Junta promises its brand of democracy

Burma’s acting prime minister, Thein Sein, has summed up in four words the political direction his country is headed for once a new constitution is approved. It will be a “developed discipline-flourishing democratic state,” he says. His view was made known this week as he unveiled plans to resume the final session of the military-ruled country’s National Convention (NC), a body that has been assigned by the junta to draw up the country’s third constitution.

“Delegates will have to make some amendments, additions and nullifications to some of the points after thoroughly reviewing all the adopted fundamental principles and detailed basic principles to ensure that the constitution is free from flaws,” he said at a meeting of the NC’s convening commission, according to the Chinese state news agency Xinhua.

Burma watchers are hardly surprised by such language flowing from the lips of a leading figure of a repressive regime. What has aroused more interest is the about-turn by the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), as the junta is officially known, to kick-start another round of talks earlier than scheduled. The final round of the NC will begin on Jul.18 at a venue on the outskirts of Rangoon, months ahead of what was reported in March, when government officials confirmed that the NC’s next round of deliberations would be late this year.

“It is another sign of the panic that has set in. That is why the dates for the convention have been brought forward,” says Debbie Stothard of the regional human rights lobby ALTSEAN, which stands for the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma. “They fear they are losing more support among their own ranks.’’

Outside pressure has also built up against the junta, she explained, with reference to the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN). Burma belongs to this 10-member regional grouping that has increasingly turned the heat on the SPDC to proceed faster with its political reforms towards democracy.

But how long this “final stage’’ would last remains an unanswered question, since the NC has been used by the junta to perpetuate its iron grip on the country. The junta’s record confirms this reality, since the military leaders initiated the NC process in 1992. It was done after the junta refused to recognise the results of the 1990 elections, which was won convincingly by the National League for Democracy (NLD), the country’s leading pro-democracy opposition party. By then, the NLD’s leader, Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, had also been placed under house arrest, the first of successive periods of detention over the past 17 years. The last round of talks was held from Oct. 10 to Dec. 29, 2006. Those who participated included 663 representatives of Burma’s various ethnic groups, 29 representatives from political parties and 15 elected politicians.

But the current language of the draft constitution leaves no illusion as to who the junta wants as the country’s leader in the “discipline-flourishing democracy” it envisions. According to the new constitution, the president must have a military background,” says Zaw Min, spokesman for the Democratic Party for a New Society, a political party formed in the 1990s by university students. “This makes it impossible for a civilian like Suu Kyi to become president.” — IPS