New Delhi (Mizzima) - A group of Burma’s ethnic political organizations in exile – the Ethnic Nationalities Council (ENC) - has urged US Senator James Webb not to condemn the junta’s 2010 election before it takes place but to call for more inclusiveness and for it to be free and fair.
In a letter to Sen. Webb, a strong advocate of engagement with the Burmese regime, two days before he hosted a Congressional hearing on Burma, the ENC urged the Virginian Senator that the US can best help by “Not condemning the 2010 elections before they are held.”
“But instead call for a more inclusive election process that will be free and fair. Electoral assistance can be offered either directly or indirectly through neighbouring countries,” said the letter dated September 28, 2009.
The letter, a copy of which is in Mizzima’s possession, was sent to Senator Webb in appreciation for his interest in the Burma issue and as an explanation on the nature of the complex problems of Burma’s diverse ethnic minorities.
Webb on Wednesday hosted a Congressional hearing on Burma where four experts gave their testimony on what should be the policy of the US towards Burma and the potential role that the US can play in bringing change in the military-ruled Southeast Asian nation.
The letter signed by Saw David Thaw, General Secretary of the ENC, states that ‘in principle’ ethnic nationalities in Burma cannot accept the junta’s 2008 constitution and does not believe that the 2010 elections will lead to democracy.
But the ENC argues that since the ethnics are left with little or no choice, they will have to participate in the elections, because “If there are no opposition parties, the military’s candidates will win by default. The military (and the majority ethnic ‘Burman’) candidates will then become the “elected representatives” of the seven ethnic states.”
Besides, the ENC said, if the ethnic armed ceasefire groups refuse to participate, they will be forced to revert to armed struggle, which will then cause further complications.
Burma under the current administration has seven states, which are home to seven major ethnic groups, and seven divisions, which have no particular attachment to any ethnic groups but are mostly known as habitats of the majority Burmans.
In view of the ENC’s policy of ethnic groups having a voice in Burma’s national politics, participating in governance and development of their homelands, the letter urged Senator Webb not to condemn the 2010 elections until it takes place but to urge the Burmese junta to make it more inclusive and free and fair.
The letter also states that the US can best help the people of Burma by providing assistance in civic education on elections and helping civil organizations that are educating potential political candidates on how to run for office and on democratic governance. And also to support groups that are educating the people about their rights and preparing local organizations on how to monitor the forthcoming elections.
The letter, which for the first time reveals ENC’s policy, states that ENC’s short-term policy is to support eligible ethnic groups in running for office in the 2010 elections.
It also said the ENC’s long-term policy is to develop a robust civil society that will be capable of holding an elected government accountable to the people.
“While the Burmese military will remain in control after the 2010 elections, it is our hope that representatives elected by the people will be able to help hold the military accountable to their own constitution,” said the letter.
“It is also our hope that the new government will be more open to negotiating a political solution with the ethnic groups that are still engaged in armed struggle,” added the letter.
In contrast to the ENC’s policy, the Committee Representing Peoples’ Parliament (CRPP), a group formed with 1990 election winning parties, said unless the regime amends the 2008 constitution, the elections would be meaningless and the CRPP would not contest.
Aye Thar Aung, Secretary of the CRPP, told Mizzima on Friday, “Without amending the 2008 constitution, the ethnics can do nothing even if they participate and are elected. They would just end up as puppets of the junta.”
He said the CRPP as well as Aung San Suu Kyi’s party – the National League for Democracy – have both demanded that the junta release political prisoners, amend the 2008 constitution, and recognize the 1990 election results.
“Unless these demands are met, we the CRPP and the ALD, will not participate in the elections,” Aye Thar Aung, who is also secretary for the Arakan League for Democracy, said.
“And without the junta fulfilling these demands, I would like to urge ethnic groups and others not to participate in the elections,” he added.
The CRPP, formed in September 1998, is an alliance of ethnic political parties that won elections in 1990, which the junta refused to honour. Its members include the NLD, ALD, Shan National League for Democracy (SNLD), Mon National Democratic Front (MNDF) and Zomi National Congress (ZNC).
Burma’s military rulers, as the fifth step of its seven-step roadmap to democracy, said it will hold general elections in 2010, that will elect a semi-civilian government based on the 2008 constitution, which according to the junta was approved by over 90 per cent of voters in May last year.
Critics said the junta’s roadmap is to buy-time and to cement the role of military in Burma’s future politics.