Ravi Philemon -
Any election has to adhere to the norms of international principles guiding an election process. But a number of developments in Burma before and after the announcement of the election date are cause for concern. As Burma (like Singapore) is part of ASEAN, Singaporeans have to make our position clear on the “multi-party elections” called by the Union Election Commission (UEC) of Burma, which is to be held on 7 November 2010.
The three basic tenets of democracy – freedom of expression, assembly and association - have to be upheld at any cost. There have been reports that undue restrictions have been placed on campaign by certain political parties and alliances, which violate these three basic tenets of democracy.[i]
The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the proxy of Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) and the military, has allegedly broken election laws, used resources of the State in unfairly raising its political profile over other political parties unaffiliated with USDA and the military.[ii]
There is also the lack of press freedom in Burma, even before the elections take place.[iii] The almost total control of the media by the junta with the lack of freedom for both Burmese and international media, are all completely incompatible with a free and fair elections.
Besides Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been detained for over 15 years, over 2000 people remain in Burmese prisons today for political reasons[iv]. The National League for Democracy (NLD) (which Suu Kyi heads) is now ‘forcibly’ disbanded and has been made ineligible to contest the Burmese elections in November 2010.
Without the participation of Suu Kyi and the NLD, the upcoming Burmese elections can only be considered a sham and merely an exercise in entrenching the generals in power. The donning of civilian garb over military uniforms is not going to give the regime any legitimacy just because an election was held.
The 17 commissioners of UEC are selected by the ruling junta and there is no possible appeal of their decisions in an independent court. This means that the elections even if free and fair will certainly not be inclusive or credible.
Further to this, 12 elections monitoring organisations have indicated in their joint statement, “Asian Elections Monitoring Organizations questions unfair practices in the Burma electoral process”, dated 31 August 2010[v] that the upcoming elections in Burma will not be credible owing to the following reasons:
- The military is too involved in the elections.
- The media is not free and under total control and censorship.
- Lack of transparency in absentee voting, advance voting and counting ballot papers especially the restriction on local observers.
- Absence of a mechanism in checking the voter list to prevent phantom voting, double or multiple votes.
Singaporeans should echo the 12 elections monitoring organisations’ call for “ASEAN to review such doubtful forms of electoral processes and ensure that any democratic election must be more inclusive.”
ASEAN must support the United Nations commission of inquiry into war crimes in Burma[vi], for only a collective international action as this would force the ruling junta into opening up its authoritarian political system and into freeing thousands of political prisoners.