oo Lwin, also known as Maymyo, which is in Mandalay Division. Experts believe Burma is acquiring this technology only for nuclear weapons, and not civilian use or nuclear power.”
With North Korea’s aid, the reactor in Naung Laing could be completed around 2012, and Burma could develop its first deliverable nuclear weapons by 2020, he said. The generals have apparently spent vast sums on the programme.
The development in Burma raises questions about the ability and effectiveness of the existing international system to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons. The International Atomic Energy Agency has once again been caught asleep at the wheel.
While the people of Burma are suffering from acute hunger and misery, the generals have used the income from the sale of natural resources to fund the purchase of sophisticated equipment and the training of thousands of Burmese engineers abroad mostly Russia.
The junta is likely to get much more revenue from the sale of gas to China and India. Much of the money will apparently go for the nuclear programme. Russians halted the work on a promised reactor project, when they started to harbour doubt about Burmese intentions. And yet, there is very little that the international community can do to prevent the junta from doing what wants to do inside the country.
Much of the blame for North Korea and Burma’s deviant international behaviour lies with China whose economic and moral support has emboldened rogue regimes to raise their ugly heads. It does not augur well for the world as it will have to wrestle with China’s clout and muscle and its irresponsible behaviour.
Sanctions have hardly undermined the regime. The Obama administration’s demand for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners has been conveniently ignored. The neighbouring countries have stepped up trade and investment.
The wily generals believe when they hand over power to the so-called civilian regime, that may lead to a review of sanctions. No one will be fooled by a seven-stage roadmap towards a “discipline-flourishing democracy”.
By Ash Narain Roy