Sunday, November 14, 2010

Burma's chance

Washington Post
November 14, 2010

It tells you a lot about Burma that of two ostensibly historic events last week - its first national election in 20 years and the release from house arrest of Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi - the one that captured the world's attention, and has the potential to put the nation on a more positive path, was not the election.

In turn, it tells you just about everything you need to know about the election that the observer mission was led by North Korean diplomats. Burma (also known as Myanmar), a Southeast Asian nation of 50 million people, is rivaled in Asia only by North Korea for the repressiveness of its regime and the contrast between the wretched poverty of its population and the isolated splendor of its rulers' lives. When the regime allowed a free election in 1990, the overwhelming winner was the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi, who even then was under house arrest. The generals ignored the results and jailed many of the winners.

No doubt Burmese leader Than Shwe hoped that last week's election would erase, finally, the memory of that 1990 poll. But the vote was so rigged, it had the opposite effect. Rules were written so that, no matter how people voted, the military would retain control; but even so, the regime could not resist Election Day intimidation and ballot-box stuffing. So it remains as true as ever that the only players with claim to political legitimacy are the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi.