|By WAI MOE||Thursday, September 24, 2009|
Veteran politicians and daughters of former cabinet members, such as Thu Wai, Mya Than Than Nu, Cho Cho Kyaw Nyein and Nay Chi Ba Swe, announced at a press conference in Rangoon on Sept. 14 that they would found a party named the Democratic Party.
The press conference surprised Burmese political observers because it was the first public announcement of the formation of a political party for the 2010 elections while the election law has yet to be officially announced.
“It is quite strange that U Thu Wai announced the formation of political party to run in elections which have not yet been officially declared,” said a political observer in Rangoon who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“Only Snr-Gen Than Shwe knows when the 2010 election law will be announced,” the observer said. “The junta is busy for the moment dealing with the tension arising with the armed ethnic cease-fire groups over the border guard forces issue.”
Under the military-backed 2008 constitution, the junta made it clear that Burma will only have a single armed force known as the Tatmadaw. The junta is attempting to disarm the militias of its former enemies that became cease-fire groups 20 years ago.
Burmese state-run newspapers are repeatedly reaffirming the junta’s policy of having a single armed force in Burma.
“According to the constitution, there shall be a single Tatmadaw in the county,” noted the junta’s mouthpiece The New Light of Myanmar in a commentary on Friday. “All armed forces are to stand in accordance with the constitution.”
Another urgent item on the junta’s agenda is to ensure the participation of ethnic groups in the forthcoming election, which would give stronger legitimacy to the poll. Observers say the election law and the date for the election could be delayed until the ethnic issue is resolved.
Meanwhile, the main opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has called for a review of the constitution rather than participate in the elections.
“The junta is using a divide-and-rule strategy on the NLD and other dissidents with the election plan,” said a journalist in Rangoon. “The NLD leaders have been divided on the issue of whether to join the elections in 2010.”
The Burmese military have successfully used divide-and-rule tactics against its enemies during its 47 years of rule.
Apart from the NLD, other Burmese politicians are divided over the election plan. While people who want to participate argue the election is a good opportunity to promote change in Burma, others are saying the election is a trap since the 2008 constitution grants the prolongation of military rule in Burma.
Pro-military groups such as the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) and the National Unity Party are preparing to take part in the election directly or through proxy parties.
Since late 2008, the USDA has selected respected figures and business people in local communities across the country as potential candidates for its proxy party. Some candidates say they are being watched by military intelligence and special branch police.
When interviewed on the election issue, Burmese political observers in Rangoon, such as veteran politician Chan Tun and Arakan leader Aye Thar Aung, said the junta will only give a limited time for opposition parties to prepare for the elections, and it is likely the election law would be announced close to the election date.
Junta officials, meanwhile, started their election campaign last year. Burma’s Industry 1 Minister Aung Thaung is in charge of the USDA in Mandalay Division. He often travels in the division, meeting local people and organizing heath care and education programs to win over rural people ahead of the election.
Information Minister Brig-Gen Kyaw Hsan has been doing similar things in Sagaing Division, as has Transportation Minister Thein Zaw in Magawe Division and other key officials.
The censorship board has allowed pro-government stories to be printed in some private journals, and pro-junta journalists are permitted to write political pieces related to the forthcoming elections.
For example, Snap Shot, a weekly journal run by a journalist with good connections to Information Minister Kyaw Hsan, published an advertisement announcing the launch of a sister journal called the Yangon Monitor that will report on the election.
In recent months, the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division of the Ministry of Information has allowed the Voice Weekly journal to publish election-related articles, some of which are quite similar to articles appearing in state-run newspapers.
On September 13, state-run media announced that the former vice-chairman of the Kachin Independence Organization, Dr Tuja, planned to form a political party for the election, saying “Dr Tuja will build a brighter future for Kachin State by forming the Kachin State Progressive Party (KSPP) representing Kachin nationals.”
About a week later, the censorship board permitted the Voice Weekly Journal to run an interview with Dr Tuja about the elections. Journals that regularly publish pro-junta stories never publish dissident views on the elections or government policies.
“This journal is given special privileges, but dissident opinions are not allowed. I wrote four articles arguing against their stance—all were banned,” said veteran journalist Ludu Sein Win during an interview with the Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma.
Even politicians who argue the elections are providing an opportunity for a way out of Burma’s crisis are being given little space by the junta. Although authorities gave politician U Thu Wai a green light to hold a press conference announcing the launch of his party last week, the censorship board banned all news about the press conference in Burmese private journals.
“The censorship board ordered us to remove news about U Thu Wai’s press conference and his new party when we sent them the first draft of this week’s issue,” said an editor with a Rangoon weekly who requested anonymity.