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

Nigeria Incumbent in Tight Spot as Poll Nears

Muhammadu Buhari is running a strong challenge to Goodluck Jonathan, amid a faltering economy and Boko Haram security worries More

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo tells VOA that despite her fame, life is still a struggle as she waits for government's promise of support to arrive More

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

At least seven different indigenous groups in Ratanakiri depend mainly on forest products for their survival, say they face loss of their land, traditional way of life More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More