By Zin Linn
One year has passed since the November 7, 2010 elections in Burma, after which the military-dominated Thein Sein government took office. The polls were condemned by the West as a vote rigging parade.
As a face-saving plan, Burma’s President Thein Sein government has made a number of concessions which looks as if it is moving toward a visible change. For instance, key opposition leader and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi was freed from detention a week after last year’s election. There have even been meetings between Suu Kyi and the new government.
On August 19 this year, President Thein Sein met Aung San Suu Kyi for the first in the highest level exchange of opinion between the Nobel laureate and the authorities since her release from house arrest.
Although Thein Sein’s government seems to have softer political stance against its opponents in recent months, it fails to take more tangible action. For example, the release of all political prisoners is still needed and peace negotiation with the KIO has failed. The KIO desires to solve the country’s political problems based on the 1947 Panglong Agreement but the government is intent on negotiations based on the former junta’s 2008 constitution.
Releasing political prisoners and making peace with armed ethnic groups would provide confirmation to the international community that government is truly bringing about political change and embracing authentic democratic values.
The most significant move of the Burmese government to date is the suspension of a $US3.6 billion mega-dam project financed by China in the northern Kachin State of the country.
On the other hand, the UN’s Ojea Quintana said in his March report to the UN Human Rights Council, that a pattern of “gross and systematic” human rights violations in Burma had persisted over a period of several years and still continued. He suggested that a specific fact-finding UN Commission of Inquiry to be convened as soon as possible to scrutinize the series of international crimes.
Several exiled political dissidents have been repeatedly urging not only the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon but also ASEAN leaders to show their pragmatic supporting towards Quintana’s Commission of Inquiry proposal.
Due to such pressure, President Thein Sein has recently signed a law that amends three key areas of the Political Party Registration Law. Both houses of the Burmese Parliament had earlier endorsed these amendments. Many observers believe that the objective of amending the law is to pave a way for the National League for Democracy to re-register as a legal party.
If it happened, the NLD may take part in the forthcoming by-elections that would bring Suu Kyi’s party back into the current parliamentary formation, which would make the government healthier in authenticity at home and overseas.
But there are lots of dissident groups inside and outside of the country that remain skeptical, to say the least. The Burmese government is keen for the lifting of Western sanctions, financial assistance from monetary institutions and support of its bid for ASEAN Chairmanship in 2014. So, to fulfill the requirements in a short time, President Thein Sein has decided to give a political space to Suu Kyi.
Analysts say it is predictable as Burma’s rulers are aware of Suu Kyi’s influence on the people as well as the international community and realize her involvement as necessary to build a good relation with Western democracies.
To go over the main points, if President Thein Sein has candid political objectives, first, he should release all political prisoners right away. Second, declare a nationwide ceasefire to show a commitment to meaningful political dialogue with all dissident groups. Third, the president should broadcast a general amnesty in quest for peace, stability and real progress in the multi-ethnic country.
According to some analysts, Suu Kyi may have her own ideas when entering into the parliamentary politics. She wants to restore reliable law and order that guaranteed basic human rights for the citizens as a minimum. She would like to stop civil war in the respective ethnic areas.
Besides, she may also promote the improvement of the country’s education and health sectors as a priority. Her biggest task may be changing the undemocratic clauses in the controversial constitution.