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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2677

Vote “No,” We will Win

Prof. Kanbawza Win

After 14 years of broken promises, the Burmese Junta announce that it is finally introducing a constitution, with a referendum due in the 1st week of May followed by a full fledge elections in 2010. The Generals has learnt their bitter lessons, when in the 1990 elections, the people show their vehement hatred and obviously will not take any chances, especially after the killing of the revered Buddhist monks in September. Hence to wink the people of Burma, as well as to the international community, they now come up with the sly idea of referendum, which was partially copied from the Communist. It announced the referendum, while withholding details of the draft Constitution from the public, a scheme unheard of in the world. Moreover a reward of two decades in jail for any one discussion the constitution (see Law 5/96) was augmented.

The faux democracy will enshrine only the dictators who are holding the country hostage. Written by delegates cherry-picked by the government and lacking the input of the opposition party or the ethnic nationalities, the constitution will reserve 25 percent of parliamentary seats for the military and the 75% the ex brass. Through a well-crafted technicality, it not only also bars the pro Burmese democracy leader Nobel Peace Prize laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, but also all the NLD members that won the elections.

If the constitutional referendum goes through as planned, it will help the government falsely legitimize these consistently repressive policies. It will give a leading political role for the military. According to the draft constitution, the commander in chief of the armed forces is entitled to fill 110 seats in the 440-seat parliament with appointees from the ranks of the armed forces. Moreover, the commander in chief will occupy a position on the same level as that of the two vice-presidents. And in the event of a "state of emergency", which the military can declare at any time, the commander in chief will assume full legislative, executive and judicial powers.

A limited role for ethnic nationalities, if the 17 ethnic groups which currently have cease-fire agreements with the regime want to participate in the election planned for 2010, they will probably be required to lay down their arms once and for all. The ethnic nationalities will have to decide. An even more limited role for various democracy groups as the constitution will impose stringent restrictions on any activities deemed inimical to national unity, which would include any of the normal functions of a parliamentary opposition party. Civilians will be permitted to enter parliament, but only if they show that they know their place.

A constitution is as immovable as the military itself. Just in case anybody was thinking of making changes once the constitution is in place, Section 4 (a) of the chapter "Amendment of the Constitution" effectively rules that out. Even if an opposition party, such as the NLD, were to win every single seat not filled by military appointees, it would be unable to make any amendments, which would require the approval of more than 75% of all members of parliament. Basic human rights are not guaranteed and the power concentrates very much on the president who must have military experience while the Minister of Defense reports directly to him. In other words is a government within a government and surely will not lead to a democracy – ‘disciplined’ or otherwise.

However there are divergent views as how to approach the current political situation. The so-called “Self Appointed Third Force” in Burma—a group founded during the International Burma Studies conference in Singapore in mid-2006, which is neither pro or anti Junta are anti-sanctions. They argue that regardless of whatever the outcome of the referendum, it was certain that the constitution would ultimately be rectified, and hence should vote Yes. This will prove that Daw Suu is not confrontational, avoid disenfranchised and a sort of a good will gesture. This appeasement policy was very much echoed by the former ABSDF leaders based in Chiang Mai, as a way to stop living in the past or a sort of a compromise for national reconciliation. Some hook nose farang reasoned that something is constitution is better than nothing, forgetting that the people of Burma longed for a long term guaranteed for their future and real democracy and freedom.

“By announcing plans to hold a referendum on a draft constitution in May, the regime has given Burma and the world a classic non-choice,” writes Kyaw Zwa Moe. The Burmese people should be smart enough and set their emotions aside and as in 1990 elections must act as one. The Junta’s plan is to steal and abuse the real desire of the people. According to the announcement 1/90, the Junta claimed that elected representatives are solely responsible for writing the constitution.

However, in violation of their own law, the Junta did not allow the elected representatives to participate in writing the constitution. The basic and fundamental principles were illegally adopted by the Junta-sponsored mass rallies, in which all the attendees were forced to participate. The national convention was just for show to approve these principles written in advance by the Junta. Submissions by ethnic cease-fire groups were ignored. The Junta’s order 5/96 threatens to punish with 20 years imprisonment the people who criticize the national convention and the constitution. Freedom of expression and media are severely restricted. The Referendum Law, issued on Feb 28, 2008, is also not in line with international and ASEAN standards. There is no clear indication of what the Junta will do if the majority of the voters reject the constitution. The Junta is apparently planning to win anyhow. Hence every one should vote No and must not stay without voting.

For example if the majority of the people stay put and being a sham constitution and will not vote, the Junta will not care and say if a few hundreds Swa Arr Shin USDA were bribed to vote Yes! Then the Junta, will say that he got so and so vote for Yes and the unpublicized constitution will be installed. So every homosapien residing in Burma must vote No.

We should vividly visualize that this constitution is designed to protect and promote the interests and security of Generals and their cronies. Ordinary soldiers, who are actually sons and daughter of the people, would become. an elite class, and will have more privileges than ordinary citizens, who are the root of them.

This constitution will allow the military dictatorship to perpetuate in Burma. If this constitution is approved the people of Burma will be abused and oppressed more by the Generals, their families and their cronies. They will also monopolize the state economy and they will have a “License to Oppress”. No doubt the people of Burma will become slaves of the military for generations.

One should heed the 8888 generation call of, “Let us transform the Junta’s sham national referendum into the National Show of the Peoples’ Desire”. Only then we can prevent the country from falling into the depths with the Junta’s one-sided roadmap. “People Power” will prevail. With our 'No' votes, we will clean the blood and dirt stained on the bodies of our revered monks by the soldiers," said the 8888 generation. By voting against this constitution it will demonstrate the enormous power of the people and that we need not afraid of the military for the rest of our lives for the future generations of Burma. Every person who is eligible to vote, should go to pooling stations and put “No” votes in the ballot boxes.

The main objective of voting “No” and mobilizing the people is not to defeat the Junta’s constitution or to validate it through the referendum; it is just to promote democracy because people’s participation in the political process is basic to every democracy.

It has been proved that the ordinary person was not able to participate in either the National Convention or the drafting of the new Constitution, hence the referendum is the only opportunity for the people to participate and we should missed this chance.

Participation will reinforce the concept that the people have a right to decide their own future and who they want as their government. If they want this regime to continue let them vote “Yes” if not vote “No.” Hence the simple message should be given to the man in the street, who doesn’t know, who is who and what is what, that if they like this government they should vote “Yes” but if they don’t like this government they should vote “No”. Let the ordinary working people and the struggle lot decides. This is what we call in Burmese “À Thae Kyar Ka Mae Ta Pyar” literally translated is the vote from your heart and liver.

The people should be urged to vote their conscience taking into account their personal security. They may be forced to vote “Yes” then they have the choice abstaining from voting. Vote manipulation by the military regime is a high possibility. But even if it does, it cannot totally ignore the will of the people. The number of “No” votes will determine the level of engagement and compromise the Junta may be willing to negotiate in the future. Mobilizing the people for the referendum is also a trial run for mobilizing the people for the elections in 2010. The objective is to mobilize people and reinforce their understanding that participation in the political life of their nation is the basic right of every citizen.

Obviously the Junta will try to claim that this constitution is approved, despite a majority voting “No”. History has proved it after one-party system constitution in 1974, there were mass protests in 1974, 1975 and 1976 and in 1988, and under the deluge of mass demonstration the constitution was abolished. The history of our country has already proved that any constitution, which does not reflect the desire of the people, would not last long and is no more than a piece of paper. If the people fail to do generation and generations will be under the boots of the military.

The voting is sure to be rigged as the Junta had flatly refuse Gambari’s suggestion of International monitors. Probably it will repeat the 1974, the military organized referendum, when the eligible voters to cast their votes the boxes were set apart just to see whether the voter walked towards the ‘Yes’ box or a ‘No’ box. And if he votes “No” he is ear marked for persecution. Of course like any other Burmese administration, Burmanization has to be implement because the constitution is only in Burmese language when 40% are ethnic nationalities whose mother tongues is not Burmese.

The Junta’s version is that voting will be conducted in line with the international systems. Arrangements have been made for every eligible voter not to lose the right to vote referendum. The law on voting has already been issued both in Burmese and English newspapers. The National Convention of 1993 laid down, 15 chapters and 104 basic principles. Arrangements have also been made for every eligible voter not to lose the right to vote. It also claims that voting will be conducted in line with the international systems. Stipulated ballot box shall be placed at a conspicuous place for public to enable voters to cast votes conveniently. Counting of votes will be carried out in the presence of witnesses. Arrangements have been made for eligible voters to cast votes at another place if there occurs any unfair and unjust voting (e.g., in the face of natural disasters). There include provisions that action shall be taken against those who get involved in rigging the votes and causing disturbances. According to the provisions it is obvious that it is a fair and free voting in accord with the international standard rules and regulations.

The Junta hypothesis is that that world community has not objected to Thailand's new constitution, passed last year, despite the lack of participation by Thai opposition parties in the drafting process, nor the recent constitutions passed in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the lack of participation by their opponents, including Moslem militants with al-Qaeda links and the Taliban, respectively.

Suppose if the regime had accepted some of Gambari’s proposal (the 35th trip by a UN envoy to Burma since 1990, with a record of 31 UN resolutions), it would have muted criticism and the legitimacy of the entire road map process has been gone through, that will finally led to the marginalization of opposition groups and official nullifying the 1990 elections and the military’s draft constitution would be accepted as legitimate.

The UN efforts have been ignored. At the other end, China and India, as Burma's two major supporters, view Naypyidaw’s timetable as concrete progress. International pressure to link the summer Olympic Games in Beijing with China's Burmese policy is increasing by the day, but it will not yield any results. Through targeted banking sanctions which the United States has ordered but which the European Union, China and other countries have so far been too timid or self-interested to pursue seems to be a paper tiger.

At the moment, there is no uniform approach by ASEAN towards the Burmese crisis only the Philippines has maintained a hard-line approach seeking the release of Suu Kyi and other political prisoners as well as improved human rights. Indonesia has been critical of Burma, but has not gone as far as the Philippines. Jakarta is presently focused on drafting the terms of reference that will produce a respectable and independent human-rights body in ASEAN. This would serve as a prerequisite for the Charter's ratification by the grouping's largest member. Singapore's attitude towards Burma has been the most intriguing. After orchestrating the strongest statement ever to come from an AMM (ASEAN Ministerial Meeting) since Burman joined the group in 1997, the island nation has apparently thrown in the towel after failing to move the national reconciliation process forward as it had hoped at the last ASEAN Summit. Any change in ASEAN's attitude towards Burma will be the responsibility of the next ASEAN chair, Thailand, which will succeed Singapore in July. ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan has set a cautious tone by saying it was a good beginning.

With the current government under Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, the Thaksin policy has been revived. Samak on his return from Burma admitted that both Thailand and Burma have half baked constitutions as perhaps both the ugly duckling and the bull dog themselves may themselves be half baked. Bangkok seems to be determined to back the Burmese road map that the political situation there was an internal matter - were uncalled for, as they completely overlooked the international dynamics of the situation, including the UN's mediating role. The successive Thai administration except Chun Leekpai has betrayed its people and the people of Burma always. It could be recalled that at the ASEAN Summit held in Phnom Penh in 2003, it was Thaksin Shinawatra who successfully convinced other ASEAN leaders to give newly installed Prime Minister Khin Nyunt, a chance to prove his leadership and his democratic road map. Another important factor is the growing confidence the new members are showing in shaping future ASEAN policies, especially as regards the non-interference principle. The drafting of the ASEAN Charter and its outcome demonstrated the tenacity and iron will of new members towards protecting the status quo it looks that the Junta will again enjoy a win-win situation with the heartless ASEAN.

It is evident that the Junta is intent on pushing ahead quickly with its own roadmap without any concessions to either the Security Council or the Human Rights Council. It is too late for the Council to ensure that the May referendum is credible and inclusive. The UN should be wise initiating a mechanism based on the concept of the North Korea six-party talks—with key parties like China, the US, India, and some ASEAN countries—which would be able to offer a package of carrots and sticks to the top brass just for a break through. This will give a psychological boost from being treated as a pariah in the international community gives them the prestige that they are somebody else to be reckoned with and this what the Burmese Generals extremely craves. But at the same time the UN must be unanimous for an iron hand with a velvet glove for binding resolutions, including official sanctions might be coming if this little naughty boy “Myanmar” does not behave.

China has also made it clear that it would reject sanctions no matter about the Olympics and does not believe that pressure will solve the problems and this view is shared by the Asian countries on the Council, Vietnam and Indonesia, who also shared the sentiment that Burma is not a threat to international peace and security. UN bodies such as the Human Rights Council are in a better position to do so. There are also differences among members on how to react to the announcement of a date for the referendum and whether there is actually real movement in the Junta’s roadmap. Some other members feel that the process is a sham and should not be encouraged. One thing is sure the Junta will play off the members of the Council with one another and will not seriously take the UN advice if it is divided. The UNSC will decide with Vladimir Putin laughing in his sleeves.

But the most troubling aspect in this scenario is that even though NLD says “The citizens must be able to read the draft of the Constitution in advance of the referendum then people would know more about the Constitution and could decide which way to vote,”it has stopped short, of advocating a boycott or a “No” vote for the draft constitution. Neither United Nationalities Association (UNA) - coalition of ethnic parties that won the 1990 elections and the Shan (SNLD) the largest election winning party after NLD nor the cease fire army of the North or the fighting South has declared their position. NMSP has and the KIO has rejected the referendum. If there is no compromise and did not speak in one voice as the people then we might as well bite the bullet and let the Junta’s referendum prevail. It must be remember that for two decades both inside and outside the country had endeavors to stop this legalizing the cruel Burmese army perpetual rule over the people of Burma, which can be liken to a heavy object moving to its goal. Since we cannot stop it, go with this object and push it in the direction that will not reach its destination and that is by voting “No”. The majority of the ethnic nationalities will vote “No”, many of the pro democracy forces such as the UBs including the women (WLB), youths (SYCB and NY Forum) the ENC and FDB have echo to this clarion call, the only time that ethnic and pro democracy forces stand in solidarity in this epoch making time and it would be naïve if any group or NLD did not join the bandwagon.

Unlike the leaders of the pro democracy movement the military Junta understands the game of ‘realpolitik” very well. They knew when they announced a plan to hold a national referendum in May and an election in 2010 that there would be a mixed chorus of support and dissent. In the end, they gathered that it does not matter what transpires so long as the regime shows there is some movement - at a snail's pace though it might be - towards democracy. This is the strategy the Junta leaders have mastered since losing the election in May 1990. They certainly hope that they will be able to muddle along and in the process gain more space and time to work on their own schemes.

Even though the majority of Burmese people, whether at home or abroad, regard the military government’s constitution as a sham constitution that shut the door of national reconciliation. It is a fact that a constitution will not go away. If we vote “<>b>No” there is every possibility that the generals will just try and try again. There may be another referendum, and so on and on until they get their way with each version modifying a bit. The UN and several Western countries have already tarnished their diplomatic credibility.“Whatever the outcome of the upcoming referendum, it is going to leave a nasty aftertaste,” predicts Kyaw Zwa Moe. But the people of Burma are a hardy lot. We have bore the tyranny for half a century of the Burmese Military brutality why should we give up now. Let us all unanimously vote “No”and one day surely we will win.

- Asian Tribune -

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