News / Asia

Analysts See Burma Military 'Juggernaut' Heading to Elections in November

Analysts say Burma's recent military reorganization and political moves are aimed at ensuring the country's armed forces retain power after November 7 elections. Analysts say Burma's military is fashioning its power base along similar lines to Indonesia under former President Suharto in the 1960s.

Burma's latest military reorganization, involving more than 70 senior officers, is the second major move of members of the ruling military government this year.

On April 27, several senior officials including the prime minister, General Thein Sein, retired from the military and were expected to join the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party.

Defense analyst Carl Thayer, from the University of New South Wales, says the moves are part of a wider strategy by Burma's armed forces to consolidate power before the November 7 election.

"The second major military reshuffle has been taken up," he said. "They are going to join the Union Solidarity and Development Party and contest the elections, and that USDP has been merged with the Union Solidarity and Development Association of 27 million odd civil servants. So that a juggernaut has been created, and with the election restrictions also announced this month it will steam roll in and win the elections."

After the vote, a newly elected 440-member House of Representatives will have 110 military representatives along with 330 elected civilians. In the 224-seat House of Nationalities, 168 will be elected and 56 held by the armed forces.

More than 40 parties are participating in the election. But the leading opposition party, the National League for Democracy led by Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi is boycotting the election to protest regulations that bar her and other key followers from participating.

Thayer believes military government leader General Than Shwe is likely to be appointed president after the elections.

Thayer also says Burma's military appears to be modeling Indonesia's 'New Order' under former president Suharto in the 1960s.

President Suharto ensured the military had a central role in the government and control of political and societal organizations. The new order also oversaw effective repression of opponents.

Analysts say Indonesia's 'new order' was eventually undermined by nepotism, corruption and collusion that led to a loss of support for Suharto.

A spokeswoman for the rights-group Alternative ASEAN Network, Debbie Stothardt, says human-rights groups and many countries in the international community have dismissed the election as a sham. Stothardt says the vote is aimed at giving the military domestic legitimacy.

"It is important to realize that the regime is not just seeking international legitimacy, it is increasingly obvious that this election is being organized for the regime to gain some domestic legitimacy," she said. "In their own minds they want to show that their military leaders have been elected to lead government."

Burma's military has long said it needs to dominate the political landscape due to separatist movements in the country. But several governments, including the United States, have imposed sanctions on Burma due to human-rights abuses and political repression.

Recently, the United States lent its support to a probe into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity by Burma's military in recent decades.

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