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There’s no shortage of hypocrites when Burma’s the subject, and recent events have given them ample room on the world stage.
The show started in New York, where UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Friday that the military junta’s efforts to make the upcoming election inclusive, free and fair were “frustrating” and “disappointing.”
How many times has he expressed this frustration and disappointment? In 2009, Ban claimed that he had a good meeting with junta leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe in Naypyidaw, receiving from the general a promise that the election would be free and fair.
Ban urged Than Shwe to free all political prisoners but the general refused to listen. Ban now says he respects the decision of the National League for Democracy (NLD) not to take part in the election.
The US, a vocal critic of the repressive regime, followed suit.
At the Washington headquarters of the US State Department, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs P J Crowley said the Obama administration respects the NLD’s decision.
Responding to a press briefing question, Crowley said: “That was a decision for the NLD to make, and we think it’s regrettable that this is a reflection of the unwillingness of the government in Burma to take what we thought were the necessary steps to open up the political process and to engage in serious dialogue with not only key figures like Aung San Suu Kyi, her political movement, others, as well as the various ethnic groups that want to have a say in Burma’s future.”
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who once called Suu Kyi a friend and declared he was “saddened and angry” at the “monstrous” sentencing of Suu Kyi last year, added his voice, saying: “Sadly, the Burmese regime has squandered the opportunity for national reconciliation.”
He then added, “Aung San Suu Kyi must be allowed to take her rightful place at the heart of Burmese politics.”
Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith told ABC Radio: “I don’t believe that any election without the National League for Democracy can be a full, free and fair election”.
Smith said the new election law made it difficult, if not impossible, for the NLD to take part in the election with Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi as its leader.
“Unless something fundamental or substantial changes, regrettably I think it does put paid to what slim prospects we had, hopeful prospects we had earlier this year that we might make some progress on the democracy front in Burma,” Smith said.
For its part, Japan is due to raise Burma’s current political situation on the sidelines of the G-8 foreign ministerial meeting in Canada, which kicks off on Monday.
The Tokyo government, one of Burma’s largest donors, warned that it would not expand its economic aid to Burma if Suu Kyi is barred from the election. That’s an interesting stand in view of the well known fact that senior Japanese diplomats usually accuse Suu Kyi in private of being stubborn and uncompromising.
Meanwhile, Indonesia’s foreign minister plans a trip to Burma to discuss the party registration law and the planned election. It’s safe to predict that he will leave Burma empty handed.
In Singapore, whose government is a staunch supporter of the pariah regime in Burma, a foreign ministry spokesman said: “We are disappointed that the new election laws have led to this result. This will make it harder for national reconciliation to be achieved.”
The spokesman added: “We have always held that national reconciliation among the stakeholders is a critical element for the legitimacy of the elections. This would require the participation of the National League for Democracy and other political parties. It is still not too late for all parties to reach a compromise and we urge them to do so.”
I am sure that both Than Shwe and Suu Kyi are fully aware of who are friends and foes in the international arena.
They both always compete to win friends, as well as hypocrites, saviors and experts who would have difficulty even pronouncing the names of Suu Kyi and Than Shwe correctly, let alone possess any command of Burmese language. However, Suu Kyi and Than Shwe do indeed have several friends in common.
In a recent speech by Than Shwe in Naypyidaw, he reiterated concerns that foreign countries might seek to interfere in the elections—usually a reference to Western countries.
The general said: “During the transition to an unfamiliar system, countries with greater experience usually interfere and take advantage for their own interests.
For this reason, it is an absolute necessity to avoid relying on external powers.”
In this case, the general, who relies heavily on China’s political support, is absolutely right.
Than Shwe is aware of the international community’s “wait and see” attitude because he knows that its members have several excuses not to do anything significant. It was in this awareness that he sent out his warning message.
On the one hand, the decision by Suu Kyi’s NLD not to participate in the election has an international dimension athough it has played into the hands of the regime, with critics saying she has made a blunder.
As in the past, the NLD’s painful decision throws down the gauntlet before Burma’s friends and critics alike, who are ready to swallow the generals’ line and react in typical fashion.
Than Shwe knows the election will reduce his evil image. He will receive ever fewer messages of “disappointment” and “frustration” after he successfully introduces “disciplinary democracy” in Burma. He must be happy with the decision of Suu Kyi and the NLD.
Suu Kyi, other political prisoners and the oppressed ethnic minorities will face same old issue—having to work harder to make themselves more relevant in the future.
Here is my recommendation: Than Shwe should send a letter of appreciation to Ban and all of his international friends and assure them of a “free and fair” election.
Suu Kyi, on the other hand, should send her own letter of disappointment to her international friends and critics. They will reply in similar fashion.