By Naw Noreen
Burmese in New Delhi yesterday staged demonstrations as Burmese parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann’s continued with his visit to India. Activists called on the government in Naypyidaw to show further evidence of its proclaimed intentions to transition to a democracy.
The powerful former army general, who was ranked third in the previous Burmese junta, is in the country for six days. The trip is billed as a chance for parliamentary officials to study the development of India’s own political arena since independence.
As conflict escalates in Burma’s border regions, scepticism of the military-backed government remains high. “It is true that there are some changes taking place in Burma, but there’s still a long way to go,” said Dr Tint Swe, head of the Burma Centre Delhi and an MP-elect in Burma’s 1990 elections.
“Issues with political prisoners and clashes in Kachin state continue to exist so the confidence we have in the government is only to a certain limit.”
A letter was sent to the 30-strong delegation being led by Shwe Mann that included a call for Burma to relax travel restrictions on Aung San Suu Kyi and allow her to visit India. Dr Tint Swe said the parliamentary speaker should also study India’s anti-corruption agenda – last year India ranked 87 out of 178 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, while Burma was awarded the penultimate spot.
“Even in a country like India, with a free and fair democratic system and judiciaries, corruption can still grow,” said Tint Swe. “At this time, there is a huge debate in the [Indian] parliament over whether to adopt an anti-corruption bill. As Burma is wracked with corruption, Shwe Mann and his [delegation] should make an effort to bring about an anti-corruption bill into the parliament for the good of the country.”
India’s once frosty relations with the Burmese regime have warmed since the early 1990s when it sought to develop stronger business relations with its neighbour, which acts as its only geographical gateway to Southeast Asian economies and a coveted source of natural energy.
This came at a cost though, with the Indian government reneging on years of support for the Suu Kyi-led opposition, much to the anger of Burma’s pro-democracy movement. India is also one of only eight countries that still supplies weaponry to the Burmese army.
Tint Swe said the Burmese government should take a leaf out ofIndia’s book in terms of political freedom for the opposition. “In Burma, the opposition is merely defined as the parties that are not the [dominant Union Solidarity and Development Party] or the military, and their role is almost none-existent.”