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26 March – 1 April: “A Step Towards Step One in Democracy”

April 2, 2012

“We won, we won” was the chant that resonated throughout the streets of Rangoon all night yesterday and waking up this morning had an unprecedented taste of joy and hope for the people of Burma. It is the “triumph of the people who have decided that they have to be involved in the political process in this country,” said Daw Aung San Suu Kyi today after the NLD claimed it has won 43 seats out of the 45 contested. Reports still vary and the official results will only be known later this week, after the Union Election Commission confirms them. In yesterday’s by-elections, more than six million people were eligible to vote, 160 candidates from 17 parties were contesting 45 parliamentary seats.

“A step towards step one in democracy” is how Daw Suu qualified the by-elections, reminding the world that even with the NLD wining yesterday, Burma is not a democracy yet but just slowly starting a fragile transition process in which genuine irreversible reforms need to replace the superficial changes done so far. As Burma Campaign UK outlined in a briefer released this week, “By-elections don’t mean Burma is free.”

“Rampant irregularities” have been taking place, said NLD spokesman Nyan Win who reported that by midday alone on Sunday the party had filed more than 50 complaints to the Union Election Commission. Most alleged violations concern waxed ballot papers that make it difficult to mark votes and ballot cards that lacked the Election Commission’s seal, which would render them invalid. There have also been irregularities all along the campaign, such as restrictions on where Daw Suu has been able to hold campaign events, difficulties in her travels, problematic voter lists, bribing of voters, manipulation of advance polls and cancelling of the polls in three constituencies in Kachin State. International observers as well, ahead of the elections, reported voters list irregularities including cases where same names are repeated up to 20 times. Daw Suu herself said on Friday that the “by-elections are neither free nor fair and that the irregularities went beyond what is acceptable for democratic elections.

“She may not be able to do anything at this stage,” said a voter who cast his ballot for Daw Suu at Wah Thin Kha, a village in the rural constituency south of Rangoon where she was running.  He is right: the number of seats at stake is not enough to change the balance of power or threaten the military-backed ruling Union State and Development Party. Rather, the by-elections have been seen as a public relations game played by the government to please the international community and have sanctions lifted. “The government stands to benefit more from relatively free and fair elections because it adds to the international perception that there is democratic progress underway in the country. Having Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD members in Parliament will give an appearance of opposition in the government, while in reality, they will have very little ability to affect the most-needed changes, such as amending the 2008 Constitution and repealing repressive laws,” said Khin Ohmar, Coordinator of Burma Partnership. Therefore, while it is exciting to see Daw Suu elected by the people, these by-elections must not be seen as a significant benchmark of progress.

News Highlights

Union Election Commission says 159 international observers would be allowed to monitor by-elections and journalists would be forbidden from taking photographs or conducting interviews within 500 metres of polling stations on 1 April

NLD candidate for Rangoon’s Mayangone Township complains she has been prohibited from campaigning at her local military barracks and NLD voters complain of exclusion from voters list

All Mon Region Democracy Party chief campaigner says there are around 10,000 errors in the voter list of Mon State’s Moulmein constituency

Inside Burma

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi had to cancel campaign trips after falling ill

NLD asks permission to engage in talks with the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) over security conditions in Kachin State

Railways Minister Aung Min says President Thein Sein will address the breach of ceasefire agreement with the Kachin Independence Army

Commander-in-chief General Min Aung Hlaing defends the military’s role in politics during a speech to commemorate Armed Forces Day

Burma Army and Shan State Army – North clash north of Lashio, Shan State, killing 5 and wounds 12

Karen National Union leaders to meet with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi this month

Political prisoners of the New Mon State Party have yet to be released, despite three requests to the government and a ceasefire agreement

Burma is declared one of the world’s worst countries for religious freedom in the report of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom


Phnom Penh hotel bars presentation on Burma at civil society conference; Cambodian government suspected to be responsible

Chinese authorities arrest about 800 undocumented migrants from Burma in Yunnan Province

Malaysian Prime Minister leads a 150-person delegation in two-day visit to Burma


US lawmaker warns against premature easing of sanctions; US Congress might examine the political prisoner issue in Burma either separately or as part of a broader review of US policy towards the country

UN says it has delivered aid to Kachin State for first time in three months

Latest From the Blog

By-Elections: A Public Relations Game
By Burma Partnership


Environmentalists and 88 Generation Students join Conference of Protectors of the Irrawaddy (Burmese)


Burma’s Armed Forces Day: Men in Business Suits, Not Uniforms, Seize the Moment
By Hannah Beech

Why Burma Shouldn’t Listen to the IMF
By Rick Rowden
Foreign Policy

Statements and Press Releases

Joint Statement of the 2012 ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN People’s Forum
By ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN People’s Forum

Press Statement of the 2012 ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN People’s Forum
By ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN People’s Forum

Burma: Cynical Manipulation of Legal System Prefigures Continued Authoritarianism
By Asian Human Rights Commission

APSOC Condemns Restrictions on ASEAN Civil Society Conference-ASEAN Peoples Forum 2012 in Cambodia
By Asia-Pacific Solidarity Coalition

UK Must Not Abandon Burma’s Political Prisoners
By Burma Campaign UK

CCHR Deplores the Curtailment of Fundamental Freedoms and the Silencing of Civil Society During the ASEAN Summit
By Cambodian Center for Human Rights

Burma Army Burns Villagers’ Homes to the Ground
By Christian Solidarity Worldwide

Cambodia Curtails Freedom of Expression at ASEAN Civil Society Conference
By Community Peace Building Network, Asian Indigenous Peoples Pact and Burma Partnership

Burma Army Ransacks Church in Bhamo District
By Christian Solidarity Worldwide

By-Elections a Step, but Not Real Reform
By Human Rights Watch

Urgent Reforms Are the Real Litmus Test of Government’s Commitment to Change
By International Federation for Human Rights, FORUM-ASIA, Altsean-Burma and Forum for Democracy in Burma

KNU Statement on Release of Padoh Mahn Nyein Maung
By Karen National Union

Statement of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission on Its Establishment and Its Current Status of Functioning
By Myanmar National Human Rights Commission

Statement from the Burma/Myanmar Delegation to the ACSC/APF 2012 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
By Task Force on ASEAN and Burma

Burma’s Democracy Movement Enters into the New Playing Field by Winning at least 39 Seats in the By-Election, Yet Still Full of Landmines, Barriers, and Biased-Referees
By US Campaign for Burma


Burma’s By-Elections: Still Short of International Standards
By Altsean-Burma

By-Elections Don’t Mean Burma is Free
By Burma Campaign UK

A Briefing Paper on Burma/Myanmar, February 2
By International Federation for Human Rights, FORUM-ASIA, Altsean-Burma and Forum for Democracy in Burma

This post is in: Weekly Highlights