Burmese military regime organises fraudulent election

The Burmese military regime, officially called the State Peace and Development Council, organised a general election on November 7 – the first in two decades. The SPDC’s Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) claimed a landslide victory, declaring that it had won 86% of seats in the lower house of parliament and 88% in the upper house.  Despite insiders saying that only about 10% of the eligible voters turned up at the polling booths, the pro-SPDC announced a turnout of over 70%.

The election law empowered the military regime to appoint all 17 members of the election commission. The commission was headed by a former military officer. The National League for Democracy (NLD) which overwhelmingly won 80% of the parliamentary seats in the previous 1990 election but was blocked by the military regime from assuming government, decided not to participate in the November 7 election.  NLD general secretary Aung San Suu Kyi, who was detained by the military regime for 15 years, was released on November 13. She was greeted by a crowd of 4000 supporters outside her house.

While Western governments have declared the 2010 election as fraudulent they are unlikely to  impose anything more than their existing symbolic sanctions against the Burmese military regime. The US and the European Union slapped sanctions on Burma to protest the continued detention of Suu Kyi and the ruling junta’s refusal to recognise the NLD’s victory in the 1990 election. With Su Kyi’s release there will no doubt be renewed calls in the Western media for these symbolic sanctions, which US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has acknowledged have failed, to be lifted.

While Su Kyi’s NLD boycotted the election, some senior NLD members formed the National Democratic Force to contest the election, claiming that a boycott would play into the hands of the military regime. In their opinion, even if opposition parties won only a few seats in the parliament this would represent progress from two decades of total military control. Their hope is that democracy can be achieved through gradual reforms to the existing military-controlled government. But the new parliament will have 25% of its seats reserved for the military and the USDP MPs are overwhelmingly “retired” military officers. Burma will continue to remain under the effective rule of military officers, but participation of opposition parties in the 2010 election will enable the military regime to claim it has transferred government to a “democratically-elected civilian” government.

More importantly, the ethnic minority rebel groups along the border of Burma are in grave danger now, as the generals were quite impressed with the Sri Lankan government’s final military offensives against the Tamil Tigers in 2009. The military signed ceasefire deals with 15 ethnic rebel groups between 1989 and 1995 – some of which were broken during and after the election. About 4000 people had to cross over to Thailand fearing that the Burmese army troops would launch a surprise attack.

For four decades, Burmese military officers have ruled Burma, both politically and economically, controlling both state-owned and private businesses. The 2008 constitution, under which the 2010 election was organised, stipulates that the military’s internal affairs, including its budget, must be managed solely by the military. Through the 2010 election the Burmese capitalist class, which has consisted overwhelmingly of military officers and their families, has sought to give its rule a civilian guise, through the USDP. Since 2009 the military regime has moved to privatise state-owned enterprises and properties. But most “buyers” of these privatised assets have been closely connected to the regime’s former military officers and proxies acting on behalf of military families.