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Myanmar's prison of an election will also be ASEAN's
Fri, May 28, 2010
The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network

In Myanmar's last elections, twenty years ago today, the people of Myanmar voted for a democratic change by overwhelmingly electing the National League for Democracy (NLD). However, the people's desire was never honored.

Ever since the military regime lost in the 1990 elections, they have been trying to violently sideline the NLD.

The most recent evidence of this is the issuing of highly restrictive election laws, requiring political parties, including the NLD, to cast out members imprisoned as political prisoners and pledge to abide by the deeply flawed 2008 Constitution.

These election laws have left us, the NLD, with no principled or practical options but to refuse to participate in the elections. Other 1990 election-winning ethnic political parties have made the same decision.

If the military's elections go ahead without the participation of key parties and are accepted by the international community, the military rule will be further entrenched and stand in the way of ASEAN's goals of regional peace, stability, and progress.

When the NLD began campaigning for the 1990 elections in Myanmar, our members throughout the country saw the immense physical suffering and widespread discontent that existed everywhere.

People were hungry for freedom and democratic change after decades of living under a military dictatorship. The NLD's triumph in the polls - winning over 82 percent of seats in the parliament - was a strong sign that people trusted Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD to help bring positive change to their country.

The NLD wanted to create a new constitution and a new Myanmar that respected the rights of all people, through cooperation and trust building. Though we were denied our rightful positions in the government, we have continuously worked towards these goals and will do the same even now that we have been outlawed by the regime.

We have repeatedly extended our hand to the military regime asking for the inclusive dialogue needed to move towards national reconciliation, only to be rejected time and time again. We were barred from participating in their sham "Roadmap to Democracy," including the writing of the 2008 Constitution.

With the announcement of new election laws, the regime officially annulled the results of the 1990 elections and our landslide victory claiming, "the result does not conform with the [2008] Constitution".

However, the constitution itself does not conform with the will of the people as well as international standards. Forcibly ratified in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, the constitution guarantees continued military control, ethnic repression and restricts political freedom.

The NLD's decision to not participate in the election has been quite controversial. Some people in the international community see these elections as a hopeful step forward. However, it is clear to us that they will not improve the lives of the people of Myanmar. We cannot participate in elections that go against the very principles of democracy, rule of law, human rights for which thousands of people have sacrificed their lives.

Moreover, we cannot participate for several practical reasons. The regime continues to deny ethnic communities - over 30 percent of Myanmar's population - equal rights and self-determination resulting in ongoing armed conflict, more refugees and increased instability.

Many ethnic communities and armed groups are opposing the elections unless their demands for ethnic equality are met. They have supported Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the urgent need for genuine political dialogue, and we will not turn our backs on their demands.

These elections will also not ease the dire poverty that the majority of people in Myanmar face. The economy will still be under the control of the hands of the military regime and its cronies, driven by their personal gains rather than the needs of the people.

Despite the tremendous flaws with the upcoming elections, there has been a noticeable and troubling silence from ASEAN. ASEAN must recognize that what happens in Myanmar will affect the entire region.

ASEAN is working towards greater integration by 2015. However, if the elections proceed according to the regime's plans, ASEAN will be aligning themselves with an unstable country that stands on false democratic methods and restricting their own progress.

ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan has excused ASEAN's inaction by stating that ASEAN is "not a magic wand that can deliver a miracle in every issue." ASEAN may not be a "magic wand", but it is certainly poised to have the greatest geostrategic influence on the behavior of its most unruly member.

ASEAN has significant political leverage on Myanmar and must pressure the regime to finally take the necessary steps towards national reconciliation: release all political prisoners including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, cease attacks against ethnic communities, and engage in inclusive dialogue with democratic and ethnic representatives. ASEAN can no longer hide behind its policy of non-interference, allowing tyranny to continue beyond these elections.

The NLD is committed to finding the right solutions for Myanmar. We made the decision to not participate because it is what is right and what is needed.

I implore ASEAN and the international community to do the same by calling on the regime to take steps towards national reconciliation and genuine democracy, and refuse to recognize the results of these elections if they fail to do so.

The writer is a member of the central executive committee and a founder of Myanmar's National League for Democracy party. He was a political prisoner for 19 years from 1989 to 2008.

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