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Neither Free nor Fair – Burma’s Sham Elections
By Jonathan Fox

11 October 2010

Step II – Choose the Field

While the November elections are national, not everybody in Burma will be participating. In September the SPDC Election Commission announced that no polling will be allowed in over three thousand villages across Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Mon, and Shan States because “they are in no position to host free and fair elections.”8 As the below table shows, these areas comprise nearly 50% of Karen State, most of the areas in Kachin, and four of the six Townships in the Wa Self-Administered Division. Justified by security tensions of their own creation, the SPDC’s decision not to hold elections in ethnic minority areas will disenfranchise an estimated 1.5 million voters.9


Villages excluded

Total Villages


Kachin State




Karen State




Karenni State




Mon State




Shan State








            * Source: www.altsean.org

In other parts of Burma, the junta has decided to radically increase the number of polling stations. Burmese political party National Democratic Force leader Khin Maung Swe complained that the Election Commission’s decision to increase the number of polling stations, as compared to the 1990 elections, would make it impossible for political parties to monitor voting procedures in many parts of the country. With more polling stations then election monitors, the junta retains room for electoral “adjustments”.

Step III– Set Your Own Rules

Win Tin, a founder of the National League for Democracy party, a member of its central executive committee, and a political prisoner from 1989 to 2008, recently explained in the New York Times his party’s and other ethnic allies reasons for boycotting the elections. The military regime’s constitution and severely harsh election laws made clear to them the true intention of these elections is to legitimize and sustain the military rule in Burma. With 25 percent of the seats in Parliament reserved for the military, it is clear that the majority of seats will be controlled by the military and their cronies.

Even if the odd outside candidates do get elected, they will not be able to promote change. In any case the 2008 Constitution does not give Parliament power to form the government, oversight of military affairs, or the right to reject presidential appointees or the national budget. Then there is the junta’s ace in sleeve: effective veto power over the constitutional amendment process. Under the 2008 Constitution the Defense Services (Tatmadaw) Commander-in-Chief has the power to appoint 25 percent of the seats in both houses of the National Parliament. Since constitutional amendments require over 75 percent approval from both houses of Parliament, they would require approval from the military bloc. It is safe to assume that changes that would negatively affect the military’s control over the state are unlikely to take place under this constitution.

Step IV– Control the Fans

Political parties who managed to overcome the existing obstacles to run in these polls still have their work cut out for them. On 14 September, the SPDC Election Commission issued Election Commission Notification No. 98/2010 which places further restrictions on parties’ right to canvas and publicize their platform during the run-up to the elections. This notification requires that parties interested in campaigning on TV or radio must submit transcripts to the Election Commission at least seven days in advance for prior approval.10

In the week following the announcement, it was reported that the SPDC Election Commission refused permits for at least three political parties seeking to campaign on state-run radio and television, claiming the transcripts contained messages that violated Article 6 of the notification and could harm the “security, rule of law, and community peace”  in Burma. Specifically, the Election Commission rejected transcripts of the Democratic Party (Myanmar), the Union of Myanmar Federation of National Politics and 88 Generation Student Youths (Union of Myanmar), to campaign on television and told the parties that their political ads need to be modified.

Democratic Party secretary Than Than Nu, daughter of Burma’s first prime minister U Nu, told reporters that “the whole transcript of our party to canvass on TV was rejected. Myanmar Radio and Television (MRTV) informed us that our talks slandered the state. They told us that we could modify our transcript and after that campaign on radio, if the electoral commission approved it.”

For his part, Union of Myanmar Federation of National Politics chairman Aye Lwin told Mizzima News that  “Our original transcript contains the message that we need a civil [sic]government elected by democratic principles. Before that perfect condition, our human rights will still be denied and democracy will not be established. I don’t think they liked that message.”

Democratic Party (Myanmar) Chairman Thu Wai pointed out that restrictions on the freedom of speech are “imposed at the will of the government and the electoral commission,” and that “they can do whatever they like” with regard to enforcing the law.

The junta has also taken more pro-active steps to restrict dissenting views. On September 1, SPDC authorities in Dala Township, Rangoon Division, briefly detained an NLD organizer for distributing leaflets that urged people not to vote in the elections.11 Later on September 17, Police in Rangoon’s North Okkalapa Township arrested six university students for distributing leaflets calling for a boycott of the elections.12

Step V – Cash In

On September 27, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said that the “Group of Friends on Burma” reiterated the need for Burma’s election process to be more inclusive, participatory, and transparent. Ban also said that the group called for the release of political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and that such a release was essential for the election to be seen as credible and to contribute to Burma's future stability and development.13

The ruling Burmese military junta has shown little regard for either domestic or international public opinion. So why is so much effort being put in by the junta to promote these elections? One key reason is that after the elections, the 2008 Constitution will come into affect.14

The 2008 Constitution includes several “safe guards” that would prevent either Daw Aung San Suu Kyi or other ethnic minority groups from gaining political power. For example, Chapter III, Article 59 sets out the criteria for the President of the Union, stating that such a person must be a Burmese citizen, with both parents born in Burma and must not have a foreign spouse or children that are not Burmese. These requirements were specifically designed to prevent Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, whose children are British nationals, from ever becoming President.

This constitution, which is nearly impossible to amend without the military’s consent, is designed to consolidate their long-term control over Burma. As long as this constitution exists, the military, their cronies, and their families will be have firm control over the nation’s resources and social institutions. Neither fair, free, nor inclusive, the November elections will only serve to solidify the firm control of a small elite over Burma. This is the legacy Burma’s leading general Than She wishes to leave behind.

Related Articles and Documents:

Burmese Migrants in Thailand: An Overview and Analysis

Constitution of Myanmar

The Plight of Burmese Migrant Workers in Thailand

The 2010 Election in Burma - A Hopeless Avenue for Human Rights

Analysis on the Situation of the Refugee Camps From the Rule of Law Aspect

Trafficking in Thailand and the Impact on Women and Girls from Burma

Singapore’s Internal Security Act and the Dismal State of Human Rights in Singapore - Is Singapore Burma with Money?

Burma and the Common Law

Index Page

[1] [2] [3]

8. NLM (17 Sep 10) Union Election Commission issues Notification No. 103/2010, NLM (17 Sep 10) Union Election Commission issues Notification No. 102/2010, NLM (17 Sep 10) NLM Union Election Commission issues Notification No. 101/2010, NLM (17 Sep 10) Union Election Commission issues Notification No.100/2010, NLM (17 Sep 10) Union Election Commission issues Notification No. 99/2010

9. This is an estimate based on the number of villages where the elections have been canceled multiplied by the average number of eligible voters per village.

10. New Light of Myanmar (15 Sep 10) Union Election Commission issues Notification No. 98/2010

11. Irrawaddy (02 Sep 10) Only State Proxy Parties to Compete in Naypidaw

12. Mizzima News (30 Sep 10) Student unions condemn 'unlawful' arrest of activists urging poll boycott; Irrawaddy (29 Sep 10) Students Arrested for Urging Election Boycott

13. VOA (27 Sep 10) UN Chief Calls for 'Fair, Transparent and Inclusive' Burma Election

14. An un-official translation of the Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (2008) is available at (accessed October 2010): http://www.scribd.com/doc/28750503/Constitution-of-Union-of-Myanmar-Burma


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