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Burma’s 100 Days of Parliament: More ‘NAYS’ than ‘YEAS’

By Burma Campaign Australia  •  May 12, 2011

Australia’s Foreign Minister, MPs, senior government officials, and foreign diplomats were today warned that Burma’s political, economic, and humanitarian crises persisted despite the convening of the Parliament. A video message from Burmese pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and statements from a leading ASEAN legislator, an economist, and a female activist drove the message home at a conference to mark 100 days since the convening of Burma’s Parliament.

The event was held at the Australian National Parliament and hosted by the Australian Parliamentarians for Democracy in Burma, a cross-party group of Australian MPs. The group is co-convened by MP Laurie Ferguson, Senator Scott Ludlam, Senator Marise Payne and MP Janelle Saffin.

In a video message to the conference, Burmese pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi highlighted the urgent need for the release of political prisoners. She said that the release of political prisoners was an essential benchmark to measure the regime’s progress toward democracy. “If political prisoners are not released, then I think we can say that we shall need many, many more hundreds of days before we will see the light of democracy,” Daw Suu said. [Burma has more than 2,000 political prisoners including several imprisoned after the November 2010 elections].

Indonesian MP and ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus President Mrs Eva Kusuma Sundari said that under current conditions, there was little hope that significant change in Burma would come through parliamentary channels.  “Instead, as we experience in Indonesia, change is more likely to occur because people will be fed up with misrule and mismanagement.”

Mrs Sundari warned that Burma’s 2008 constitution that was modeled on Indonesia’s discarded dwifungsi model was designed to secure the military’s control of national politics. “It took the Indonesian democracy movement almost 30 years to convince the military to withdraw from politics. Let us do better now and not condemn Burma to yet another generation of military rule,” she urged.

Sean Turnell, Associate Professor of Economics at Macquarie University in Sydney, said that there had been no change in Burma’s economic situation despite the elections and the convening of the Parliament. He pointed out that the regime published the national budget for the next two financial years before the Parliament convened. Such a move deprived the Parliament of its prerogative to debate the budget. As a result, the current year’s budget, which allocates 51% to military expenditure and only 3% to healthcare, was ot subjected to parliamentary scrutiny.

“Surprisingly, the regime failed to send a signal to the world that ‘we are open for business’ by promoting reforms designed to give a semblance of normalcy and make foreign investment more attractive,” said Mr Turnell. He pointed out that Burma’s chronic economic woes would continue because of the regime’s irresponsible approach to the management of the economy.

Ms. K’Nyaw Paw, a female activist from Burma’s Karen State, reminded the conference that despite the elections and the convening of the Parliament, Burma’s military regime continued to commit widespread and systematic abuses against the civilian population. “The regime has forced over 1,200 villagers in Eastern Burma to work as porters for the military,” she said, “Rape as a weapon of war continues with impunity in ethnic areas.” She urged Australia to increase its overall aid to Burma, and to channel it to vulnerable populations in Eastern Burma’s conflict zones by financing cross-border relief programs.

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