Monday, July 26, 2010

Burma Election Split Pro-democracy Groups

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Download A breakaway group from Burma's pro-democracy party the National League for Democracy (NLD) has been registered to run in elections due later this year.

The National Democratic Force's decision to run in the controversial elections has put it at odds with other supporters of the NLD.

Traditional pro-democracy leaders, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, refused to register the NLD for the poll.

As a result, the party was disbanded by the military authorities.

Banyar Kong Janoi in Rangoon hears the arguments from both sides.

In one of the cities most popular tea houses a group of men are having a heated discussion about the upcoming election.

Some believe it’s right that pro-democracy groups are joining the poll while others believe it’s a betrayal of the movement.

I take them to safe place to record their views.

Htaw Mon is a car broker in Rangoon.

He agrees with the National League for Democracy (NLD) decision to boycott the election.

“Even if the opposition wins half the seats in parliament they won’t have a chance to change anything. In order to make any decision, 75 percent of the members of parliaments have to agree. Besides, 25 percent of the seats automatically go to members of the military and we don’t know how many seats the pro-junta party will get. So the election means nothing.”

The NLD won a landslide victory in Burma's last elections in 1990, but the country's military rulers have refused to hand over power.

Aung Suu Kyi has spent most of the last two decades in some form of detention and she is currently under house arrest despite strong international pressure.

Her party has decided to boycott this years election to send a strong message that the new constitution and the poll is a sham.

U Aung Thein is a member of central executive committee of NLD.

“The 2008 constitution is to entrench the military regime. It is also against democratic principles. What’s more, if we look at the right of ethnicities, this constitution seems like federalism, in fact it’s not because the presidents and prime ministers have to be members of the military. So it is very hard for ethnic people to get a high position like prime minster. That’s why it is not democracy so we cannot accept it.”

NLD is demanding the military government change the constitution and make the polls free and fair.

U Aung Thein says they are ready to take-part if that happens.

“We want to change electoral laws. The constitution should be redrafted and the dialogue should be called among the political parties and ethnic groups for national reconciliation. The election commission should not be controlled by any political party. Now as the election commission has to dance for junta, how they can do their job freely? How could we take part in the election under these circumstance?”

But not all pro-democracy activists agree.

The NLDs decision not to re-register to contest in this year’s election put it at odds with some of its supporters.

So they formed a break-away party called the National Democratic Force.

U Khin Maung Swe is the leader of the party. I spoke to him on the phone as it was too dangerous for us to meet in person.

“We know this is not going to be a fair election but we have to move on from that. If we have legislature power we can act as a check and balance to the government. If we just say “The election is not free or fair” and boycott it the military government will rule forever. According to constitution if no one challenges the military government they will win.”

He says people need a political party to stand with them.

“Our Burmese people need change. That’s why we want to give them some hope in politics. The political crisis, which they have suffered under for many years, must be solved in the parliament. We need political reconciliation. We believe all democratic forces, ethnic leaders, and the leaders of military who hold 25 percent of parliament’s seats will help turn this country into a democracy in the future.”

News that the new party had received a permit to run in the elections was broadcast on state media.

The state-run Myanma Ahlin newspaper said the National Democratic Force will join 37 other new political parties and five existing groups in contesting the poll.

U Khin Maung Swe says they want to work inside the system to create a socialist liberal democracy.

“We don’t believe our Burmese people can move to the liberal democracy so we will have to go with socialist liberalist democracy as our political setting with mixing market orientated economy. We want to boost people’s economy to increase the number of middle class people in the country.”

NLD supporters have accused the National Democratic Force of stealing their party symbol - a bamboo hat - in order to win votes.

But Khin Maung Swe said his party's symbol is not the same because it has two stars above the hat.

U Aung Thein from the NLD’s central executive committee says this election will only bring about more suffering.

“Only if an elected government is running the country that Burma can be changed. Now the junta is controlling any changes. It could take two or three decades before we see real change into Burma because the military has secured their position in the constitution to avoid facing justice for her violence acts. People have suffered and are suffering a lot.”

But on the streets of Rangoon there is some optimism about the election.

Mi Mow is a high school student in the capital.

“We haven’t seen any election before. It is very exciting to cast our vote. It is good for us to know that we can choose our leader.”

In next week’s program we will be hearing more some the residents of Rangoon about how they are feeling about the election and depsite the fact there is still no date for the poll our reporter takes a lot at the political campaigning that ‘s ready begun before.

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