TOPICS : Junta ditching roadmap to democracy

Burma’s top generals have just finished their quarterly meeting in the country’s new capital of Naypidaw. As usual there was no official announcement following the meeting, but there are signs that the regime is about to ditch its roadmap to democracy in favour of a Chinese-style system of government. “No change seems to be the order of the day from the meeting,” says Burmese analyst Win Min. “The generals are in a quandary about the future, and they just do not know what to do.”

Already the meeting was three months late — the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) last met in January. The National Convention (NC), which is drawing up the guidelines for the new constitution, is due to reconvene in the middle of July. The man heading the process, Gen. Thein Sein, has already announced that there will be significant changes incorporated during the NC’s final meeting. Although the NC is set to resume discussions, there appears to be a gridlock in Burma’s roadmap to democracy — announced by former PM Gen. Khin Nyunt in August 2003. Under the proposed plan, the NC would draw up a new constitution; put it to a referendum; and then fresh elections would be held to elect a new civilian government.

The NC, which has only met intermittently for more than 14 years, went into another prolonged recess last November. “So far, step one on the roadmap — drawing up the constitution has been dragged out, giving the distinct impression that the generals are simply playing for time with no intention of introducing multi-party democracy,” said Win Min. In the past few months it has become clear that the country’s top five generals — all of whom are suffering from different illnesses, including heart problems, prostate cancer, leukaemia and lung cancer — are concerned about the future. They understand that their grasp on power is being weakened by the country’s growing economic problems. And as a result they have been exploring ways to reduce the country’s international isolation and attract foreign investment.

The regime has also begun to realise that the process of drawing up the new constitution is not without its fair share of problems. Already there is growing friction with the ethnic groups who have ceasefire agreements with Rangoon and are attending the NC. “We’ve been told that if we do not agree to the constitution they want — that is with very limited autonomy for the ethnic minorities — they will simply push it through anyway,” a representative of the Kachins said.

Recently the Chinese have been educating the Burmese leaders on their approach to democratic government — and shown them how the National Peoples’ Congress , an indirectly elected parliament, works. It approves the country’s president, PM and cabinet, all nominated by the party. To ensure that the regime maintains the support of most ethnic minorities, the junta may follow the Chinese constitutional model and grant some states autonomy in name, but be effectively governed by the party. — IPS