Burmese military sets date for sham elections

Burma’s military dictatorship is preparing so-called elections on November 7, based on the sham 2008 constitution, which was crafted to further strengthen and legitimise permanent military power. Under that constitution, the military is guaranteed at least 25% of the seats. It is also likely that a large proportion of the remaining 75% will be taken by former military officers “retiring” to stand in the election.

Burma has been under military dictatorship for nearly five decades, starting from the repressive Ne Win regime in 1962. Every peoples’ struggle to remove the military dictatorship has been confronted with brutal repression. The most prominent struggles were the 8-8-88 (August 8, 1988) uprising led by students and the 2007 Saffron Revolution led by Buddhist monks. After the 1990 elections were won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), the military regime rejected the result. Many NLD leaders and prominent political activists have since been placed under house arrest or sentenced to long jail terms.

Political show

The income of 60% of the people is below the US$2-a-day poverty line. Their only remaining hope is that the illegitimate military regime will be overthrown. The election is a political game, a spectacle intended to provide only an illusion of change, with the help of the generals’ crony capitalist, bureaucratic government and political allies, the Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP), their own “civilian” party. There are no neutral election observers, no media freedom, no mass meetings, no real campaigning. What the generals are planning is to transform the army into a major political party. According to their agenda, the army will eventually become the major decision-maker on the political scene. Burma’s so-called disciplined democracy will be under the strict discipline of the army.

The generals more than anything else wanted the participation of the leading opposition parties, particularly in NLD, in the elections to create an aura of legitimacy. On the other hand, they are not in a position to amend, let alone get rid of, certain rules and regulations in their so-called constitution.

The NLD and other opposition parties demanded as a condition for participation in the elections the release of all political prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi, the calling of a peoples’ assembly, an open dialogue regarding the 2008 constitution and free and fair elections under the watchful eyes of the international community. Not even one of these legitimate demands will be considered by the generals.

The National League for Democracy decided not to participate in the elections, but a fraction of the party decided to stand candidates under the name National Democratic Force (NDF) — a decision not supported by Aung San Suu Kyi, according to her lawyer.

Diplomatic manoeuvres

The United Nations and some governments have been asking diplomatically to play a part in the election to make it “fair and credible” in accordance with international law and norms. Their main demand is to allow candidates banned by the generals to participate, namely Aung San Suu Kyi, ’88 generation students and ethnic leaders from the 1990 elections — but the generals have no intention of granting these requests.

Not many governments are speaking out frankly against the sham elections, mainly because of the rich resources of Burma. Solidarity with the Burmese people is overshadowed by the profits anticipated by most governments. It is really sad to see a country like India, which had a strong solidarity and history of fighting British colonialism alongside Burma, now turning its back on the Burmese people, hoping that the generals will give them access to Burma’s resources ahead of its rivals China and Russia.

The NDF is already discovering that financial problems and time constraints are making victory impossible even before the election has begun. In fact, not just NDF, but most opposition parties participating in the elections share the same views and goals: to act as a counterweight in an election that seems 99% certain to produce a military victory. The only real benefit will be for the generals, helping to legitimise military rule for years to come and making the task of democratic revolutionaries and working people much harder.

The pro-regime USDP is taking advantage of all the restrictions on real campaigning by giving money to poor villagers and repairing roads in order to win votes. They have a big advantage in that regard because none of the other parties can go on a spending spree. Most generals have taken off their military uniforms in order to maintain military rule within the future “civilian” government. And even if the ready-made military government should fail, a back-up plan exists for a military coup.

The strict election rules against campaigning make it harder to prepare and mobilise the masses of people for revolutionary struggle. Also, the daily lives of ordinary Burmese make it harder as people have to fend for themselves and their families before thinking about fighting the government.

Bright spot

The bright spot is that the younger activist generation has already begun an anti-election campaign with an activist movement called “Generation Wave”. They go through the city, pasting up posters encouraging people to refrain from voting in the elections because voting can help legitimise military rule.

Burma has a long history of peasants and workers mobilising, beginning with the fight against British colonialism. Buddhist monks, students, workers and peasants are at the forefront of any democratic struggle. The main issue for the Burmese opposition is the significant lack of leadership. Apart from Aung San Suu Kyi, there are only a few others in whom ordinary Burmese have confidence to help them fight for their freedom.

Burma suffered for many years under the “bogus socialism” of the Burmese Socialist Program Party, which was also under the control of the military. But this painful experience with the word “socialism” does not mean that a socialist revolution is not possible in Burma. It is not only possible, but is the only way forward.