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4 August – 10 August: Political Opposition in Burma Must Ignore Distractions and Focus on Policy

August 12, 2014

19 May 2014 Teza Hlaing The IrrawaddyThe main opposition party in Burma, the National League for Democracy (NLD), said last week that almost 5 million people signed the petition calling for constitutional reform that did the rounds from 27 May to 19 July.  The petition pushed for the removal of the Burma Army’s veto on constitutional change that they have by virtue of Article 436 of the Burma Constitution.  This campaign has been widely praised as a shrewd tactical move, because it would in theory unlock the door to amendments of any offending articles of the Burma Constitution that undermine democratic values and infringe upon the fundamental rights of the people.  Most notably – though by no means exclusively, as the NLD and others are at pains to stress – amendment of Article 436 will in turn enable amendment of Article 59(f), which in practice bars Daw Aung San Suu Kyi running for President in the 2015 elections.

While such a public initiative is to be applauded, and the weight of support for the petition is to be welcomed, the political opposition in Burma must not allow itself to be distracted by such diversionary machinations on the part of the Burma Government and the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).  The NLD is right that constitutional reform is essential to the establishment of genuine democracy in Burma.  However, it is also time for the political opposition to test the limited democratic space that now exists in Burma, and time to start outlining a viable policy platform for government.  The burden rests with the NLD and other democratic opposition parties to engineer a seismic cultural and political shift: away from politics traditionally centred on personalities and fear, and towards politics based on actual policies that will resolve people’s grievances and promote and protect their political, economic, social and cultural rights.

The people of Burma want to see Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and democratic opposition win in 2015 and lead them to genuine democratization, and thus they deserve to know what the political opposition plan to do on a whole raft of pressing political issues should they get into office.  People want to know how a new government would manage the ongoing peace process; how they would resolve the disturbing bouts of religious violence and other human rights abuses; how they would stem the rising tide of forced land evictions and land grabs; how they would go about introducing institutional reform of the judiciary, the parliament and the military; and what measures they would take to ensure that all economic investment in Burma is socially and environmentally sustainable.

Although doubt as to the sincerity of the recent political reforms is rapidly increasing among the people of Burma, especially in 2014 across social and ethnic lines, there are still enough chinks in the democratic façade for leverage to be applied and opportunities to be seized.  If the NLD and other political opposition parties can dictate the policy discourse within Burma in the run-up to next year’s elections, then they will have the Burma Government on the back foot, for neither do the USDP have a coherent, transparent policy platform for the 2015 elections.  Furthermore, they will be fulfilling their mandate as political opposition: in fully-fledged democracies, opposition parties are supposed to provide robust criticisms of government policy and present viable policy alternatives.

While it is nothing more than speculation, it is not out of the question that the Burma Government will allow the NLD to occupy themselves with constitutional reform initiatives and petitions right up to the eleventh hour.  Then, if it feels under pressure from the international community, the Burma Government could perhaps afford to gamble and amend the Burma Constitution at the last minute, thereby allowing Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to run for President, because, at that late stage, with the elections imminent, no one would know what to expect from an NLD administration.

We call upon the NLD and all political opposition parties in Burma to begin determining and presenting viable policies on the most critical issues troubling the people of Burma today, in addition to the existing and valuable work that they are doing to draw attention to the urgent need for structural and constitutional reform in Burma.  And we call upon the international community, donors, businesses, and all stakeholders involved in or supporting the current political reforms led by President Thein Sein to start encouraging opposition parties to develop policies in time for the 2015 elections.  It is vital that the nascent democratic space expands rather than stagnates or shrinks, and that the people of Burma feel empowered to demand policy proposals from any potential governments that might represent them.

News Highlights

The 26th anniversary commemorating the 1988 pro-democracy uprising reminds people to keep pushing for further changes such as facilitating a union congress, bringing about a new Constitution and establishing a federal union

Wai Nu, a Rohingya activist, Mi Khin Khin Kyu a Mon activist, and Democracy and Peace Women Network led by Naw Ohn Hla are offered awards by the N-Peace Network for their work in leading conflict resolution in their respective areas

Inside Burma

The Union Election Commission (UEC) rejects a request from National League for Democracy (NLD) and ethnic parties to extend the length of campaign time for 2015 elections, saying they do not want political parties to have to spend more money due to a long campaign period as well as preventing any unnecessary problems which might occur amongst rival parties

The Information Minister Ye Htut rejects allegations that President Thein Sein played a significant role in the violent dismantling of nationwide protest in 1988

Local Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) from Tawnzang Township opposes humanitarian assistance from Nippon Foundation due to disputes between local USDP leaders and Chin National Front which is in charge of distributing the donated rice

In Pegu Region, police charges five activists who organized a demonstration against a plan to change the electoral system from a First Past the Post to Proportional Representation, which was attended by approximately 100 people

US blacklisted businessman Tay Za to donate $1 million US from his Asia Green Development Bank to help establish a foundation dedicated to journalism

A court in Rangoon sentence Htin Kyaw, a member of Myanmar Democratic Current Force, to one year in prison with hard labour on charges of distributing leaflets falsely claiming that NLD leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic party leaders formed an interim government

As violence breaks out in a displacement camp in Sittwe, Rakhine State, a 30-year old muslim man is shot and killed by a policeman as he allegedly tried to attack the police with his sword according to the government owned New Light of Myanmar and in Myebon Township, Rakhine State, local government begin examining citizenship applications of nearly 1,100 residents who have self-identified as Bengali in a pilot program which requires them to identify as Bengali in order to have their citizenship application considered


Thailand’s PTT Exploration and Production Plc and its investment partners sign a production-sharing agreement with Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) for onshore exploration and production rights for the MOGE 3 block for which four exploration wells are planned at an initial cost of $72 million US for first three years and Thailand’s energy permanent secretary Areepong Bhoochaoom says Energy Ministry plans to buy 2,000 megawatts of electricity from Burma’s Myeik coal-fired power project in a bid to strengthen energy security in southern Thailand while Burma and India officials discuss ways to distribute electricity to Sagaing Region in Burma, which India government will supply all necessary equipments, only if Burma government agrees to their discussion points

Burma’s Employment Department Chief Myo Aung says Burma had opened verification centres in Myawaddy, Tachilek and Kawthaung districts, and promises to speed up the nationality verification process for those working in Thailand

Eighteen people from Burma including children of victims of human-trafficking return home to Burma after they were rescued by Thai authorities and in Mae Sot, Thailand, a team of immigration police arrest four Burmese men at a hotel for procuring women including a minor for prostitution while along the Sino-Burma border, Burma’s anti-human trafficking police help rescue 42 Burmese women from forced marriages, labor exploitation and other human rights abuses between January to July


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warns Burma government to significantly speed up its process of democratic transition, and urges the government to make constitutional amendments ensuring forthcoming elections are free, fair and credible

Canada opens its first embassy in Burma to show its commitment to closer bilateral relations as well as aiming to strengthen stronger trade ties and provide assistance in Burma

Foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) gather in Naypyidaw for a meeting, to discuss regional security issues and to make a push towards the establishment of an ASEAN Economic Community by 2015


Mae La Refugees, On The Edge
By Dene-Hern Chen
Democratic Voice of Burma

What message must US bring to Myanmar?
By Nehginpao Kipgen
Bangkok Post

John Kerry Should Set Timelines and Benchmarks to See Progress on Deteriorating Situation of Rohingya in Burma
By Tun Khin
Huffington Post

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TAKE ACTION! Email President Thein Sein, asking him to publish his full army record, including the role he played in crushing the uprising on 8th August 1988

In Thandwe township, Rakhine State, over 50 villagers carry out a demonstration demanding to gain back the 1000 acres of farmland, which have been confiscated by government authorities and their relatives

Statements and Press Releases

Open Letter to the 47th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting on the Review of the Terms of Reference of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights
By 58 Civil Society Organizations

ASEAN Civil Society 2015 – ACSC/APF National Organizing Committee (NOC), Accelerating a People-Centered Region: Introspection of the Envisioned ASEAN Community in 2015
By ACSC/APF National Organizing Committee

President Thein Sein Should Reveal Role in 88 Massacre
By Burma Campaign UK

Press Release on John Kerry’s Visit to Burma
By Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK

Case Against Labour Rights Defender Draws International Outcry – Nearly 100 International Rights Groups Demand Industry Action
By Finnwatch

Myanmar: Release Rohingya Political Prisoner Kyaw Hla Aung
By Fortify Rights

Burma/US: Kerry Should Press Rights Concerns
By Human Rights Watch

Four Journalists Now “Only” Facing Two-year Sentences on Reduced Charges
By Reporters Without Border

Open Letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry
By Shan Community Based Organizations

This post is in: Weekly Highlights