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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.

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