Suu Kyi may be key to ‘candy’ from West

Myan­mar vote raises skep­ti­cism

The Washington Times Daily - - Front Page - BY RICHARD S. EHRLICH

BANGKOK | Re­cent polls pre­dict that democ­racy icon Aung San Suu Kyi will eas­ily win a seat in Myan­mar’s par­lia­men­tary elec­tions Sun­day, amid ex­pec­ta­tions that Washington will respond by eas­ing eco­nomic sanc­tions against the South­east Asian coun­try long ruled by a bru­tal mil­i­tary regime.

Sev­eral an­a­lysts say the new army­backed gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Thein Sein will en­sure that Ms. Suu Kyi wins a seat to gain fa­vor from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. One ad­vo­cate of democ­racy called the elec­tion noth­ing more than “po­lit­i­cal the­ater.”

“It is much more dan­ger­ous for Pres­i­dent Thein Sein if Aung San Suu Kyi fails to win her seat,” po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Ni­cholas Far­relly said on his New Man­dala web­site.

Maung Zarni, a Myan­mar an­a­lyst at the London School of Eco­nom­ics and Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence, fears the regime is hold­ing a sham elec­tion like the one in

2010 that brought the cur­rent gov­ern­ment to power amid in­ter­na­tional cries of voter fraud.

“Such an out­come would lead to in­evitable cries of vote-rig­ging and could spark an un­con­trol­lable back­lash. It may even spell the end of the nascent de­moc­ra­tiz­ing project,” he said. “They’re hold­ing a game of po­lit­i­cal the­ater with the West. They want to show­case this elec­tion and be on their best be­hav­ior so they can get candy from the West. They want the West to lift sanc­tions.”

The elec­tions will not change the bal­ance of power be­cause only 45 out of 664 seats in par­lia­ment are on the bal­lot. The rul­ing Union Sol­i­dar­ity and De­vel­op­ment Party con­trols 75 per­cent of the leg­is­la­ture.

Ms. Suu Kyi and sev­eral other mem­bers of her Na­tional League for Democ­racy are ex­pected to win some of the seats. Fif­teen other par­ties also are run­ning.

Ms. Suu Kyi, 66, is cam­paign­ing from Kawhmu town­ship, a dis­trict south of her home­town, Yan­gon, and could be build­ing mo­men­tum for a na­tion­wide elec­tion in 2015 when she will be 70.

Dur­ing more than a decade of U.S. and other in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions, China and In­dia have been ex­ploit­ing Myan­mar’s oil, nat­u­ral gas and other re­sources and sell­ing weapons to the mil­i­tary.

Columbia Univer­sity pro­fes­sor Joseph E. Stiglitz, who vis­ited the coun­try in 2009 and again in Fe­bru­ary, has sug­gested “re­mov­ing the sanc­tions that have now be­come an im­ped­i­ment to the coun­try’s trans­for­ma­tion.”

The sanc­tions in­clude a ban on most in­ter­na­tional bank­ing ac­tiv­ity, ren­der­ing credit cards and bank trans­fers use­less.

The mil­i­tary has ruled Myan­mar since a 1962 coup and is guilty of some of the world’s worst hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions, in­clud­ing forced la­bor, ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings, tor­ture and im­pris­on­ment, ac­cord­ing to Amnesty In­ter­na­tional and Hu­man Rights Watch.

“In ad­di­tion, there are U.S. laws that im­pose sanc­tions on Myan­mar for un­ac­cept­able be­hav­ior . . . such as the use of child sol­diers, drug traf­fick­ing, hu­man traf­fick­ing, money laun­der­ing, fail­ure to pro­tect re­li­gious free­dom and vi­o­la­tions of work­ers’ rights,” said Mur­ray Hiebert at the Washington-based Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies.

Mrs. Suu Kyi’s cam­paign­ing has helped push the regime to­ward some re­forms, such as re­leas­ing hun­dreds of po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers and loos­en­ing some re­stric­tions.

The gov­ern­ment-con­trolled me­dia no longer bark out racist slurs against her for be­ing the widow of a white Bri­tish man and an “ax han­dle” for the CIA.

“Me­dia cov­er­age of the elec­tions is heav­ily tilted to­ward the par­tic­i­pa­tion of the Myan­mar democ­racy icon Ms. Suu Kyi,” said Bid­hayak Das of the Asian Net­work for Free Elec­tions.

In a 1990 na­tion­wide elec­tion, Ms. Suu Kyi’s Na­tional League for Democ­racy party won 392 of the 492 con­tested seats in par­lia­ment, which should have al­lowed her to be­come prime min­is­ter.

But the mil­i­tary barred her from tak­ing of­fice and held her un­der house ar­rest on and off for more than 15 years. She was re­leased in Novem­ber 2010.

Mr. Thein Sein said po­lit­i­cal re­forms are in­spir­ing many Myan­mar ex­iles to re­turn.

“Over­whelmed by the po­lit­i­cal re­forms of the coun­try, mi­grant Myan­mar cit­i­zens are com­ing back home to serve the na­tion,” he said in a speech last week.

“Their ex­per­tise, ex­pe­ri­ences and wis­dom are price­less forces for us. We are keep­ing the door open for the re­main­ing na­tional brethren. Please come back. Co­op­er­ate with us for na­tional de­vel­op­ment. Doors are al­ways [open] for you.”

Myan­mar’s mi­nor­ity eth­nic groups, mean­while, re­main wary, es­pe­cially be­cause many have been fight­ing guer­rilla wars for greater au­ton­omy or in­de­pen­dence since the 1950s.

Since June, 20,000 eth­nic-kachin guer­ril­las have bat­tled the regime in north­ern Myan­mar, where more than 40,000 peo­ple have fled the fight­ing along China’s moun­tain­ous south­ern bor­der.

“The suf­fer­ing of Kachin peo­ple is the suf­fer­ing of Myan­mar peo­ple, and we all have to find a cure for these prob­lems,” Ms. Suu Kyi said this month dur­ing a cam­paign visit to Kachin state, though she has not of­fered any so­lu­tion.


Mirian Bur­rueco is one of the Barcelona mer­chants hit Thurs­day by Span­ish work­ers who lashed out over what they see as pro-busi­ness re­forms. Story, A13.

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