In Augusr 2003, Myanmar unveiled its “road map to democracy”—a plan to create what the generals call a "developed and discipline-flourishing democracy" which guaranteed the military 25 percent of the seats in Parliament and control of key cabinet posts, along with the right to suspend democratic freedoms at any time. The opposition call the “roadmap” process and the democracy itself a sham. The chief human rights investigator for the UN, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, said, "If you believe in gnomes, trolls and elves, you can believe in this democratic process in Myanmar.”

Myanmar’s military regime proposed a “road map” for reconciliation with the opposition. The terms of the road map were defined by the military regime. It called for drafting a constitution and placing it before a referendum. If approved the new constitution would form the basis for a “free and fair” parliament. At the time the regime said democracy was far away because the opposition “NLD failed to work hand-in-hand with the government.” Gen. Khin Nyunt—the former intelligence chief and prime minister who was purged in 2004—was the general who proposed a "roadmap to democracy” and other reforms. One his motives, one diplomat told the New York Times, "Khin Nyunt and those around him may have decided that it is time for Burma to re-enter the world. Not because they have to. Perhaps just because it is embarrassing for the generals to be such pariahs in the world."

The seven stages of “roadmap to democracy” were: 1) First Phase - To reassemble the National Convention, which had been suspended since 1996; 2) Second Phase - To implement step by step the requisite tasks for the founding of a democratic system when the National Convention has been successfully concluded; 3) Third Phase - To draw up a draft constitution based on the general concepts and detailed principles advocated by the National Convention; 4) Fourth Phase - To hold a national referendum in order to endorse the draft constitution; 5) Fifth Phase - To hold free and fair elections for the formation of the required national legislative bodies (Hluttaw); 6) Sixth Phase - To convene the meeting of elected representative to the Hluttaw; 7) Seventh Phase - The leaders, government and authoritative bodies elected by the Hluttaw to continue with the task of constructing a new democratic state. [Source: Wikipedia]

Myanmar Government Remains Repressive Despite Roadmap to Democracy

In August 2005, after a major purge and amidst a wave of repression, AFP reported: “The military government is now showing increasing signs of further centralising its power and tightening up its control in every respect,” said one local analyst. Diplomats have noted that Myanmar is making life more difficult for United Nations agencies in Yangon, as well as for non-governmental organizations...The junta is also returning its focus to implementing what it calls its seven-point “road map to democracy”. It has organized a series of public rallies at which military-sponsored groups as well as “reserve forces” such as war veterans roundly denounce “internal and external destructionists”, condemn international groups like the UN’s International Labor Organization, and back the military’s political agenda. Veteran Myanmar politician Win Naing said the junta is obsessed with its pursuit of the road map, which Western governments and the U.N. have dismissed as a sham. “The military authorities firmly believe that their long declared seven-point political road map is the only way out from their present predicament,” Win Naing told AFP. “They are therefore totally determined to go through with it, like it or not.”[Source: AFP, August 15, 2005]

On the junta insistence to sticks with "democracy roadmap" after the protests and crackdown in September 2007, Aung Hla Tun of Reuters wrote: “Myanmar supremo Than Shwe, leader of the ruling military, has vowed that the only path to political reform is via the junta's own "roadmap to democracy", which Western governments have dismissed as a sham. "We have declared a seven-step roadmap towards a democratic state," the Senior General said in a speech reported in official media. "The seven-step roadmap is the only means to smooth transition towards a new state." [Source: Reuters, Aung Hla Tun, November 17, 2007 ]

“His words suggest that any discussions about political reform with detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will have to take place within the framework of the junta's existing plan, which is now at stage three — writing a new constitution. Stage one — drawing up the outline of the charter — ended in September 2007 after a National Convention that first met 14 years ago, but which hit trouble when Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) refused to attend while she was under house arrest. A drafting commission of 54 people handpicked by the military has now been appointed and will hold their first meeting on Dec. 1. There has been no indication of how long they will take to complete their work.

“Western governments have dismissed the convention and its output as a blueprint for the army legitimising its grip on power after 45 years of unbroken military rule. Under the outlined charter, the head of the army will be the most powerful person in the country, with the ability to appoint key cabinet positions and suspend the constitution in the event of an emergency that he defines. Than Shwe described his government, which emerged in the early 1990s from the wreckage of late dictator Ne Win's rule, as a "transitive government of historical necessity which is undertaking a state transformation." "The road that we have been treading since 1988 till today was not a road of roses," Than Shwe was quoted as saying. "It was a rough road with internal and foreign political machinations, disturbances and obstacles that we had to overcome."

Myanmar’s Constitution Convention

Myanmar was without a constitution for two decades after 1988. Upon taking power in September 1988, the military-based State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) suspended the 1974 constitution. The SLORC called a constitutional convention in 1993, but it was suspended in 1996 when the National League for Democracy boycotted it, calling it undemocratic. It was held intermittently after that.

The military government's excuse for not holding elections through much of the 1990s and 2000s was the drafting of constitution, which it said needed the approval of all 135 ethnic groups to pass, a near impossible task, especially considering meeting were rarely conducted. In 1999, Lt. Col Hla Mon said that free election would be held in "two or three years" once the draft of constitution was finished. He said that 60 percent of the constitution had been discussed and working on it was continuing.

In May 2004, Myanmar reconvened the National Convention, without Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League of Democracy, to finish drafting the new constitution at a convention center about 40 kilometers north of Yangon. Two months of closed door discussions with 1,076 delegates were held. Most of the delegates were hand picked by the government. They included workers, businessmen and government employees. About 40 percent of them represented minorities. The government billed the meeting as the first stage towards restoring democracy on the “roadmap to democracy.” The opposition dismissed it as a sham. The National League of Democracy (NLD) refused to participate because of Suu Kyi’s detention.

The constitution convention was stopped in February 2005 and reopened in December 2005. The junta said that it wanted a large chunk of all the seats in the legislature to be reserved for the the armed forces and insisted on other measures that ensured its held on to power and the integrity of the state. “It’s a farce,” one 89-year-old retired government employee told AP. “I don’t have faith in the whole process, which is done for [the junta’s] own convenience, not for the good of the country. It’s obvious they are not sincere. Most of the delegates are not representative of the people.”

The junta adopted a policy of vagueness and foot-dragging. They said Aung San Suu Kyi would be released soon but never released her. They said a constitution would be put together soon but let the drafting convention drag on and on. Delegates who openly expressed their views faced potential arrest and imprisonment. Aung San Suu Kyi did not participate in the convention. Members of the NLP said they would not participate in the convention if it was conducted on the SPDC’s terms.

Myanmar's Constitutional Convention Create a “Charter for Thugocracy ”

The final session of the constitution convention started in July 2007. In September 2007, after 14 years, the constitution convention was finally completed, marking the completion of the first step on the seven-step “road map to democracy.” As before critics dismissed the whole endeavor a sham. About 1,000 delegates showed up at Nyaung-Hna-Pin convention center, about 45 kilometers north of Yangon, for the closing ceremony.

The Economist reported: After 14 years of intermittent meetings and tortured prevarication, a constitutional commission appointed by Myanmar's junta has come up with the document outlining the principles to underpin a new constitution which will give a thin democratic façade to continued military rule. At the closing session of the convention, Myanmar's acting prime minister, General Thein Sein, presented its conclusion, offering what the regime regards as “disciplined democracy”, as a roaring success” despite the fact that Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the main opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) were excluded from the process. So have the numerous groups representing ethnic insurgencies. [Source: The Economist, September 6, 2007 \]

Under the guidelines, a quarter of the seats in parliament will be reserved for military appointees. The president will be a military man, and the army will control important ministries, including defence and home affairs. The army would set its own budget, and would retain the right to declare a state of emergency and seize power whenever deemed necessary. The charter would ban Miss Suu Kyi, as the widow of a foreigner, from holding elected office. It has also disappointed the hopes of the country's various rebel ethnic groups for greater autonomy. On the pretext of “national security” the guidelines also severely curtail civil liberties and the rights of political parties. \\

Provisions of Myanmar’s New Constitution

Joshua Hammer wrote in The New Yorker: “The constitution created a civilian-dominated government, with a two-house Parliament that would meet at least once a year, and an elected head of state. Power remains vested in the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and his military council. Twenty-five per cent of parliamentary seats are set aside for military officers, and a seventy-five-per-cent-plus vote in Parliament is required to amend the constitution, meaning that the military can always veto proposed changes. Human rights are enumerated, but the constitution holds that, if circumstances require, the military can retake authority and those rights can be abrogated. [Source: Joshua Hammer, The New Yorker, January 24, 2011]

The constitution grants limited rights to freedom of religion. Article 34 states, “Every citizen is equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess and practice religion subject to public order, morality or health and to the other provisions of this Constitution.” Article 354 states that “every citizen shall be at liberty … if not contrary to the laws, enacted for Union security, prevalence of law and order, community peace and tranquility or public order and morality … to develop … [the] religion they profess and customs without prejudice to the relations between one national race and another or among national races and to other faiths.” [Source: U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor International Religious Freedom Report for 2011 ^]

The constitution does not transfer power to a civilian administration (key ministries remain in the hands of the military) or provide greater autonomy for Myanmar's 100-plus ethnic minorities. The army commander-in- chief will be the most powerful man in the country, able to appoint key ministers and assume power "in times of emergency." The military will hold 25 percent of the seats in the new parliament and hold veto power over its decisions.

Jared Genser wrote in the Los Angeles Times, the new constitution “provides the military, which is immune from prosecution, with the right to overturn any decision of the other branches of government. The leader of the military has the power to appoint one-quarter of both houses of parliament — all that is needed to veto any constitutional amendment. Perhaps most chilling is the constitution's establishment of a National Defense and Security Council, a vague institution that appears to be merely a new moniker for the State Peace and Development Council, otherwise known as the Burmese junta. [Source: Jared Genser, Los Angeles Times, October 25, 2010]

Opposition After the September 2007 Protests

In August and September 2007, there were large anti-government protests in Myanmar. The protests initially began over increased fuel prices and these evolved into larger demonstrations led by pro-democracy activists and Buddhist monks. Demonstrations led by Buddhist monks against the military junta brought 100,000 people into the streets of Yangon on September 24 calling for national reconciliation and the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. Two days later the junta began cracking down on the demonstrations. On September 27, soldiers and security forces fired automatic weapons into a crowd, killing perhaps dozens. Over 3,000 people were arrested. It was the strongest use of force since 1988, the event is sometimes called the Saffron Revolution because of the participation of saffron-robed monks.

A year after the protests, Kenneth Denby wrote in The Times, “Across the country, and principally in the cities of Rangoon, Mandalay and Sittwe, monks and lay activists are using mobile telephones and the internet to keep the spirit of opposition alive. Mass demonstrations, of the kind that so shook the Government a year ago, are almost out of the question – any public display of opposition would end in long imprisonment. Instead tiny, loosely linked groups of activists secretly perpetrate small, symbolic acts of defiance in anticipation of the moment when the opportunity to take to the streets will represent itself again. “It is impossible for us to demonstrate openly now because the security is too much,” Min Tun, the abbot of a monastery in Mandalay, told The Times. “But there will be opportunities and there will be demonstrations in the future. The Saffron Revolution is not finished.” [Source: Kenneth Denby, The Times, September 26, 2008]

The Venerable Min Tun (like the other Burmese activists in this report, his name has been changed) presents another example of the kind of action by which the Saffron revolutionaries sustain their morale. It is a simple sketch of a human hand inside a circle – it might represent a friendly wave, the raised palm of the Buddha or the hand of a traffic policeman. This is the symbol of the “stop campaign”, an emblem of peaceful resistance to the military regime. The stop sign has been printed on pamphlets scattered in the streets of Mandalay by night and sprayed on walls, above splashes of red paint that symbolise the blood shed by the regime. A young man named Lu Kar explained how he used a tiny stamp to imprint the symbol on the banknotes in the shop where he works. “The stop sign means stop torture, stop violence, stop injustice, and there are many people like me, making this mark on the banknotes,” he said. “Eventually, in a few months or a year, people will look at their money and start to notice.”

Increased oppression has forced the anti-junta resistance to extremes of ingenuity, and even wit. Stray dogs have been set loose with signs round their necks bearing the names of Senior General Than Shwe and his junta. Poets have published acrostic verses whose first letters spell out insulting messages about the generals. Ironically, it is the savageness of the economic suffering in Burma, and the cartoon-like crudity and brutality of its rulers, which give some in the democratic movement hope. “The demonstrations last year happened for a reason, because of underlying social and economic problems,” Maung Maung, an opposition journalist, said. “They have put people in prison and killed some, but those economic problems are still there.”

In the meantime the organising continues discreetly. Various opposition groups put out bulletins and statements but they are less like formal membership organisations than loosely linked networks of friends. The Venerable Min Tun explained that his group, the All Burma Monks Association, had a cell system whereby one monk remained in touch with four laymen so that when the momentum towards demonstrations reached a sufficient level they could be mobilised quickly.

In 2009, the Washington Post reported: “Activists and diplomats say the government has become more like a greedy mafia than an all-powerful military regime. And it appears increasingly shaky. "Living in any authoritarian country, while you're in the midst of it, it's hard to see that they'll ever cede power or go away — or anything," Villarosa said. "But actually, they cause their own destruction. And their foundations are rotting. "It's going to happen here," she added. "It's a question of time. None of these [regimes] go on forever. It is going to collapse. The foundations are getting weaker and weaker." [Source: Washington Post, August 24, 2009 ||||]

May 2008 Constitutional Referendum

In April, 2008, as one step on its long-promised “road map” to democracy, the dictatorship ratified a new constitution. The 194-page charter was on sale for $1 at private stalls and government bookstores and sold well. "Fifty copies sold like hot cakes in less than an hour," a roadside bookstall owner told Reuters. "I never thought our people would be so keen on the constitution."

Despite the Cyclone Nargis tragedy, the junta proceeded with its May 2008 constitutional referendum, the first vote in Burma since 1990. The military regime rejected United Nations suggestions that independent observers be allowed to monitor the referendum vote. Foreign media was not allowed into Myanmar to cover the vote either. There were reports of military agents standing watch over ballot boxes — and stuffing them — and threatening citizens with fines and prison sentences if they didn't vote the way the regime demanded.

Burma's army-drafted constitution was overwhelmingly approved (by 92.4 percent of the 22 million voters with alleged voter turnout of 99 percent) on May 10 in the first phase of a two-stage referendum amid Cyclone Nargis. The new charter paved the way for multi-party elections in 2010 that would end five decades of military rule while guaranteeing the military 25 percent of seats in parliament. NLD spokesman Nyan Win, condemned the vote, saying: "This referendum was full of cheating and fraud across the country; In some villages, authorities and polling station officials ticked the ballots themselves and did not let the voters do anything."

Myanmar Cracks Down on 'No' Campaign and Order Civil Servants to Vote “Yes”

A month before the constitution referendum, Reuters reported: “Burma's main opposition party urged that there be international observers of the May 10 constitutional referendum, saying its "No" campaigners were being assaulted and their materials seized in the run-up to the vote. "Local authorities are committing acts of suppression by trying to seize documents of the NLD and detain or interrogate township organizers, the National League for Democracy said a day after the junta-drafted charter was made public. [Source: Reuters April 10, 2008]

NLD spokesman Nyan Win told Reuters at least three NLD members were attacked by unknown assailants as they campaigned against the constitution in Yangon, the former Burma's biggest city. "For this reason, it is now obvious that the forthcoming referendum cannot be free and fair," the party's executive committee said in a statement demanding foreign observers, including from the United Nations.

Myanmar Information Minister Kyaw Hsaw promised last month the vote would be "free and fair," but he bluntly rejected offers of U.N. technical assistance and monitors.The junta, which tightly controls the media in Burma has urged the country's 53 million people to back the charter, an important step in the junta's seven-point "road map to democracy." The official New Light of Myanmar newspaper accused unnamed foreign governments of aiding the opposition to "destabilize the country" before the referendum. It said some foreign diplomats in Rangoon (Yangon) had visited NLD headquarters to "give directives to harm the interests of the nation and the people."

The junta has ordered civil servants to vote "yes" on the referendum and to persuade their family members to do so too. "We have been told we will have to vote in our offices," a government employee said. The junta has not publicly explained how the referendum will be run.

In early May news agencies reported: “Hundreds of government workers in Myanmar were forced to vote in favor of an army-drafted constitution in non-secret ballots, held more than a week before a May 10 referendum, some of the workers said. In one of the cases, about 700 employees in the Ministry of Electric Power-2’s Yangon office were forced to tick their ballot papers with local referendum officials observing, witnesses said. “We were all shocked and some people were furious but they couldn’t do anything,” said one of those present, who did not want to be identified for fear of recrimination. [Source: Agencies, May 3, 2008 )( ]

“They said those who wanted to vote ‘no’ had to hand in their resignation,” the worker said. Civil servants in government ministries in Naypyidaw, the new capital, also reported advance voting in which they were forced to endorse the charter. “They even told us to ensure that all our family members vote ‘yes.’ I’m really angry with myself because I couldn’t do anything,” said one of them, an educated middle-ranking officer. “I have to stick it out because of my family. I’ve never felt more humiliated in about 20 years service here. I really wish I had voted ‘no,’” he said. )(

Cyclone Nargis

In early May 2008, Burma was struck by Cyclone Nargis, which left over 138,000 dead and tens of thousands injured, and 2.5 million homeless. It was the worst natural disaster ever in Myanmar (Burma). Damage was estimated at over $10 billion, which made it the most damaging cyclone ever recorded in this basin. The Myanmar government estimated the storm completely destroyed 450,000 of 800,000 homes hit. Associated Press called it “Asia's answer to Hurricane Katrina”—except it was much more deadly.

Packing winds upwards of 195 kph (120 mph), Cyclone Nargis became one of Asia's deadliest storms by hitting land at one of the lowest points in Myanmar and setting off a storm surge that reached over 40 kilometers (25 miles) inland. Among the worst areas were Labutta, Bogale, Pyapon, Dedaye and Kyaiklat. More than 400,000 hectares of farmland were flooded with seawater and more than 200,000 drafts animals were killed in the Yangon and Irrawaddy areas. Before the storm hit this area produced 3.3 million tons of crops on 900,000 hectares of land in the monsoon season and 1 million tons of crops on 200,000 hectares in the summer. Initially some said that crops could only be raised on 40 percent of the damaged land and loses could clip two percent off Myanmar’s GDP for 2008 but after the disaster journalists reported that crops were raised in many places thought to be unable to produce crops.

Nargis was the deadliest named cyclone in the North Indian Ocean Basin, as well as the second deadliest named cyclone of all time, behind Typhoon Nina of 1975, in which 229,000 people died after the Banqiao Dam collapsed in China. Including unnamed storms like the 1970 Bhola cyclone, Nargis is the eighth deadliest cyclone of all time, but an uncertainty between the deaths caused by Nargis and those caused by other cyclones (like the 1991 Bangladesh cyclone), could put Nargis as seventh deadliest or higher, because the exact death toll is uncertain. Nargis was the first tropical cyclone to strike the country since Cyclone Mala made landfall in 2006, which was slightly stronger, but had a significantly lower impact. According to reports, Indian authorities had warned Burma about the danger that Cyclone Nargis posed 48 hours before it hit the country's coast. [Source: Wikipedia]

Myanmar’s Military Junta Blocks and Slows Nargis Aid and Relief

Alexander G. Higgins of Associated Press wrote: “As aid agencies awaited government clearance for more aid shipments, staff and transport, the U.N. said Myanmar's government seized two planeloads of food and supplies and would not let its experts into the country. The government said it had taken control of the supplies to distribute them itself. The U.N. always requires experienced aid workers to accompany relief supplies in every recipient country until they are delivered, officials said. "Those are the rules," said Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. "We have to be accountable to our donors in the states that paid for this assistance and we have to be transparent. We have to be sure the aid is reaching the victims." [Source: Alexander G. Higgins, Associated Press, May 9, 2008 /]

“Many relief agencies, including the Red Cross, were able to get a quick start on the operation because they already had operations in the country. But they have run into problems with slow government approval of new aid shipments and refusal to admit additional staff. Governments have sent their own planeloads of aid, but there was little sign of the shipments, Ladekarl said Friday after his arrival in Yangon, the country's largest city. "I got through an airport that normally would be full of emergency relief planes and a lot of relief. There was only one little plane," said Ladekarl, who already had a visa to visit Myanmar before the storm hit. /\

"We've seen the scale of the destruction and the suffering is huge," said Hugues Robert, head of Medecins Sans Frontieres emergency operations in Geneva. "But we will not be able to address these urgent needs without the necessary additional supplies and the arrival of more experienced emergency staff, particularly experts in water and sanitation." MSF, also known as Doctors Without Borders, had 40 foreign workers and 1,000 local volunteers in Myanmar before the cyclone, and they have all been redeployed to help in the recovery effort with the permission of national authorities, said Fred Baldini in the organization's Geneva office. "There has been no problem," he said. But MSF has not received visas for additional aid workers to arrive from abroad. /\

U Ko Ko wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “may victims refuse to be interviewed because government authorities are watching them. Some complain that aid, especially food, was being stolen by authorities. They claim officials distribute less than donors provide and that some have substituted good quality rice for poor quality rice.”

Top Myanmar Comic Given Prison Sentence of 59 Years over Cyclone Aid

In August 2008, Myanmar's most famous comedian was charged in a secret court, along with a sports writer and two activists, for delivering aid to survivors of deadly Cyclone Nargis, their lawyer said. AFP reported: The comedian, Zaganar, and sports writer Zaw Thet Htwe had been distributing aid to cyclone victims before their arrest, but authorities still have not revealed exactly why they were arrested. A 23-year-old activist, Tin Maung Aye, was charged with helping Zaganar, but the charges against the fourth activist, Thant Zain Aung, remained unclear, the lawyer said. [Source: AFP, August 8, 2008]

Jim Pollard wrote in The Nation: “Zarganar was a comedian, leader of the performing troupe Mya Ponnama Anyeint, which appeared regularly on television and was famous for ridiculing the government of General Ne Win. He was heavily involved in the relief work, organising hundreds of showbiz volunteers to deliver aid to rural areas. In interviews with foreign news media, including the BBC, he expressed his outrage at the junta's indifference to the people's suffering. The Special Branch Police swiftly descended, piling on charges including incitement and breaking media laws, and in November he was jailed for a staggering 59 years. There were two separate rulings, evidently aimed at silencing him forever. At least the first - the 59-year sentence - was so absurd that he was still able to joke about it. The second ruling, however, punished his family by transferring him to Myitkyina Jail in Kachin State, in the far north. Zarganar's term was later reduced to 35 years.” He was released in October 2011. [Source: Jim Pollard, The Nation, February 8, 2011]

Referendum 'Held' Despite Deadly Cyclone

Myanmar’s ruling junta decided go ahead with its constitutional referendum on May 10, 2008 in spite of the fact the country had been devastated by powerful cyclone Nargis, which left thousands dead. France 24 reported: Myanmar’s “official newspaper “New Light of Myanmar” confirmed that the referendum, the first of its kind after 18 years, would take place as planned. The decision angered a large part of the Burmese population. “We hardly have anything to eat, and they want to send us to vote!” exclaimed an irate Burmese citizen, affected by the cyclone, said. [Source: Cyril Payen, France 24, May 5, 2008 ::]

France 24 “qualifies the junta’s decision as “surrealist” at a time when “half the population is completely cut off from the world.” Furthermore, the junta is reported to have warned the population against abstention. The military said that “there should be at least one vote per home”, failing which the head of the family could face six months in prison. With a wind speed between 190 and 240 km/h, the cyclone hit Burma’s south-western coast before spreading eastward. The most severe damages were caused at the Irrawaddy coastline. Burma’s largest city Rangoon was also affected. ::

Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times, “In the midst of disaster, ballot boxes. As foreign aid groups bang on the door in an attempt to deliver disaster relief, the generals who run Myanmar have a priority of their own, a constitutional referendum. The constitution is central to the generals' political battle plans - "life and death" for the highest leaders, in the words of one Burmese analyst. "To approve the state constitution is the national duty of the entire people," the state-run New Light of Myanmar said in a front-page headline Friday. "Let us all cast 'yes' votes in the nation's interest," the newspaper declared. [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, May 9, 2008 ]

“One of the first official announcements after the cyclone struck, killing tens of thousands of people and leaving close to a million homeless, was that the referendum would proceed as planned. Since then, the government has relented a bit, postponing the vote for two weeks in 47 townships in the worst-hit areas, where some villages were obliterated by the storm. The junta's plan to go ahead with the vote while restricting the delivery of disaster aid from the United Nations and other relief agencies has drawn widespread criticism and amazement. Almost a week after the cyclone, Myanmar continued to block all but a trickle of foreign aid, barring large-scale deliveries by the World Food Program and other United Nations relief agencies.

“As one analyst noted, some of the same soldiers who could be rescuing survivors are likely to be dispatched instead to guard polling places and help carry out the balloting. "It is one of the best examples of the disregard for the people by the military," said the analyst, Josef Silverstein an expert on Myanmar at Rutgers University.

“As the generals see it, a constitution endorsed by a popular vote will give them formal legitimacy 20 years after the current junta seized power at a time of bloody massacre. The generals' determination to proceed with the referendum may come in part from the same source as their reluctance to allow in foreign aid workers: a fear of the outside world.If the aid workers are allowed into their closed and tightly ruled country, the generals fear, they could bring the contamination of foreign ideas and standards. If the constitution is postponed, they may feel, it will be a victory for outside elements who are trying to destabilize Myanmar.

Results of 2008 Constitutional Referendum

After the results from delayed referendum vote came from the areas hit by Cyclone Nargis, Reuters reported: Voters in cyclone-hit areas of Burma have overwhelmingly approved a constitution which critics say will perpetuate the military's decades-old grip on power, state radio said. The constitution was approved by a 92.4 percent vote in a referendum held in the Irrawaddy delta and Rangoon, also known as Yangon, on Saturday, the radio said. The turnout was 26.8 out of 27.4 million eligible voters, or 96 percent. The Saturday balloting was irrelevant since the main May 10 referendum had already approved the draft document by an identical 92.4 percent. Voting was postponed in areas hit by Cyclone Nargis. The junta says the constitution will pave the way for a general election in 2010. [Source: AP, May 26, 2008]

After the results of the main referendum vote were announced Associated Press reported: “Myanmar’s junta announced that a pro-military constitution has won overwhelming support in a referendum, which was held despite widespread criticism and in the midst of a national tragedy – a devastating cyclone that the Red Cross says may have killed more than 125,000 people. The document was approved by 92.4 percent of the 22 million eligible voters, said Aung Toe, head of the Referendum Holding Committee on state radio. He put voter turnout at more than 99 percent. [Source: AP. May 15, 2008]

Voting was postponed until May 24 in the Irrawaddy delta and Yangon areas, which were worst hit by Cyclone Nargis. But state radio said the results of the late balloting could not mathematically reverse the constitution’s approval. Myanmar’s government issued a revised casualty toll Wednesday night, saying 38,491 were known dead and 27,838 were missing.But the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said its estimate put the number of dead between 68,833 and 127,990.

Cyclone Nargis Helps Bring Democratic Reforms to Myanmar?

Thein Sein, the president of Myanmar credited with launching the astonishing political and economic reforms that dramatically changed and opened up the nation, may have been motivated to reform Myanmar by what he saw and experienced during the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis. Serving as prime minister at the time of the disaster, he was regime’s mouthpiece during Nargis and was noted for his callousness towards the Irrawaddy Delta, the region of his birth. While 2.4 million people struggled for survival he made a number of statements that thing were okay and the government had everything under control even though that was far from the case.

Commenting on what might have motivated Thein Sein to make the reforms he did, Thomas Fuller wrote in the New York Times: “One catalyst appears to have been Cyclone Nargis. The storm was Myanmar’s worst natural disaster, killing more than 130,000 people and transforming the fertile countryside of Mr. Thein Sein’s childhood into a landscape of flattened villages and rivers clogged with bloated bodies. At the time, Mr. Thein Sein was the leader of the military junta’s emergency response efforts. But as he crisscrossed the devastated Irrawaddy Delta in a helicopter, he saw how woefully unprepared his impoverished country was for the catastrophe. The cyclone became a “mental trigger,” said U Tin Maung Thann, the head of a research organization based in Yangon that provides policy advice to the president. “It made him realize the limitations of the old regime.” [Source: Thomas Fuller, New York Times, April 3, 2012 +]

“As the leader of the country’s preparedness committee, Mr. Thein Sein would have been partly to blame for the government’s failings. Critics were scathing about the decision to turn down foreign assistance in the distribution of food and other aid, a move that slowed the response as the world was captivated by images of haggard villagers desperate for help. But analysts pointed out that Mr. Thein Sein did at least make himself accessible to his people, unlike his fellow generals, who in the days immediately after the storm remained hunkered down in the capital, Naypyidaw, which was untouched by Nargis. +

2010 Sham Elections in Myanmar

A general election was held in Myanmar on November 7, 2010, in accordance with the new constitution which was approved in a referendum held in May 2008. The date of the election, was announced by the SPDC August. The general election was the fifth step of the seven-step "roadmap to democracy" proposed by Myanmar’s military regime (the State Peace and Development Council, SPDC) in 2003, the sixth and seventh steps being the convening of Myanmar’s parliament and establishment of democratic nation. Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) boycotted the election. The United Nations and Western countries condemned the elections as fraudulent.

The election was the first held in the former Burma since 1990, when the NLD won a multi-party vote rejected by the military.Thirty-seven parties contested places in the bicameral national parliament and 14 regional assemblies. A total of 498 seats in both houses of parliament were up for grabs in the 2010 election. A 224-member House of Nationalities has 168 elected candidates and 56 nominated by the military chief, while the 440-member House of Representatives has 330 elected civilians and 110 military representatives.

The elections themselves were deeply flawed. Jared Genser wrote in the Los Angeles Times, Suu Kyi and her more than 2,000 fellow political prisoners were prohibited from being candidates for office. The cost to register as a candidate exceeded the country's annual per capita GDP, and most attempting to register were turned down. As a kind of olive branch to the world, intended to quiet condemnation of the elections, the junta freed Aung San Suu Kyi on November 13, six days after the balloting was over.[Source: Jared Genser, Los Angeles Times, October 25, 2010]

Joshua Hammer wrote in The New Yorker, “The regime-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party handily won the November 7th elections through the manipulation of “advance votes”—ballots that had been distributed early to the sick and to those whose travel and work schedules prevented them from going to the polls on Election Day. The U.S.D.P. gained control of nearly eighty per cent of the seats in the new Parliament. [Source: Joshua Hammer, The New Yorker, January 24, 2011]

Patrick Winn wrote in Global Post: “Burma’s first parliamentary election in two decades was beyond skewed or manipulated. By most measures, it wasn’t an election at all. Many Burmese were handed ballots pre-marked with votes for the military junta’s aligned political entity, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, according to election monitors operating secretly inside the country. Villagers said polling booths were positioned so that officials could peek at voters’ choices. By mid-morning, voting was already closed in parts of Mandalay, Burma’s second-largest city, according to monitors with the Asian Network for Free Elections Foundation. The military-run government, monitors said, explained that 100 percent of votes were already cast. “This election is a joke,” said Somsri Han-Anuntasuk, the watchdog group’s director. “There are many layers of cheating and irregularity.” [Source: Patrick Winn, Global Post, November 8, 2010 +++]

“While votes were still being counted, violence broke out today between rebels and the military as thousands of refugees fled into Thailand, the Associated Press reported. Ethnic Karen rebels reportedly seized a police station and post office Sunday in Myawaddy and at least 10 people have been wounded. Rebels had warned recently that civil war could result if the military deprives them of their rights. In remote regions rife with anti-government guerrillas, voting was canceled outright. More than 24,000 villages — amounting to 5 percent of all eligible voters — were barred from the election, according to pro-democracy group AltSean. Citizens were also permitted to vote on behalf of family members or, in the case of local headmen, entire villages. In some areas, Somsri said, the government halfway constructed roads and bridges, agreeing to finish the sorely needed projects only if that ward voted for the military’s party. On top of all this the “military will fill one-fourth of the new parliament’s seats and control key ministries. Many of the political candidates are former senior officers. The army also retains the right to shut down parliament and take control by announcing an emergency situation. +++

“Barred from covering the election inside Burma, foreign journalists set up a monitoring center to share reports from candidates and monitors-in-hiding. A call from Andrew Heyn, stationed in the capital Rangoon (officially Yangon) as the United Kingdom’s Burma ambassador, suggested voters were just “going the motions of a process ... that’s predetermined.” “They’re feeling quite intimidated to vote for [military-aligned party] the USDP,” Heyn said. The ballots, he said, are numbered and traceable. “Authorities will know which ward and which areas have voted in which way.” Soldiers have warned of negative consequences in areas that vote for unfavorable parties or simply for not voting at all. +++

Background of the 2010 General Elections

The opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) had set a number of conditions for participating in the poll, including changes to the constitution to reduce the army's influence, international supervision for free and fair polls, and freeing all political prisoners including Suu Kyi. Senior General Than Shwe, leader of the ruling military junta, pledged to release political prisoners in an amnesty before the election. The NLD later announced they would not take part in the election due to the election laws.

Only 330 seats were contested as a quarter of the 440 parliament seats were reserved for military officials. People holding military positions were not permitted to contest the election. Twenty members of the junta, including Prime Minister Thein Sein, retired from their posts to participate in the election.

When the government announced that the elections would be held in 2010, Aung Hla Tun of Reuters reported: “People in Myanmar welcomed the military government's promise of multi-party elections in 2010 as an opportunity to be seized, despite deep skepticism from opposition politicians and abroad. "Just get on whatever horse you can catch. Then try to find better ones gradually," a retired professor said. Roadside food vendor Aung Min, 28, was positively excited. "I can't wait to vote in an election," he said. But, he added: "The most important is all major parties should be allowed to run in it." [Source: Aung Hla Tun. Reuters, February 10, 2008 /]

"We have achieved success in economic, social and other sectors and in restoring peace and stability," said the statement issued in the name of Secretary Number One Lieutenant-General Tin Aung Myint Oo, a top member of the junta. "So multi-party, democratic elections will be held in 2010." The NLD was skeptical, asking how the junta could set an election date before knowing the outcome of referendum scheduled in May a had to be approved before elctiosn could go forward. "I can't help but wonder how the referendum will be conducted," NLD spokesman Nyan Win said. The Burma Campaign UK, a pro-democracy group, dismissed the announcement as "public relations spin" and "nothing to do with democracy." /\

“But people in Yangon felt it was a positive development in a country that has seen little of those over the decades. "It's just like finding somewhere to live for the homeless. Of course it isn't the house of our choice, but it will give us some protection," a retired government officer said. "We can expect at least a coalition government. That's far better than now," he added. The retired professor said the NLD, which boycotted a national convention working out the principles for a "disciplined" democracy completed late in 2007 after 14 years, should run in the election. "If they boycott the election, we will have to wait another three or four decades in deadlock," he said. /\

Myanmar turned down offers from both ASEAN and the United Nations to send election observers insisting it had plenty of experience with elections. At an ASEAN meeting in October 2009. Myanmar's foreign minister promised his country would hold "free and fair" elections. "In my country free and fair elections will be held. We have already announced it," Myanmar foreign minister Nyan Win told reporters. "(Whether) the elections are free and fair or not, so far no one can judge it. After the elections will be held, you can judge whether the elections are free and fair or not." [Source: AFP, October 3, 2009]

New Election Laws Before the 2010 Election

The first of five election laws was announced in March 2010, concerning the creation of an election commission. The Union Election Commission Law states that the military government will appoint all members of the commission and have the final say over the election results. Members of the commission must be "an eminent person, to have integrity and experience, to be loyal to the state and its citizens". A 17-member election commission was later named, headed by a former military officer. [Source: Wikipedia +]

The second law bans anyone currently serving a prison term from belonging to a political party, and therefore over 2,000 political prisoners will not be able to participate. The Political Parties Registration Law also bars members of religious orders, members of insurgent groups 'as defined by the state' and foreigners from joining political parties. +

The election law said that political parties had 60 days to register with the Election Committee, whose members are to be appointed by the junta, after the law was enacted in March 2010. Parties were required to have at least 1,000 members to participate in the 2010 election. Existing parties had to register by May 6. There was no registration deadline for new political parties.

The other laws stipulate that anyone currently serving a prison term is barred from voting in the elections for the upper and lower houses. At the same time, the results of the 1990 elections were annulled as they did not comply with the new election laws. The new laws have been described as a "farce" by the Philippines and a "mockery" by the United States.

Election Law Bars Aung San Suu Kyi from Running in the 2010 Election

The United Nations, members of ASEAN and Western nations insisted that the 2010 parliamentary elections would not be credible unless Aung San Suu Kyi participated. Article 59F of the new constitution bans people who are married to foreign citizens from the Presidency. Some people claimed that this meant Aung San Suu Kyi was unable to run since she was married to a British citizen but since her husband was dead and she was no longer married to a foreigner it seemed to follow that she could not be barred on this basis. In August 2009, Suu Kyi was sentenced to house arrest for 18 months over a trespass incident and was not released until after the election was over. Another law banned anyone serving a prison term from belonging to a political party.

Associated Press reported: A new election law issued by Burma's ruling military has barred pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from joining a political party and thus running in upcoming elections, state-run newspapers said. The Political Parties Registration Law, published in official newspapers, excludes anyone convicted by a court of law from participating in the elections. Suu Kyi was convicted by a court in August 2009 of violating the terms of her house arrest. [Source: Associated Press, March 10, 2010 \/]

“Parties were also instructed to expel members who are “not in conformity with the qualification to be members of a party,” a clause that could force Ms. Suu Kyi’s expulsion. Parties that don’t register automatically cease to exist, the law says. Ms. Suu Kyi’s lawyer and a senior party member, Nyan Win, said the new law also bars people who have lodged an appeal against a conviction, which he said “clearly refers” to Ms. Suu Kyi. He declined to comment further, saying party members need to discuss the legislation first. \/

“It is very unfair that a party member serving a prison term for his or her political convictions has to be expelled from the party. This clause amounts to interfering in party internal affairs,” said Aung Thein, a lawyer who has defended activists in the country. He said the provision would exclude many pro-democracy individuals who have been imprisoned for their beliefs. Human rights groups say the junta has jailed about 2,100 political prisoners. \/

It was widely assumed that Ms. Suu Kyi would be shut out since a provision in the Constitution bars anyone with foreign ties from taking part in elections. Ms. Suu Kyi’s now-deceased husband was British, her two sons have British citizenship, and she has been described by the junta as enjoying special links with Britain. \/

Political Parties and the Elections in 2010

Forty parties were approved by the Electoral Commission to contest the November 2010 elections. Some of them were linked to ethnic minorities. Reuters estimated that six parties in total were allied to the government.

The Union Solidarity and Development party is linked with Myanmar’s ruling junta. Formally registered as a party in April 2010, it is head by Myanmar’s president Thein Sein, who resigned from military post when the party was registered. The Union Solidarity and Development Party was the successor to the mass organization Union Solidarity and Development Association, which claims to have around half the population as members.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), which overwhelmingly won the previous 1990 elections but were never allowed to take power, decided not to participate. Nonetheless, some senior members have formed the National Democratic Force to contest the elections, claiming that a boycott would play into the hands of the government. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Other parties included: 1) The National Unity Party, which contested the 1990 election as the main pro-government party and won 10 seats, has also registered to run; 2) The new Democratic Party, established by Mya Than Than Nu, the daughter of former Prime Minister of Burma, U Nu and Nay Ye Ba Swe, the daughter of former Prime Minister Ba Swe. +

Ethnic parties included: 1) a new party formed by members of a ceasefire group (Mon National Democratic Front, MNDF) and a party that won seats in the 1990 elections (the New Mon State Party, NMSP); and 2) The Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, a Shan political party that came second in the 1990 election was participating in the election as the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party; 3) Lahu National Development Party (LNDP); 4) Kokang Democracy and Unity Party (KDUP); 5) Pa-Oh National Organisation (PNO); 6) Democratic Party (Burma) (DPM); ) Kayan National Party (KNP); 7) Rakhine State National Force of Myanmar (RSNF); ) Kayin People's Party (KPP); 8) Wa National Unity Party (WNUP); 9) Union of Karen/Kayin League (UKL); 10) Taaung (Palaung) National Party (TPNP); 11) Chin Progressive Party (CPP); 12) Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP); 13) Wa Democratic Party (WDP); 14) Unity and Democracy Party of Kachin State (UDPKS). +

Contesting political parties; 1) Mro or Khami National Solidarity Organization (MKNSO); 2) National Unity Party (NUP); 3) Lahu National Development Party (LNDP); 4) Kokang Democracy and Unity Party (KDUP); 5) Pa-Oh National Organisation (PNO); 6) Democratic Party (Burma) (DPM); 7) Kayan National Party (KNP); 8) Rakhine State National Force of Myanmar (RSNF); 9) Kayin People's Party (KPP); 10) Wa National Unity Party (WNUP); 11) Union of Karen/Kayin League (UKL); 12) Taaung (Palaung) National Party (TPNP); 13) All Mon Region Democracy Party (AMRDP); 14) Democracy and Peace Party (DPP); 15) Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP); 16) United Democratic Party (United DP); 17) 888 Generation Student Youths (Union of Myanmar, 8GSY); 18) Union of Myanmar Federation of National Politics (UMNPF); 19) National Political Alliances League (NPAL); 20) Democratic Party for Myanmar New Society (DPMNS); 21) Chin National Party (CNP); 22) Wuntharnu NLD (Union of Myanmar, WNLD); 23) Modern People Party (MPP); 24) Union Democratic Party (UnionDP); 25) Peace and Diversity Party (PDP);26) Chin Progressive Party (CPP); 27) Inn National Progressive Party (INPP); 28) Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP); 29) Wa Democratic Party (WDP); 30) Phalon-Sawaw Democratic Party (PSDP); 31) National Democratic Party for Development (NDPD); 32) Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP); 33) Ethnic National Development Party (ENDP); 34) Myanmar Democracy Congress (MDC); 35) Mro National Party (MNP); 36) Kaman National Progressive Party (KNPP); 37) Khami National Development Party (KNDP); 38) National Democratic Force (NDF); 39) Regional Development Party (Pyay, RDPP); 40) Unity and Democracy Party of Kachin State (UDPKS). +

Aung San Suu Kyi’s Pary Boycotts Election After Being Forced to Dissolve

Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League of Democracy (NLD) was dissolved before the November 2010 election under a controversial law that required it to oust Aung San Suu Kyi in order to participate in the elections. The party It was automatically disbanded for failing to register for the polls by a May 6 deadline. The NLD filed petitions to annul the election law but to no avail. Suu Kyi was not allowed to participate in the election.

In March 2010, AFP reported: “The opposition party led by Aung San Suu Kyi said it would boycott the November 2010 polls after the country’s military rulers introduced a controversial new election law. The National League For Democracy decided at a party meeting to refuse to register for the first polls to be held in two decades, a move that would have forced it to oust its detained leader and recognise the junta’s constitution. But the NLD now faces dissolution in less than six weeks for failing to register, according to the new legislation. [Source: AFP, March 30, 2010 ]

‘‘The National League for Democracy has decided not to register the party,’’ party spokesman Nyan Win said after a meeting of more than 100 senior members at NLD headquarters in the economic hub Rangoon. Under the internationally criticised election legislation, if the party had decided to sign up for the vote it would have been forced to part with Ms Suu Kyi because she is serving a prison term. Burma’s election legislation nullifies the result of the last polls held in 1990 that were won by the NLD by a landslide but never recognised by the junta. If the party had registered it would have been forced to recognise that decision. Suu Kyi said she would never accept her party registering because the laws are ‘‘unjust’’. But she said the party should decide ‘‘democratically’’, according to Nyan Win, who is also Ms Suu Kyi’s lawyer.

Ahead of the party decision, Nyan Win had signalled his personal opposition to signing up for the vote. ‘‘If we register, it would mean the NLD is doing everything the junta asks it to do. The NLD is working for free democracy. So we cannot accept what the government is asking,’’ he said. Burma political analyst and pro-democracy activist Win Min said the party — which Ms Suu Kyi helped found in 1988 after a popular uprising against the military government — would now essentially disappear. ‘‘The party, under its current name, might not officially exist after the May 6 deadline,’’ Ms Win Min said. ‘‘It was very hard for the NLD members to exclude her because she is a very influential figure in the party and in the country.’’ In all, 115 party representatives attended the meeting as dozens of rank-and-file members gathered outside amid tight security, some wearing white tops bearing the slogan: We believe Aung San Suu Kyi. ‘‘We have sacrificed our life for 20 years and finally we have to give up like this. So you can imagine how we feel in our hearts,’’ said Nann Khin Htwe Mying, a senior NLD member who arrived for the talks from eastern Karen state.

Some senior members of the NLD formed the National Democratic Force to contest the elections, claiming that a boycott would play into the hands of the government. Associated Press reported: “A new party formed by renegade members of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's disbanded party has received a permit to participate in Myanmar's first elections in two decades, state media reported. The National Democratic Force will join other new political parties and five existing groups in contesting the elections, the state-run Myanma Ahlin newspaper reported. [Source: AP, July 10, 2010 +++]

“Suu Kyi has expressed dissatisfaction through her lawyer over the formation of the new breakaway party, led by Khin Maung Swe. Members of her disbanded party have accused the National Democratic Force of stealing their party symbol, a bamboo hat, in order to win votes. Khin Maung Swe said the NDF's symbol is not the same because it has two stars above the hat. He said the party will continue the "struggle for democracy," but gave no further policy details.

Voting in Myanmar’s 2010 Elections

On the voting during Myanmar’s 2010 parliamentary elections,Tim Johnston wrote in The Financial Times, “The Burmese voted for the first time in 20 years...There was little evidence of enthusiasm among voters for a deeply flawed process that critics say is designed to entrench the military's 48-year grip on power. Several Rangoon residents said it felt like a normal Sunday in the city, only quieter. "You would have expected that had the campaign been run in a proper free and fair way, there would be a real sense of anticipation and excitement on the ground," said Andrew Heyn, the British ambassador in Rangoon, who visited polling stations Sunday morning. "The reality is that we are not seeing that at all," Heyn said. "There is a sense that people are going through the motions of the process with a presumption that the outcome is predetermined." [Source: Tim Johnston, Financial Times, Washington Post, November 8, 2010]

Aung San Suu Kyi declined to vote.Burmese authorities barred most international monitors and journalists. A group of diplomats invited by the government to observe the process in the central city of Mandalay was led by the North Korean ambassador. The elections have been criticized by the United States and the international community. "The elections were based on a fundamentally flawed process and demonstrated the regime's continued preference for repression and restriction over inclusion and transparency," President Obama told an audience in India.

NBC News, AP and Reuters reported: “Myanmar held its first election in 20 years under tight security, a scripted vote that assures army-backed parties an easy win but brings a hint of parliamentary politics to one of Asia's most oppressed states. While it remained unclear when results would be announced — officials would only say they would come "in time" — there was little doubt that the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party would emerge with an enormous share of the parliamentary seats, despite widespread popular opposition to 48 years of military rule. [Source: NBC News, AP, Reuters, November 7, 2010 **]

“Low turnout and fraud charges marred voting nationwide. Many doubted their ballot would alter the authoritarian status quo. Some packed Yangon's pagodas instead of voting. In Haka, capital of Chin state bordering India and Bangladesh, more people attended church than cast ballots, witnesses said. "We're falling asleep," said a polling station official in Bahan Township in the commercial capital Yangon. "Ward officials are still urging the people to vote." Many voters said they simply wanted to cast their votes against the junta's politicians. "I cannot stay home and do nothing," said Yi Yi, a 45-year-old computer technician in Yangon, the country's largest city. "I have to go out and vote against USDP. That's how I will defy them (the junta)." **

“Armed riot police stood guard at polling booths or patrolled streets in military trucks in Yangon, part of a security clampdown that includes bans on foreign media and outside election monitors, and a tightening in state censorship. The Internet was barely functioning, hit by repeated failures widely believed to have been orchestrated by the junta to control information. Power failures also hampered early turnout. Suu Kyi urged a boycott of this poll, saying she "would not dream" of taking part.” **

The junta's political juggernaut, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), is fielding 27 incumbent ministers. Closely aligned with supreme leader Senior General Than Shwe, it is top-heavy with recently retired generals. It is contesting all the estimated 1,158 seats up for grabs. Its only real rival, the National Unity Party (NUP), is also backed by the army and running in 980 seats.

Obstacles for the Opposition and Voting Irregularities in Myanmar’s 2010 Elections

Tim Johnston wrote in The Financial Times, “ Opposition parties have struggled to overcome a series of constitutional and regulatory hurdles to get to Sunday's vote. Although there have been rumors of irregularities elsewhere in the country, observers said there was little sign of overt intimidation Sunday to vote for the pro-junta parties in Rangoon. The opposition, cowed by years of repression and hampered by exorbitant registration fees and other regulatory hindrances, was able to field candidates in less than half the available constituencies. The National Democratic Force fielded candidates in just 159 of the 1,157 constituencies. [Source: Tim Johnston, Financial Times, Washington Post, November 8, 2010]

NBC News, AP and Reuters reported: “Election rules were clearly written to benefit the USDP, with hundreds of potential opposition candidates — including pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi— under house arrest or in prison. Many other potential candidates in the poverty-wracked nation were simply unable to raise the $500 registration fee. Thirty-seven parties are contesting places in a bicameral national parliament and 14 regional assemblies. Except for the USDP and NUP, none has enough candidates to win any real stake due to restrictions such as high fees for each candidate. [Source: NBC News, AP, Reuters, November 7, 2010 **]

“But even with a predictable outcome, the army appears to be taking no chances. At least six parties lodged complaints with the election commission, claiming state workers were forced to vote for the USDP in advance balloting. In Yangon, many voters turned up to vote only to find their names not on electoral rolls, said Zaw Aye Maung, a candidate for the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party, the second-largest of 22 ethnic-based parties. Hundreds of Rohingyas, a stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar, were given identification cards in Yangon and the right to vote in exchange for backing the USDP, he added. Some voters who asked officials for assistance at ballot booths were told to tick the box of the USDP, witnesses said. The National Democratic Force (NDF), the largest pro-democracy party, accused the USDP of "widespread fraud." For many people in Myanmar, the election brought little but fear. "I voted for (Suu Kyi's party) in 1990. This is my second time to vote," said a 60-year-old man in Yangon, Tin Aung, when asked which party he had voted for.He then looked around and added: "I am really scared." **

“The regime has also been criticized for its brutal treatment of ethnic minorities seeking greater autonomy. In the wake of rising tension before the election, the junta canceled voting in 3,400 villages in ethnic minority areas and has increased its military presence in the countryside. About 1.5 million of the country's 59 million people have thus been disenfranchised. Some ethnic minority groups, like the Karen, have been fighting the government since the country gained independence from Great Britain in 1948. Others, including the powerful Wa and Kachin, had forged cease-fire agreements that now appear in jeopardy amid fears that the constitution activated by the elections would quash their hopes for a federal system. "We fear an increase in violence in many parts of Burma after the election and more refugees fleeing to the border with Thailand. There will be no change, no end to suffering, for the people on the ground," said Charm Tong, an exiled activist from the Shan minority. **

AFP reported: “Opposition parties have complained about widespread reports of irregularities, particularly with advance ballots. "Officials need to take action against vote cheating," Than Nyein, chairman of the National Democratic Force (NDF), told AFP. Thu Wai, chairman of the Democratic Party, said that when people were allowed to vote freely they had supported his party. "But they have won with advance votes. We cannot do anything," he said...Clashes between government troops and ethnic minority soldiers on Monday triggered an exodus of about 20,000 people to neighbouring Thailand. At least three civilians were killed when heavy weapons fire hit the town of Myawaddy in Karen State, an official in Myanmar said. [Source: AFP, November 9 2010]

Results of 2010 Elections

After the voting in early November 2010 it remained unclear when results would be announced. Officials would only say they would come "in time." As of early December they still had not been announced. At that time AFP reported: Turnout in Myanmar's first election in 20 years was about 77 percent, state media in the military-ruled country reported despite muted activity seen at polling stations. More than 22 million of Myanmar's roughly 29 million eligible voters cast ballots for national candidates in the November 7 poll, according to the New Light of Myanmar, a mouthpiece for the junta. The authorities have not yet announced a final overall tally of the results, but the main army-backed party has claimed an overwhelming victory with about 80 percent of available seats. [Source: AFP, December 8, 2010 +=+]

“One quarter of the places in parliament were already reserved for the military, which together with its political proxy looks set to have a comfortable majority for passing laws and electing the president. Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party was disbanded for boycotting the November 7 vote in response to rules that seemed designed to bar the Nobel Peace Prize winner from taking part.” +=+

A total of 168 of the 224 seats in the Amyotha Hluttaw (House of Nationalities) were up for election. The remaining 56 seats (25 percent) were not elected, and instead reserved for military appointees (taken from Defense Services personnel, technically called Army Representatives, AR). Results for the Amyotha Hluttaw (Party, Seats, Net Gain/Loss, Seats percent, Votes percent, Votes, +/-): 1) Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the junta-backed party: 129, 57.59; 2) Appointed: 56, +56, 25.00, -, -, +56; 3) Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP), an ethnic party: 7, 3.13, 263,678; 4) National Unity Party (NUP), a party linked with the military and former dictator Ne Win: 5, 2.23, 4,302,082; 5) National Democratic Force (NDF),formed by members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD: 4, 1.79, 1,488,543; 5) Chin Progressive Party (CPP), an ethnic party: 4, 1.79, 86,211; 6) All Mon Region Democracy Party (AMRDP), an ethnic party: 4, 1.79, 172,806; 7) Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP), an ethnic party: 3, 1.33, 496,039; 8) Phalon-Sawaw Democratic Party (PSDP): 3, 1.33, 77,825; 9) Chin National Party (CNP): 2, 0.89, 37,450; 10) Others, 7, 3.13. Total, 224, 100. +

A total of 330 of the 440 seats in the Pyithu Hluttaw (House of Representatives) were up for election. The remaining 110 seats (25 percent) were not elected, and instead reserved for military appointees (taken from Defense Services personnel, technically called Army Representatives (AR). Results for the Pyithu Hluttaw Party (Seats, Net Gain/Loss, Seats percent, Votes percent, Votes, +/-): 1) 1) Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the junta-backed party: 259, 58.86, 56.76, 11,858,125; 2) Appointed: 110, +110, 25.00, -, -, +110; 3) Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP), an ethnic party: 18, 4.09, 2.44, 508,780; 4) National Unity Party (NUP), a party linked with the military and former dictator Ne Win: 12, 2.73, 19.44, 4,060,802; 5) Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP), an ethnic party: 9, 2.05, 2.87, 599,008; 6) National Democratic Force (NDF), formed by members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD: 8, 1.82, 7.10, 1,483,329; 7) All Mon Region Democracy Party (AMRDP), an ethnic party: 3, 0.68, 0.80, 167,928; 8) Pa-Oh National Organisation (PNO): 3, 0.68; 9) Chin National Party (CNP): 2, 0.45, 0.17, 36,098; 10) Chin Progressive Party (CPP), an ethnic party: 2, 0.45, 0.36, 76,463; 11) Phalon-Sawaw Democratic Party (PSDP): 2, 0.45, 0.39, 82,038; 12) Wa Democratic Party (WDP), an ethnic party: 2, 0.45, 0.13, 27,546; 13) Others, 10, 2.29, 9.54, 1,992,590. Total, 440, 100, 100, 20,892,707. +

AFP reported: “The Myanmar military's political proxy claimed an overwhelming victory. "We have won about 80 percent of the seats. We are glad," said a senior USDP member who did not want to be named. The vote appeared to have gone largely according to the junta's plans. In many constituencies the poll was a two-way battle between the USDP and the National Unity Party (NUP), which is the successor to late dictator Ne Win's party and also closely aligned with the military. [Source: AFP, November 9 2010]

Reuters reported: “Stacked with recently retired generals and closely aligned with the 77-year-old paramount leader, Senior General Than Shwe, the USDP took as many as 80 percent of the available seats for parliament, a senior party official told Reuters. But Khin Maung Swe, the leader of the largest opposition party, the National Democratic Force, told Reuters: "We took the lead at the beginning but the USDP later came up with so-called advance votes and that changed the results completely, so we lost." The second-largest pro-democracy party, the Democratic Party (Burma), also conceded defeat. "I admit defeat but it was not fair play. It was full of malpractice and fraud and we will try to expose them and tell the people," said the party leader, Thu Wai. At least six parties have lodged complaints with the election commission, accusing the USDP of fraud – a charge that is unlikely to gain traction in a country where more than 2,100 political activists are in jail. [Source: Reuters, November 9, 2010]

Analysis of Myanmar’s 2010 Elections

Tim Johnston wrote in The Financial Times, “Many analysts believe that even if the result is a foregone conclusion, any process that leads to a dilution of military control presents the best opportunity for progress in years. "There may be slightly more political space if the other parties win some seats," said Donna Guest, the deputy director of Amnesty International's Asia program and a longtime Burma watcher. The junta refers to the country as Myanmar. "The cynical interpretation is that it's 'job done' in that regard," Heyn said. He said that many voters were nervous that authorities would be able to track their votes and were worried about the consequences should they be found to have voted for the opposition.” [Source: Tim Johnston, Financial Times, Washington Post, November 8, 2010]

NBC News, AP and Reuters reported: “Despite the storm of criticism, some voters and experts on Myanmar said the election could herald a modicum of change from the decades of iron-fisted rule and gross economic mismanagement of the resource-rich nation. "The elections, for all their farcical elements, have already achieved something: Burmese people are listening and talking more about politics than they have for a long time," said Monique Skidmore of the Australian National University. "It seems likely that the very small public political space will be widened and this is probably the best outcome we can hope for from the election." Optimists say even a handful of opposition parliamentarians could allow for limited government oversight, and possibly pave the way for more political change in the years to come. [Source: NBC News, AP, Reuters, November 7, 2010 **]

But while the NUP and USDP are both conservative and authoritarian, they may pursue opposing social and economic policies in parliament, ultimately fostering greater democratic debate in a country where an estimated 2,100 political activists and opposition politicians are behind bars, diplomats said. An unexpectedly large vote for the NUP could also be seen as a subtle jab against Than Shwe, as it is thought to be closer to a different faction in the army. "They are not of the same machinery," a Western diplomat said of the two dominant parties, citing tensions between the two on the campaign trail. "The USDP is very much the regime's party while the NUP has a longer legacy," he added, referring to its founding under the rule of late dictator Ne Win. **

Simon Montlake wrote in the Christian Science Monitor: Khin Maung Shwe, an official in the National Democratic Force, a breakaway NLD group that won 16 parliamentary seats, admitted that the gains were small but said that an election boycott served no purpose. He said his party would propose new laws and try to build alliances with like-minded lawmakers. “We have to be patient,” he says by phone from Rangoon. [Source: Simon Montlake, Christian Science Monitor, January 31, 2011 =]

AFP reported: “Myanmar's southeast Asian neighbours welcomed the poll as a "significant step forward". "ASEAN encourages Myanmar to continue to accelerate the process of national reconciliation and democratisation, for stability and development in the country," chair Vietnam said in a statement. [Source: AFP, November 9 2010]

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Travel Information Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy,,, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

Last updated May 2014

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