How do Thai people think of Burma

Contents in brief

1. New electoral law
2. International response to electoral laws
3. Report of the UN Special Envoy for Human Rights in Burma
4. Privatization of state assets
5. Court verdict: Thaksin's controversial Burma loan
6. Strikes in the textile industry in Rangoon
7. Situation of the Rohingya refugees

 

The Myanmar Military Government published five electoral laws on March 8th. An exact date for the elections has still not been announced. According to electoral law, people who are serving a prison sentence are neither eligible to vote nor are they allowed to belong to a political party. Officials and monks are also prohibited from joining political parties.

The electoral laws also state that the military junta will arbitrarily appoint all members of the electoral commission. The electoral commission has extensive powers. On the one hand, it monitors the parties and, on the other hand, it has the right to cancel election results in areas where “natural disasters and security reasons” prevent a fair election.

In addition, the 1990 election, in which the NLD won with an overwhelming majority, is deemed to be annulled when the election laws come into force. According to a government official, “It must be considered that the results of the multi-party democratic elections that took place under the annulled law will also be automatically annulled as they are inconsistent with the new law.

For the National League for Democracy, this means the exclusion of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and 400 other party members should they decide to vote in the elections. The NLD announced that it would make a decision by the end of March. According to an AP report, Aung San Suu Kyi would "not even think about" registering her party. Ultimately, however, this is the party's decision.

The NLD's objection to the electoral law was dismissed by the military government on Tuesday.

The deadline for registering for the election ends at the beginning of May. The first parties have now registered for election - the 88 Generation of Students of the Union of Myanmar (GSUM) and the Union of Myanmar National Political Force (UMNPF). Other parties are preparing to register.

To the electoral laws (in English)

Irrawaddy 03/23; AP 23.03 .; Agence France Press 03/15; Economist 3/11

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At the international level, the laws sparked controversy and heightened doubts about the credibility of the elections. The US Deputy Secretary of State Campbell described the laws as "disappointing and regrettable". UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for elections in which all citizens - including Suu Kyi - can freely participate.

Representatives of the Philippine government, who were the first ASEAN country to speak up, spoke of a "farce". The Indonesian Foreign Minister has arranged a meeting with the military government to take place on March 30th. The meeting will focus on electoral laws and promoting democracy in Burma, said Indonesian Foreign Minister Natalegawa.

Irrawaddy 03/23; Asian Tribune 03/15

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The UN special envoy Tomás Ojea Quintana for human rights in Burma points in his report of March 5th to systematic and far-reaching human rights violations in Burma. These include the mass arrests of critics of the regime, deaths and torture in custody, the lack of freedom of assembly, freedom of religion and the press, and forced labor.

Quintana presented his report on the human rights situation in Burma to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 15th. The report is based on Quintana's third trip as special envoy to Burma from February 15th to 19th.

Since there are indications that the human rights violations are the result of state actions that include authorities at all levels, Quintana proposes the establishment of an international committee of inquiry to investigate possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Burma.

He also expressed concerns about the failure to comply with his October 2008 recommendations - the release of all political prisoners, the review of national legislation, legal reforms and the implementation of a human rights training program for the military.

The Argentine lawyer stressed that Burma was at a historically crucial point with the upcoming elections. The elections should be used by the Burma government to carry out much-needed democratizing reforms and to improve the human rights situation. At a press conference after the report was presented, Quintana also voiced concerns about the election's chances of success. Particularly in view of the new electoral law, the elections lack credibility, said Quintana.

Burma's UN representative, Wunna Maung Lwin, accused Quintana's report of a lack of objectivity and asserted that the elections would be free and fair. Besides, there are no political prisoners.

While the USA, Australia and international human rights organizations supported the proposal of a committee of inquiry, Thailand, China and Vietnam emphasized the progress of the military government on the way to democracy.

Mizzima 03/17; Reuters 03/11; Guardian 3/11

You can download the report here (in English)

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Myanmar's military junta has carried out one of the largest privatizations since 1989. Numerous government buildings, port facilities, petrol station chains, etc. are being sold. Experts say that the money generated by the sale will be needed for election campaigns.

The socialist military regime under Ne Win largely nationalized the economy after the 1962 coup. Since 1989 the military junta of Myanmar has carried out a regular “sell-out” of state property. Most of the plants are sold to entrepreneurs allied with the military.

Agence France Press 03/15; New York Times 3/8; Irrawaddy 02/27

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Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was found guilty of five abuse of office on February 26, including a controversial loan to the Burmese government.

In 2004, Thaksin instructed the Thai Export and Import Bank to grant the Burmese government a low-interest loan of USD 121 million. The loan was used to invest in telecommunications infrastructure and so partially benefited Thaksin's Shin Corporation and in no way the Thai state. Rather, the low interest rates at the Thai bank caused additional expenses of $ 20.3 million.

Bangkok Post 3/5; Mizzima 02.03.

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About 4,000 workers from four clothing companies in Rangoon's industrial areas have been staging sit-in strikes since March 6, demanding higher salaries and better working conditions. The police and the military cordoned off the affected companies.

It is estimated that Burma's textile industry has shrunk by around 75% since 2001 in the wake of increasing economic sanctions. According to the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chanbers of Commerce and Industry, Burmese workers earn significantly less than workers from Vietnam and Cambodia.

Reuters 03/10; Irrawaddy 3/8

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Almost 100 Rohingya refugees from the Burmese town of Rakhine were picked up on the Malaysian island of Langkawi. Malaysian authorities are now investigating allegations that the refugees were evicted from Thai waters and floated in the open sea for over 6 weeks before stranding in Langkawi. The Rohingyas said the Thai Navy provided them with food and then pulled them back out to sea.

There had already been a similar case in January 2009. At that time, Rohingya refugees were dragged out to sea by the Thai Navy without food or water.

It is believed that up to 15,000 Rohingyas flee Burma every year. Since 1982 they have been considered stateless by the local authorities and not recognized as a minority. Around half of the three million Rohingyas now live outside Burma.

The main destinations of the refugees are Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh. In addition to international criticism of Thailand's handling of the refugees, Bangladesh's policy in particular fell into disrepute. Most Rohingyas there are not recognized as political refugees, but only as "economic refugees". They live in desolate conditions in camps - "open-air prisons" - where many die of malnutrition.

Agence France Press 03/15; Spiegel online 03.03.