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10-16 January: SPDC Continues Authoritarian Rule with Military Draft Law as Citizens Push for Genuine Democracy

By Burma Partnership  •  January 17, 2011

Although Burma’s new parliament is set to hold its first session on 31 January 2011, the current military regime continues to control the country with no intention of loosening its grip on power. The revelation that the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) enacted an unpublicized military draft law days before parliamentary elections provides further evidence of the generals’ aims: to perpetuate military rule and to deny the people of Burma their basic rights and freedoms. With the military unwilling to make any positive changes for the country, democracy and ethnic organizations continue to take the cause into their own hands, developing the foundation for democracy and national reconciliation despite the risk of a military crackdown.

Rather than foster a genuine democratic transition, the generals have carried out a superficial costume change that will bring little change in the way of governance. The 2008 Constitution, which provides the military complete impunity and independence from civilian rule, and the fraudulent November 2010 elections, which ensured an overwhelming electoral victory for the junta backed party and its proxies, make clear the regime’s continued pursuit of dominance and distaste for actual democratic institutions. The military draft law exposes the danger of military rule entrenched through these mechanisms.

According to article 386 the 2008 Constitution, “Every citizen has the duty to undergo military training in accord with the provisions of the law and to serve in the Armed Forces to defend the Union.” The new law, dated 4 November 2010, strengthens this stipulation and authorizes stiff penalties for those who do not comply. The military may draft for two years men between the ages of 18 and 45 and women between 18 and 35, with service potentially increasing to five years in times of national emergency. Those who fail to report for military service could face imprisonment of up to five years.

The timing of the military draft law enactment provides further evidence that the SPDC has never intended to promote a genuine handover to civilian rule. The SPDC saw no reason to wait for civilian representatives to gather and pass the new law, since the generals have ensured that their old regime will live on in parliament in a slightly altered form, driving the agenda and making the decisions. Enacting a draft – when the SPDC already allocates obscene amounts to defense spending and an oversized army – exemplifies the generals’ problematic emphasis on the military that comes at the expense of basic rights and services.

The ongoing fighting in Eastern Burma punctures the SPDC argument that the only the military can bring peace and stability. Ethnic leaders have suggested that a draft would only bring more problems to the country, noting that the military’s primary targets continues to be ethnic communities and the resistance movement.

The Deputy Chairman of the National League for Democracy (NLD), U Tin Oo, has noted the importance of ensuring citizen participation in a decision such as a draft. “[I]t is not right to decide on a matter that concerns the people without proposing it to them first. A referendum should be held first before making the decision.” As with the rigged votes of 2008 and 2010, the SPDC has again prevented citizens from engaging in the political process.

The SPDC’s authoritarian military draft law contrasts sharply with the significant steps democratic and ethnic leaders have taken towards national reconciliation and developing democratic institutions. The NLD has supported communities suffering food insecurity in Chin State through donations of rice and water pipes, demonstrating a vibrant network of citizens collaborating and striving to support each other. Moreover, the formation of a youth network, initiated by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, provides a powerful example of true leadership and the importance of inclusive processes that engage the people. In sharp contrast to the SPDC’s unilateral dictates, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has said, “In Burmese politics, the principle of all-inclusiveness is a very important factor.”

As the SPDC prepares to bring its tired old regime and tactics into a new building, the draft law is a stark reminder of its authoritarian approach to policymaking and plans for continued military rule. Burma needs an inclusive political process that will enable genuine democratization; the SPDC only pursues more military might. With the SPDC unwilling and unable, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the NLD, ethnic and democratic activists continue to strive for democracy and ethnic equality by taking steps together towards peace and national reconciliation.

News Highlights

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi appears in Supreme Court to challenge NLD’s legal status

Escaped prisoners claim SPDC use of 600 prisoners as porters and human minesweepers during ongoing conflict in Eastern Burma

Fighting continues between Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) troops and SPDC troops in Phalu area of Myawaddy Township in Karen State

Inside Burma

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi meets Union Democracy Party and discusses economic sanctions (Burmese)

A set of 17 legal books detailing new parliamentary laws and bylaws goes on sale in Rangoon

Junta aligned Union State and Development Party (USDP) forms new Buddhist organization with US sanctioned junta crony Khin Shwe as chair

SPDC places jailed reporter in isolation cell in Insein Prison

SPDC tightens security at border checkpoints and in Rangoon

SPDC transports troops from Arakan State to reinforce battalions fighting in Karen State (Burmese)

17-year-old runaway soldier witnesses war crimes and deaths of fellow child soldiers in SPDC Army during fighting in Karen State (Burmese)

DKBA takes Thai hostage in Tak Province, demands ransom

Mon National Defense Army reunites with New Mon State Party

Victims decry settlement as unfair as judge awards compensation in Yuzana land grab case in Kachin State

SPDC continues with plans to privatize 90% of state-owned enterprises

SPDC introduces new witholding tax for NGOs, INGOs

SPDC minister’s sons’ IGE Group of Companies obtain permits to transport pipelines to natural gas project areas in Arakan State

Authorities make money by selling golf course previously confiscated from civilians in Three Pagodas Pass (Burmese)

More than 60 Rangoon monasteries to be relocated to northern suburbs

Chin National Party drafts parliamentary bills to promote tourism in Chin State and ensure Chin language education in schools

Regional

Thai authorities call on SPDC to control heavy artillery fire after ‘many’ shells hit Thailand during ongoing fighting in Eastern Burma

Wikileaks cable says China wants to see Burma’s issues addressed (Burmese)

Laos supports Burma proposal to switch the scheduled hosting of ASEAN summit between the two countries

Senator Loren Legarda meets with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and calls on the Philippines government to take a more active role to support to the restoration of democracy in Burma

Over 100 migrant workers from Burma are arrested in Mae Sot, Thailand (Burmese)

Italian-Thai Development Construction flies potential Dawei Port investors from Thailand to visit the project in Mon State, Burma

China’s Qingdao Port signs Western Burma wharf construction and operation agreement with China National Petroleum Corporation

International

United States removes All Burma Students’ Democratic Front from terror list

United States announces US$1.5 million in aid for Cyclone Giri victims

International Atomic Energy Agency’s Department of Safeguards requests SPDC to allow agency inspectors visit

India gives UNHCR permission to interview 34 detainees from Burma to determine refugee status

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