News / Asia

Burmese Generals Look to Election

Burma's defense minister and other top generals are reported to have resigned their posts, with some of them set to run for election as civilians in the nation's first political contest in 20 years.

News agencies quote unidentified sources close to the ruling junta as saying General Thura Shwe Mann, the third-ranking Burmese military leader, has retired as defense minister to join the Union Solidarity and Development Party. The party is the political wing of the military regime, which is favored to win the most seats in the November 7 parliamentary election.

Sources have told the German press agency and the exile-run Democratic Voice of Burma that Thura Shwe Mann is likely to become president of Burma after the election.  The junta's fourth-ranking general, Tin Aung Myint Oo, also resigned and is expected to be a candidate.

Pro-democracy critics of the Burmese regime say the election is a sham aimed at putting a civilian mask on the junta that controls the country. And military leaders in Burma have done all they can to marginalize and delegitimize the Burmese opposition, said Kelley Currie, a Senior Fellow at the Project 2049 Institute, a Washington-based Asia focused think tank.

"So Burma post election, on the surface, the organization of the military dictatorship will look different and it will be more civilianized on the surface. But the reality is that political power will remain heavily concentrated in the hands of the military."

Meanwhile, The United States is voicing support for a United Nations commission to probe allegations of crimes against humanity in Burma. The military regime in Burma has long been accused of brutal campaigns against dissidents and ethnic minorities, as well as forced labor and civilian killings.

But despite international ostracism and pressure from rights groups, the regime has held a tight grip on power ever since it annulled the last credible elections in 1990 that would have brought activist Aung San Suu Kyi to power.  Kelley Currie said if the U.N. commission is empowered to target individuals in the Burmese regime, it could erode the junta's political unity.

"There have long been rumors and speculation about the factions and fissures within the military regime. They've been remarkably durable and cohesive," Currie said. "But it's a patronage system that's built on individual patronage networks.  That makes the possibility of going after individuals, it gives it a little more added power potentially,"

Curries points out that Burma remains a defiant, if isolated, military-run state. "At this point I think you're in the mode of having to throw the kitchen sink at the Burmese junta because we've tried so many approaches. Nothing has really worked to shake them loose," she said.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.

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