An Election Not Worthy of Support

Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, recently said the world must exercise “utmost vigilance” to ensure the approaching elections in Myanmar (Burma) are free and fair.

We are disappointed in such comments, which focus on the election as something important for our country, as something worth waiting and watching for, although this election is not the solution for Burma.

The elections, scheduled for Nov. 7, are designed to legalize military rule in Burma under the 2008 constitution, which was written to create a permanent military dictatorship in our country.

After the election, the constitution will come into effect, a so-called civilian government will be formed by acting and retired generals who all are under the military commander-in-chief, and the people of Burma will legally become the subjects of the military.

Our party, the National League for Democracy, and our ethnic allies have refused to accept the regime’s constitution and have decided to boycott the elections. The military regime’s constitution and severely restricting election laws demonstrated to all of us the true intention the regime has for this election — the legalization and legitimization of military rule in our country.

We refuse to abandon our aspirations for democracy in Burma and give the regime the legitimacy it wants for its elections. With millions of people of Burma supporting our position, we hoped the international community would understand the regime’s intentions as clearly as we do and pressure the regime to stop its unilateral and undemocratic process.

Until recently, the United Nations demanded the regime commit itself to an all-parties inclusive, participatory, free and fair process through political dialogue with democratic opposition and representatives of ethnic minorities. But now an important phrase — “all-parties inclusive” — is surprisingly excluded from their statements and speeches.

Although Ms. Pillay urged the world to exercise “utmost vigilance,” there is no need to wait until the Election Day to make a judgment. The election commission was appointed by the regime and filled with loyalists who unilaterally decided that many candidates are ineligible to run. The electoral laws and by-laws impose severe restrictions on political parties. Thousands of political prisoners — including our leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi — are not allowed to participate in the election or be members of the parties.

The regime’s prime minister and cabinet ministers have switched to civilian dress, transformed their mass organization into their political party, and are campaigning with the use of state properties, resources, funds and threats. The election commission is shamelessly violating its own rules in favor of the prime minister’s party and other proxy parties of the regime.

Is it really necessary for the international community to wait until election day to see whether the elections are free and fair?

Unfortunately, some European countries are not only watching the regime’s elections, but also supporting them. They discussed with us their belief that the election is the only game in town, and suggested that we, the National League for Democracy, should participate.

When we explained our rationale for not legitimizing military rule, they turned to others and now help them to make their way in the regime’s election game. They have gone so far as to help pro-regime academics and opportunists travel to Europe to promote the regime’s election and gather support for their favorite parties.

Even though some democratic parties have European support, their chances of winning seats in the election are very slim, as more restrictions on their campaign activities are revealed each day. The regime is determined to capture almost all of the contested seats in the national and state parliaments by use of fraud and threats.

With 25 percent of the seats in Parliament reserved for the military, it is more and more clear that almost all the seats will be controlled by the military and its cronies. Even if some lucky candidates get elected, they will have no authority to promote change. The Parliament has no power to form the government, no authority to legislate military affairs, and no right to reject the president’s appointees and budget.

One might ask what is the solution, if it is not the election. It is dialogue, which we have been calling for for many years. Meaningful political dialogue between the military, the National League for Democracy led by Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, and ethnic representatives is the only way to solve problems in Burma peacefully.

The military has no desire to talk. But if the international community seriously exercises strong and effective pressure on the regime, the combination of pressure from outside and peaceful resistance inside the country will force the regime to come to the dialogue table.

I wish that our friends in Europe would abandon their dream of expecting something impossible from the election, and start taking serious action against the regime with the aim of starting a dialogue. They should begin by creating a U.N. commission of inquiry to investigate human rights violations in Burma.

Win Tin, a founder of Burma’s National League for Democracy party and a member of its central executive committee. He was a political prisoner from 1989 to 2008.