Myint Shwe took a journalism program from Ryerson University 2004


Monday, November 1, 2010

Burma elections : Suu Kyi Contemporaries offer second choice

Burma Elections: Suu Kyi contemporaries offer second choice

Rangoon October 31
Though Burma’s powerful opposition party led by the legendary Aung San Suu Kyi boycotts the coming elections without a plan B, 29 million Burmese voters - from them she has been cut off by the junta government - are not short of second choice.

As many as 500 politicians are to compete with regime backed candidates in the coming pools. These civilian candidates refer themselves as, ‘Third Forces,’ politically independent of either camp: the junta or the opposition National League for Democracy.

As Burma’s universally denounced elections- one in twenty years - is only a week away, a few Third Force candidates are confident of their victory despite government manipulations. 

Cho Cho Kyaw Nyein, daughter of Burma’s parliamentary era deputy prime minister, U Kyaw Nyein, and a contemporary of Aung San Suu Kyi, said she is confident of her win in the elections. She will stand in a constituency which is her father’s native town one hundred miles north of Rangoon.

“I am astonished with the prospects in my constituency. I am almost certain to win. U Thu Wai (chairman of her party, the Democratic Party- Myanmar) and my running mate sister Nay Yi Ba Swe are also doing well,” said Cho Cho.

Local people nicknamed the DP-M, ‘Party of Princesses’ referring the three lady candidates: Than Than Nu, Cho Cho Kyaw Nyein and Nay Yi Ba Swe, who are daughters of Burma’s parliamentary era prime-minister and deputy prime-ministers, U Nu, U Kyaw Nyein and U Ba Swe respectively.

Cho Cho is the most quoted Burmese woman politician after Aung San Suu Kyi by Western media at the moment. Since the time she announced her decision to stand in election she was frequently asked a question by many Western journalists, diplomats and dignitaries who visited Burma.

The question is, “Why would you stand in the election which Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD have boycotted?” 

The most recent foreign dignitary who asked her this question was the Norwegian Minister for Economic Development who has visited Burma in May. Before him, the team members of the US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell also raised the same question, she related. 

Three years junior to Suu Kyi, Cho Cho knew the Noble laureate well since their childhood.
“I admire Daw Suu very much but I am always an independent politician.”

In the last, 1990 elections in which the NLD had won a landslide victory, Cho Cho also had contested but on her own separate political party which is now defunct, and lost. She is a bit uncomfortable at the assumption that every politician in Burma is obligated to subscribe the policy and actions of Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD.   

Meanwhile Suu Kyi, Burma’s democracy icon is still in junta government’s custody. She, along with NLD, boycotts the election on the ground that the junta has failed to revise the undemocratic aspects of the new Constitution as demanded by the NLD. International supports to her motion failed to soften the Burmese regime though.

Burma also rejected the suggestions to monitor the election sanctity by neighboring countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines and the regional organization which it is a member, the Association of South East Nations, ASEAN. It also barred foreign media. Request by the UNSG, Ban Ki Moon, to release political prisoners including Suu Kyi prior to the elections is ignored.

Civilian parties lack money and freedom to effectively compete with the regime nurtured Union Solidarity and Development Party, USDP, which boasts of having 24 million members and rumored to have unlimited state funds and facilities at its disposal. Campaign modes are also severely tamed by Home Ministry and the Election Commission.

 “We are in a ‘take it or leave it’ situation. Nobody can do ‘nothing’ about it, even Western Governments.” Cho Cho argued.
Nineteen of Suu Kyi former followers led by U Khin Maung Swe who spent 17 years in prison have formed a political party named, ‘National Democratic Forces,’ entered the elections. The NDF is by far the largest party on the civilian side of the political divide. 

Cho Cho’s DP-M, the sixth largest among 37 political parties, can send only 49 candidates to the elections.

On the other hand, Burmese are not alone with this decision. About two third of the contesting parties are ethnically formed, mainly in Burma’s seven ethnic state constituencies. Even the giant USDP and NUP have to choose their candidates from respective ethnic groups for these areas.   

Besides the media enticing aspect, Third Forces parties stand a slim chance. Most of the seats are destined for the USDP’s 1100 candidates. Behind it, National Unity Party, the formerly ruling socialist party reincarnate, follows up closely. The NUP sent about 900 candidates.

The new Constitution awards the military 25% of the seats in each of the two assemblies that will translate to 156 seats out of the total 664. Soldier legislators are suspected to be allying with hundreds of USDPs and NUPs in the legislature.

Other Third Forces election hopefuls include mostly from the NDF. The NDF enjoys the quiet supports of the ex-NLDs who are idle now. But even NDF cannot win big, according to Minn Aung Aung, an editor at one of Rangoon’s best selling weekly news journals, “Snap Shot.”

“They (NDF) might probably get half of their number.” He said.  The NDF sent 163 candidates to the election.

Being their stories require pre print approval by Government censor board, Burmese journalists’ pessimism about the election is understandable.

However Cho Cho is optimistic. She said, “even if we (Third Forces) can secure a mere ten percent of the seats, we still can create impacts in the new legislature.”

“The bottom line is; we will have new (rules of the) game; we can publicly argue with military officers face to face, standing on the same floor instead of the current ‘taking-orders’ from them above us.” She insists.

Myint Shwe

Myint Shwe is a Burmese exile based in Toronto, a York University alumnus. 

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