Decision time in Burma for democracy’s advocates

Burma’s military regime has forced our party, the National League for Democracy, to make a tough decision on whether we will continue to operate legally.

The ruling generals, known as the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), issued a set of unjust electoral laws this month that threatened to abolish our party if we did not re-register at the election commission within 60 days.

We know the cruel nature of the regime. We did not expect the electoral laws it established would offer a semblance of fairness. But we also did not expect that the regime would use its laws to remove our leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and all political prisoners from the political process. Once again the regime has defied the will of the people of Burma and the international community by disregarding their call for transparent, free and fair elections that include all parties.

The Political Party Registration Law bans all political prisoners from participating in elections by voting and contesting, forming a political party, or joining a party. Parties must make sure that political prisoners are not included in their membership and must pledge in writing that they will obey and protect the country’s constitution and abide by its election laws. They are also required to participate in the election. Failure to comply with these restrictions will lead to abolishment of the party.

For me, the decision was simple: No. We cannot expel Aung San Suu Kyi and others who are or have been imprisoned under this corrupt and unfair legal system. Without them, our party would be nothing. They are in prison because of their belief in democracy and the rule of law. Their immediate release and participation in Burma’s political process are necessary for a credible democratic process.

We do not accept the regime’s unilaterally drafted constitution, designed to legalize permanent military dictatorship. The referendum to ratify this constitution was conducted on the heels of Cyclone Nargis in 2008; it was “approved” by force and fraud. Our objective is to reject this sham constitution and create one that will guarantee democracy, human rights, justice, the rule of law and equality among all ethnic nationalities through an all-inclusive, genuine political dialogue. We cannot pledge to obey the sham constitution. True democracy will not come from this process.

It is not easy to make such a decision for an organization. Aung San Suu Kyi said she would “not even think” of registering her party for the polls. Yet as a leader who believes in democracy, she stressed that she would let the party decide for itself. On Monday, all of my colleagues agreed to confront these injustices together.

Some believe that the continued legal status of our party is more important. If our party is not legal, the thinking goes, how can we work for the people of Burma? The United Nations and some countries have asked the regime to change these unfair laws and to allow Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners to participate in the election. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon held a meeting of his “Group of Friends on Myanmar” to discuss the situation in Burma. We have also heard that the U.S. government is “closely considering” the recent report and recommendations made by U.N. Special Rapporteur Tomás Ojea Quintana, including his suggestion that the United Nations establish a “commission of inquiry” to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity in our country. This latent support from international voices may not be enough. My colleagues may have justifiable concerns that international voices and statements are not complemented by effective measures to change Burma’s political crisis.

Our party was born out of the 1988 popular democracy uprising with the noble intention to carry out the unfinished work of those who sacrificed their lives for freedom, justice and democracy.

We won a landslide victory in the 1990 election and have been the leader of Burma’s democracy movement for more than two decades. But because we refuse to bow to these unjust election “laws,” our party will be abolished by the regime soon. Still, the NLD will not disappear. We will be among the people, with the people. We will continue to fight for democracy, human rights and equality among all ethnic nationalities, by peaceful means.

I hope the international community will stand with us. The governments of the world should declare that they reject the regime’s election and prearranged outcome, and pressure the regime to make substantive and positive change for Burma, beginning with the immediate release of all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and the cessation of the regime’s military campaign against ethnic minorities. The regime should negotiate with Burma’s democracy forces, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, and ethnic representatives for a peaceful solution toward national reconciliation and true democracy.

U Win Tin, a member of the Central Executive Committee and a founder of Burma’s National League for Democracy party. He was a political prisoner from 1989 to 2008.