Aung San Suu Kyi

Election promises mean nothing in Myanmar

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 October, 2010, 12:00am

Myanmar's election next month was supposed to bring change. The military leaders have repeatedly promised a new beginning with the ushering in of a democratic system. Neighbouring governments have viewed such a process with hope, seeing it as an end to an outflow of refugees and the chance for better relations and co-operation. Sadly, it is clear that it will mean none of that.

Rules and restrictions imposed by the generals have ensured the silencing of most opponents. Aung San Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy won the last election by a landslide 20 years ago but had its victory snatched away, remains under house arrest and unable to participate. Numerous political parties and candidates have been barred by the electoral commission's discriminatory practices. Foreign journalists and polling monitors have been told that they won't be able to observe the event on November 7.

A quarter of the seats in parliament have been set aside for serving generals and most of the remainder seems likely to go to retired military officers and their cronies. Complaints abound from the handful of pro-democracy parties that will be contesting a mere 14 per cent of the seats - they claim that the two main military-backed parties have been given an unfair advantage through access to the state-run media, voter lists and financial resources. Stories of intimidation of candidates and voters abound. At least 1.5 million people in ethnic areas have been denied the right to cast ballots.

Free elections are about participation and choice. All citizens, organisations and political parties should have rights of assembly, association, expression and movement. Ballots should be able to be cast without fear of intimidation, violence or retribution. These fundamentals have been denied, don't exist or can't be guaranteed.

Myanmar's people have been served poorly over almost five decades of military rule. More than 30 per cent live in poverty with the annual average income just US$459, basic services are lacking, corruption is rampant, diseases like malaria thrive and the nation is among Asia's least developed. The generals' greed for power means that despite their promises of democracy and the opportunities that that brings, little will change for a long suffering nation.