Extended Suu Kyi detention points to possible ballot

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 November, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 November, 2005, 12:00am

Junta chases its own democracy road map, minus the leader

Yesterday's decision by Myanmar's generals to extend the detention of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi for another year suggests the junta plans to press ahead with its so-called democracy road map, and call an election within a year.

However, without her participation, few in the international community would take such steps seriously. Indeed, the National League for Democracy, which Ms Suu Kyi heads, has previously said that it cannot take part in any election as long as she remains under lock and key.

The democracy icon has now spent more than 10 of the past 16 years in detention since the military regime first put her under house arrest in July 1989. She was detained again on May 30, 2003, after anti-democracy thugs attacked her entourage. The renewal of her home detention was not unexpected. The articulate and charismatic leader of the NLD has long been a thorn in the generals' side.

Before she was rearrested in 2003, she told the South China Morning Post: 'We are in opposition to each other at the moment but we should work together for the sake of the country. We certainly bear no grudges against them [the generals]. We are not out for vengeance.'

But junta leader General Than Shwe has continually rejected Ms Suu Kyi's appeals for talk. 'We don't want a dialogue to find out who is better or smarter. The only winner, if we settle down to negotiations, should be the country,' he has said.

The NLD won the last national election in May 1990 but the military refused to hand over power. Instead the junta launched a National Convention composed of a thousand hand-picked delegates to draw up a new constitution.

The National Convention is to resume discussing the guidelines for the new constitution next Monday. It has been meeting intermittently now for more than a decade.

Most western diplomats are convinced the military regime has no intention of handing over power in the near future and is simply using the constitutional talks as a delaying tactic.

In August 2003, the then prime minister, General Khin Nyunt, announced a seven-point road map to democracy. The first step in this national reconciliation process, as the junta calls it, is the National Convention.

Although Khin Nyunt was arrested more than a year ago and sentenced to 44 years in jail for economic crimes and corruption, the regime remains committed to the road map, Myanmar's foreign minister, Major-General Nyan Win, recently told the Post. In an exclusive interview, he said that after the National Convention completed the guidelines for the new constitution, a legal committee selected by the attorney-general and the National Convention Convening Committee would draft the actual constitution. But he refused to comment on why political parties had been excluded.

The NLD and the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy have boycotted the constitutional talks since they resumed after a seven-year gap in May last year.

'Aung San Suu Kyi's extended detention suggests the referendum and new elections may be held within the next 12 months,' said a western diplomat in Yangon. 'There is no way the junta leaders will release her before then.'