Category Archives: referendum

Full, but empty

May 10 was supposed to be a big day for Burma’s military, the day that it legitimated itself through the ballot box. On that day, millions of eligible voters were supposed to come and freely express their approval of a constitution that would guarantee the army a quarter of seats in parliament and reaffirm its role as the leading state agency in a “discipline-flourishing” democracy, with a constitution of the generals, by the generals, for the generals.

That was the plan. In reality, the military’s legitimacy has been decided upon by something else entirely. Cyclone Nargis not only obliterated hundreds of coastal villages and with them prospects for a trouble-free poll, but also any chance that the regime can now or at any time in the future obtain the credibility at home or abroad that the referendum was intended to secure for it. Never mind the widespread claims of vote rigging, bullying and miscounting. That the referendum was held at all, that almost two weeks on cyclone victims have received no help and are dying in makeshift huts of cholera, that rivers and fields are still full of bloated corpses and that officials are selling or hoarding relief supplies delivered from well-meaning donors abroad all speak to the regime’s barbarity and its absolute want of legitimacy. Continue reading

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Kindness of fellow citizens saves cyclone victims

(Update of some Burmese language reports of Cyclone Nargis’ aftermath)

In some seriously cyclone-damaged areas of the Irrawaddy Division, authorities have begun moving homeless survivors a few at a time to towns that escaped the eye of the storm, but have not prepared properly for them once they get there (while simultaneously blocking a massive waiting international aid effort, as has been reported across the international news).

According to the Yoma 3 News Service (Thailand), starting from May 8 survivors in Laputta, Bogalay, Mawkyun (Mawlamyaing Island) and Pyapon have been getting moved by boat in small groups to intact towns in other parts of the delta. In Bogalay, the township officials arranged for the relocating of 420 people to Wakema and have housed them in schools there. In total, 3000 people are to be put up in the market ward primary school, high school nos. 1 and 2, as well as Mintharkyi and U Boe Kyi schools.

However, one of the local residents told Yoma 3 by phone that,

“The authorities said that a thousand sacks of rice and four drums of oil are on their way. In the meantime, without being asked the locals, shopkeepers, townsfolk are together feeding them fried rice noodles and so on.”

Similarly, despite hundreds of refugees coming to Kyonemange, the township council chairman was still more interested in preparing for the May 10 constitutional referendum that the regime has insisted will go ahead despite international protest: Continue reading

Where are Burma’s neighbours?

In the days since Cyclone Nargis passed through Burma on May 2 and 3, bringing a tidal surge with it to the delta region that has literally swept away hundreds of villages, it has become painfully obvious that the country’s government is completely unable to deal with what has happened.

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, local residents in somewhat affected areas, including Rangoon, banded together to do everything from clearing roads to distributing emergency supplies of water and food. In many rural areas, monks have taken charge as thousands of people have converged on monasteries, which are among the sturdiest buildings and which often have stockpiles of donated wood, food and other necessities.

The lack of any official presence in these parts has been striking in a country where government agents, in and out of uniform, are normally omnipresent. But the absurdity, ineptitude and persistent greed that characterize so much administrative conduct in Burma have in some areas become most apparent after soldiers, police and bureaucrats have finally turned up.

In one part of Rangoon, a fistfight reportedly broke out when outraged locals saw that water tankers were delivering supplies to the homes of council members and military officers but not to anyone else.

At Pazundaung, a unit of soldiers went to nearby houses to ask for machetes with which to cut fallen trees. Their commander demanded a car to oversee his men and shopkeepers were called upon to give chains with which to drag timber from the road.

In the worst affected areas, flattened villages and ruined crops are still littered with bodies and not a single person has turned up to assist. Many places, such as Laputta, remain partly submerged and the numbers of the dead and missing not yet entered into the daily rising tallies.

So where are Burma’s neighbors? Not long after the storm struck, the Association of Southeast Asian Nation’s secretary-general, the former foreign minister of Thailand, Surin Pitsuwan, called on the other nine member states to give generously, and hoped the same of its partners, which include heavyweights China, South Korea and Japan. (See news of his latest statement.)

His appeal seems to have fallen on deaf ears. Continue reading

47 townships, 22,000 dead?!

According to DVB and other sources, the latest state-run media reports put the revised death toll from Cyclone Nargis at least 22,000. DVB says that this figure was given on the radio today. To date the state-run news has not been updated on the government website.

State media has also announced that the May 10 referendum on a new constitution will be postponed in 47 townships until May 24 and will go ahead in the rest of the country.

The 47 townships as given by DVB are: Continue reading

Raging against the mocking of justice

There are, despite the odds, human rights lawyers in Burma. In fact the efforts of some to defend a working legal culture from official vandalism and neglect surpass those of their counterparts in more open societies of Asia.

Take the advocate representing someone accused of involvement in the nationwide protests of last August and September that arose in response to a dramatic hike in fuel prices. After being illegally imprisoned for over two months and kept in remand for a number of months more, his client was put on trial recently. When the arresting policeman took the stand, the cross-examination went in part roughly as follows:

Defense lawyer: I put it to you that your allegation is based upon information from sources rather than your direct knowledge.

Police officer: We investigated the information.

Lawyer: But you have not included these sources in your list of witnesses?

Officer: They are not included.

Lawyer: Do you have any documentary proof of the allegation?

Officer: I myself do not have documentary proof. Continue reading

Thailand’s army leaders not better than Burma’s

Many of Burma’s democracy advocates place Thailand’s army in a favorable light when compared to their own. But as their familiarity with the abuse of military power at home vastly outweighs their knowledge of that abroad, their appraisals too are imbalanced and detrimental.

The latest cause for contrast has been Burma’s May 10 referendum. It comes less than a year after a similar army-sponsored poll in Thailand. Various groups have been critical, among other things, of the delay in the draft Constitution’s public release, and now that it is available, its high cost.

“When Thailand held its election, their government distributed the Constitution free of charge to every household and let Thai citizens and the media discuss it freely,” U Thein Nyunt, a spokesperson for the National League for Democracy, said in a radio interview.

Thein Nyunt evidently knows nothing about how the draft charter in Thailand was disseminated as part of a Yes vote agenda under strict military control, how the outcome was rigged by the threat of “anything goes” if a No vote succeeded, or how opponents to the draft were denied public space. Yet his willingness to make ill-informed comments about government in Thailand is a regrettably common feature of talk among Burma’s political activists. Continue reading

Change extraneous to Burma referendum

national-convention-cartoon.jpg

Towards “disciplined democracy”: A cartoon of the National Convention

The news that Burma’s government will hold a constitutional plebiscite this May, followed by general elections in 2010, has captured interest and caused some confusion abroad.

That the army is intent upon cementing its power in any future government there is beyond question. It has never pretended otherwise. Nor is it necessary to read the long and tiresome accounts of the recently completed national convention to know that the country’s as yet unwritten charter will have this express purpose.

So the argument caused by this latest announcement is not over whether or not the military intends to stay on top. Rather, it is about whether or not the upcoming poll might signify something more. Continue reading