Friday, 5 November 2010

Thai Elites see Burmese polls as a step toward democratic rule

From The Nation:
Even though tomorrow's Burmese elections, the first in 20 years, are not likely to be inclusive, transparent, free or fair, at least they are a major step toward democracy, Thai experts said yesterday.

"If they can hold an acceptable election this time, the new regime will have the legitimacy to run the country and engage with the international community," Sunait Chutintaranond, director of Chulalongkorn University's Institute of Asian Studies (IAS), said at a panel discussion.

[RAP: And here is the problem. The 'elections' to be held tomorrow will not be "a major step towards democracy" and neither will they be acceptable to the people of Burma who have been denied their human rights, nor to the democracy activists in Burma and overseas and not to the international community, such as it is. When Burma holds an election that is "inclusive, transparent, free [and] fair" then its government, not it's military -in or out of uniform- will be able to claim some legitimacy. Elite actors in Burma and its neighbours are quick to say this person or those people are not ready for democracy but demonstrate time and again that it is the elites themselves who are unprepared and unwilling to bring about real democratic progress.]

The current military has been in power since 1988. Its legitimacy has been questioned and criticised the world over since it refused to hand the reins over to Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Demo-cracy, which won by a landslide in 1990.

However, a country that has been under military rule since 1962 cannot turn into a full democracy right away. It needs to be a "disciplined democracy" for security reasons more than anything, Sunait said.

[RAP: The transitional process from a brutal, military dictatorship to a democracy, regardless of the methods and the stages through which society must pass cannot be guided or "disciplined" by the undisciplined criminals that stole the country and are now continuing to refuse to give it back to its people.]

The most important thing for the international community is to keep a close watch on how the regime, which is not used to a "noisy democracy", deals with the new political environment after the election, he said. [RAP: We still haven't seen whether or not there will be a "new political environment" in anything other than name.]

Although most of the candidates contesting in the poll are close to or even proxies of the military, some new elements - such as those representing ethnic minorities - and some democratic forces are being allowed to participate, said IAS's expert on Burmese affairs Pornpimol Trichote.

"We cannot expect Burma to become a 100-per-cent democratic country or have a drastic change after the elections. But I am still optimistic to see some new things in the country," she said.

[RAP: RAP hopes Khun Pornpimol is right and there will be changes after the election, but cannot share his naive optimism that there will be any significant changes.]

Like many other small and developing countries, Burma is not ready for full democracy due to security issues, said General Vipot Srinual, former deputy permanent secretary of the Defence Ministry.

[RAP: Is General Vipot referring to his own country here? The yellow and green elites in Thailand also often claim the oiks are not ready for democracy, the people of Thailand however, seem to be as ready as they'll ever be.]

"However, the country has made some progress over the years, and the election is one of the signs of growth," he said. "All countries should support this progress."

[RAP: RAP shares General Vipot's hopes that when there are "signs of growth" and "progress" that all countries will support it, alas this is not growth or progress and reasonable people will be siding with Burma's population, her activists and civil society and rejecting this embarrassing piece of poor theatre.]

Thailand, as an immediate neighbour, should understand Burma and support this new development, said Apisit Cholsakorn from the Tak Chamber of Commerce.

[RAP: What is this doing here? A businessman from Tak Chamer of Commerce, an expert? In what? In elections and developing democracies? Transitional justice? Military dictatorships? Political science?]

"Burma does not give Thailand priority in its foreign relations because they have never trusted us. So we need to prove that we are friends and ready to stand by them," he said.

Vipot suggested that the Thai government have a clear direction in its relations with Burma's new government after the election. "To build trust, we will not act as a superior or big brother in the region, but instead become a friend who is equal to them," he said.

[RAP: Do the Tak Chamber of Commerce and General Vipot want to be friends with Burma's military and business elites or with its people. RAP hopes the latter but fears the former. If Burma hopes for a friend in Thailand, they'll be hoping for a while yet.]

Cartoon from Irrawaddy Magazine:

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