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Asia

Junta Favours Elections Over Relief Operations

Two months after the devastating cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar -- as Burma is offically called -- the junta is already busy preparing for elections in 2010. To make things very clear, Myanmar's state media recently announced that the victory of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in the 1990s elections is not valid. The official newspaper “The New Light of Myanmar” said that the approval of the military-backed draft constitution in the May referendum invalidated the previous election result.

A refugee camp in Myanmar -- victims of Cyclone Nargis still need a lot of resistance

A refugee camp in Myanmar -- victims of Cyclone Nargis still need a lot of resistance

The government’s announcement about preparing for upcoming elections in 2010 comes at a time where thousands of cyclone survivors still need basic assistance including food, farming equipments and shelter.

A businessman who just returned from the most affected areas in the Irrawaddy delta reported: “The people in the region still need a lot of assistance, not only from inside but also from outside, like from the international community, NGOs and the United Nations.”

The cyclone killed more than 80,000 people, with 50,000 still missing and 20,000 injured according to the latest official numbers. The cyclone also destroyed almost one million hectares of paddy fields, which account for 10 percent of Myanmar's paddy cultivation. 1.9 million tons of rice have been destroyed.

Not enough rice for the future

NGOs in the affected area say most farmers in the cyclone-hit areas will not be able to reap this season’s harvest because of a lack of equipment. "Farmers only get a very low amount of paddy seeds and almost no assistance in regards of cultivation tools. We need much more help to be able to re-cultivate,” explained the businessman, saying that this would be a problem for the future.

"For the time being and for this year it will be ok because we have some rice for this year but for the coming year there will be problems. If we don't cultivate enough (rice) in the delta region there will be major problems in the coming year."

But instead of addressing these issues the junta is busy preparing for elections in 2010. The Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) -- a so-called social welfare organization, which is headed by military leader Senior Than Shwe -- is to be transformed into a political party.

According to an official press release from USDA the organisation has 23 million members -- Myanmar’s national population totals 54 million. The high-ranking officials of the Myanmar military are senior executive members of USDA and university students and civil servants automatically become members.

Scepticism about free and fair elections

Last September, the junta used USDA gangs, or so-called Swan Arr Shin, to crack down on peaceful pro-democracy protests against soaring fuel costs led by Buddhist monks. For this reason, there is some scepticism that the 2010 elections will be free and fair if the USDA runs as a political party.

The businessman explained that the people of Myanmar had lost faith in the electoral process: "The government really wants to go ahead with elections in 2010 because they have decided on that. I don't think people are interested in elections because they don't believe in elections."

In May, the referendum on a new military-backed constitution -- held in the wake of cyclone Nargis -- resulted in an official approval rate of 92 percent, a result derided by the National League for Democracy (NLD), which accused the regime of intimidating voters and vote rigging.

The NLD -- led by Aung San Suu Kyi -- won 392 out of 485 seats in the 1990 elections but the junta refused to yield power, insisting that a new constitution was needed before the handover could take place. Now that the new constitution is on its way, the military no longer cares about the past election results.

  • Date 10.07.2008
  • Author DW Staff 10/07/08
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  • Date 10.07.2008
  • Author DW Staff 10/07/08
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/LsBv