News / Asia

Three Questions: Burma Elections

Bridge that connects Thai border town of Mae Sot to Burma
Bridge that connects Thai border town of Mae Sot to Burma
Les Carpenter

Burma will hold national elections, the first in 20 years, on November 7.  The elections are controversial because the military has ruled the country for decades and the last election, in 1990, won by Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy was not allowed to take their parliamentary seats and the election was disavowed.  This time, there are some signs that things have changed, but not by a lot.  Many of the military leaders and their supporters are now running as civilians for nearly all the parliamentary seats.  Still, there are signs that some of the opposition parties may win seats in legislature.  

As Election Day nears, Internet connections in Burma have been disrupted at times for the past week, slowing communications with the outside world.  The ruling military offered no explanation for the Internet failure, unlike during past outages.  This has prompted human rights groups to speculate that the connections were deliberately shut down to slow the flow of information out of Burma ahead of Election Day.  

David Steinberg, a professor at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. is a specialist on Burma.

The Burmese military government says these elections will allow the political opposition to have a voice in parliament for the first time in decades.  Do you think that will happen?

Oh! Yes, I think it will happen, but it's far more significant than just in 20 years.  This will be the first time in 50 years that there will be, I believe, some opposition voices in parliament.  So, it is far more significant than the last election in 1990 which was, of course, ignored by the government.

Further, there's another aspect to this.  This is also the first time in all of Burma's history where we have what we could call state or provincial legislatures that will have some local authority.  And, there will be 14 of them in addition to the national bicameral legislature.  So, this is an innovation that we don't know how it's going to work.  

Still, the military, quite clearly, will not lose control, that is evident.  

Some are calling this election little more than a sham.  Is it?

I think that is unfair.  It is an election where the military will continue to have control that has been evident, forever, almost.  But, it is not a sham because there will be some opposition, I believe.  The minorities will have an extended role in these provincial legislatures.  That's likely to be important but we don't know what's going to develop.  

One of the critical issues, of course, is after the elections, after these parliaments are in place, whether their debates or discussion can be available in the media.  What will they do with the censorship law?  That's one of the critical issues that have to be addressed.  

Well, it is one of the problems because they have barred outside reporters and diplomats from visiting Burma to observe the election.  So, is there any guarantee this election will be free and fair?

There are two things to think about, or maybe three.  One is, have the campaigning and the election laws been fair?  The answer is no.  Will the vote counting be fair?  We don't know because in 1990 with government control (of the election) the campaigning was clearly unfair but the vote counting was fair, otherwise how could the opposition win 80% of the seats?  So, we don't know what's going to happen on that.

It's somewhat different than has been represented.  I don't think it is a sham, but it is controlled.  The diplomats who are resident in the country will be allowed to observe certain restricted places.  But, they won't have free access.  And, certainly, visas have been denied to people, some I know wanted to go.   So, yes, they are keeping a lid on it, there's no doubt about that.

You May Like

Guatemala Mudslide Death Toll Rises to 86

Death toll is expected to continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth for an estimated 350 people still missing More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

Debris Found in Search for Missing Ship

Objects located Sunday have not yet been confirmed to be from the 240 meter container ship, El Faro, which disappeared in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, according to US Coast Guard More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs