Gordon Brown’s comments on the Burmese elections
Wednesday 17 November 2010
Burma needs our voice (Sunday 31 October 2010)
Next Sunday, 7 November, had the potential to be a truly great day. The first Burmese elections since 1990 should have seen grassroots and civilian candidates compete in free elections, as 60 million citizens finally threw off a brutal military dictatorship in front of international observers and the global media.
Instead next weekend’s poll will be a masquerade. Aung San Suu Kyi – the one person who in half a century has been democratically elected in Burma – has been prevented from standing for re-election on the specious grounds that her late husband was not Burmese, and her party, the National League for Democracy, has been forcibly dissolved.
It is a "democratic election" where a third of the seats have been reserved for the military. In addition, 40 "civilian candidates" of the Union Solidarity and Development party – the junta’s party – are senior military officers who resigned from the army a few weeks ago in order to stand. No foreign observers are allowed, foreign reporting is banned and there is no opposition party on the ballot paper because what is left of the NLD has chosen to boycott a rigged contest.
Twenty years ago, when Suu Kyi won a landslide majority of 392 out of 492 seats, the same military junta that governs today refused to accept the result and imprisoned the victors. The National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, Burma’s democratic government in exile, works to remind the world of the MPs elected in 1990 who are now dead, in prison or in exile.
But Suu Kyi has not only been barred from taking office and from the contest to reaffirm her status as the choice of the Burmese people, she has been in prison or under house arrest for 14 of the past 20 years. Some of those were spent in solitary confinement, denied the chance to receive visits from her sons and her beloved husband Michael Aris, even when he was dying of cancer. She is not alone in suffering. Win Tin, a senior NLD politician, spent 19 years in prison; Min Ko Naing, chair of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions, 15 years; party chairman Tin Oo has just been released after seven years.
It is impossible not to weep over the fate of Burma. It is a country that, in the latter days of the second world war, resisted the Japanese. Yet its first democratically elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, who negotiated Burma’s independence from Britain in 1947, was assassinated at the age of only 32 as the army took power in a bloody coup. It is the country that brutally repressed Buddhist monks when they spoke out. It is also the country where more than 130,000 people were allowed to die two years ago when the regime initially shunned external aid after severe flooding. Even as the election campaign takes place, people are suffering from flooding as not enough help is getting through.
While the election will not be fair, it should alert the world to Burma’s plight. I first became involved in the campaign for Suu Kyi’s release in the 1990s after arranging to meet her husband, then a professor at Oxford, and offering to do what I could to help. In my book of essays, Courage, I singled her out as the world’s bravest prisoner of conscience after Nelson Mandela. I was pleased that we screened the film Burma VJ in Downing Street to highlight the risks dissenters face.
But the time has come for us all to do more. We must ensure there is no reduction in sanctions against the regime and think how we can each contribute to raising the profile of this gravest of injustices. Aung San Suu Kyi should be released immediately but while she is denied a voice, we must each give ours.
Source: The Guardian