My country, Burma, just held the first election in 20 years last Sunday. The last time was in 1990 where the opposition party, National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi, who is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, had a big victory over the government’s party, but the military government did not recognize the results and shamelessly remained seated in power. At that time, I was young – just in the second grade. My eldest brother was just 16 years old. My parents were active supporters to the NLD party. Our home served as the NLD (unofficial) office for our village. The whole family campaigned for the party, organized and hosted for the party’s township representatives’ campaign trips to the villages nearby. Even me, as a then second grader, was given some tasks by my parents to work for the party. My main responsibility was to campaign, on behalf of my parents, elderly people and disable persons, who are going to give advanced votes, to make sure they correctly know how to vote, how to ask the vote collectors to vote for the party they wish for so that the collectors (most of them were the government’s people) could not cheat them.
So, since a couple months before the elections, to request them to vote for the NLD, every evening after dark, I often joined my parents or, sometimes, I had to visit alone around the village on my little bike – carrying my school bag in which there were the party’s statements, the copies of the candidates’ speeches, and some newsletters about the party, people can read them, if they are interested in. I also carried stamps and the sample copies of ballot templates – to demonstrate them how to vote. My parents had the reasons to ask me to do this – elderly persons and disables have less/little information about the parties. They tend to vote to anyone’s party they know. Even though there were relatively a more ‘fair and free’ atmosphere in 1990, compared to the 2010 elections, there were still some restrictions for the campaigners especially the adults like my parents have some restriction for an access to the voters.
As a kid, I could visit around more freely than my parents could do. Personally, I was a very active and playful kid, usually speak passionately, had been very aware about the party’s news and campaign’ strategies (even though I did not have much knowledge about the party’s policies) since I went along with my parents all the time. And plus, I memorized by heart and could recite almost all the ‘then hit’ speeches of the NLD party leaders. Out of the cuteness, my door to door visits were welcomed. Many people who knew well about us even requested my parents to send the party’ updated news with me – “Send Pauk Pauk (which is my nickname) to our home this evening” is like a secret code for them – to say “Feed us with some updates about the party.”
On the day of the election, we were at the gate of the voting place early morning before the sunrise. My siblings and I with other kids did a bit cheated plan by making a long hand chain and standing right in front of the gate so that the NLD party supporters could go into the polls first. Because, we wanted the ‘sure’ NLD supporters could go in and cast their ballots first than anybody else.
My elder brother and sister could not stop saying about their underage required to vote – “Mom, you should have given birth us a couple of years earlier so that we would be legal age to cast our vote for the party.” Not just my brother, I even wish so badly to turn to 18 at that time. When the vote counting started, the compound of the voting place was locked up and we could not see it inside since the fencing of the compound was a bit higher than people’s height. My brother put me on his shoulders to be able to see inside and asked me to check if they correctly counted. We, pin-size kids, also were very handy to our busy parents and other senior party members as possible as we could. The whole election was indeed a very nervous and exhausting process, however, the result turned out so good that the NLD party got a majority of the votes in our village as well.
However, since then, the whole nation was asked to leave the results alone, move on, and turn the page. The whole country got betrayed. At the world ruled by forces, not by justice, it was not so much surprised to see an authoritarian government could turn gold into trash, and vise versa without necessarily having some extraordinary alchemy.
Twenty years after they made the golden results of the people’s votes in the 1990 elections turned into a useless one, the government just held another election yesterday – however, it was more like the contemporary alchemists’ attempts to turn trash into gold.
Previously, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which is one of the major party in the 2010 election, was turned into the military regime’s proxy political party from a social organization with the same name, funded by the government, where all the government senior officials served as the heads of the organization and all the country’s civil servants were forced to enter into the association as the members. Even at some point, there was an unwritten policy that it was “a must” for all the secondary and high school students in public schools to be the members of the association. Students were forced to wear the association’s uniforms in any events and ceremonies of the schools. One of my cousin sisters got the top second in the country at the high school. She and all other top-ten students were invited to attend some national educational events and ceremonies. However, she was discriminated for refusing to wear the association’s trademark pin on her blouse – like placing her on behind seats. And my elder sister was a public school teacher. She was asked to be a member of the association as a prerequisite to apply for the job. (I am just mentioning all these things to let you understand how they recruit and how they discriminate against the non-association members.)
The association always announced they had millions of members. That was somehow true because millions of people were forced to be in for various reasons. However, nobody, apart from the people ‘with purposes’, was active in the association which carried out only the government’s propaganda activities. The association has been notorious for its members who are outlaws with thuggish behaviors– many of them come with previous criminal records or they are currently involved in any illegal form of businesses. Those members use the association as an umbrella to hide their wrongful activities from the legal framework, and the association and the regime also had its own purposes to keep them as the members and turned a blind eye on their illegal activities.
Since many years back then – long before the government set the so called democracy roadmap, ‘Seven Steps Road Map to Democracy’, the government’s plan to turn the non-governmental association into a political party has been well predicted. However, the news was unwrapped until the regime made their newly designed constitution and the regime forcefully asked people approved through the nation wide referendum in which the government forced people ‘yes’ votes to adopt it. The new constitutions barred Aung San Suu Kyi from seeking the position in the future government and any political parties failed to register in the coming election were disbanded. The NLD party who refused to register, after boycotting the government’s 2010 election, could no longer stand as a political party.
Several months before the election, the USDA organization was officially announced as the government’s proxy political party. It was literally thugs turning into to political leaders in the future government of post-election Myanmar (Burma). Moreover, during the early months of this year, all the senior military officials including the current Prime Minister and many other ministers, who all recently resigned from their military posts and quickly changed from the army uniforms into civilian clothes on, came out as the NGO-turned political party’s candidates to contest in this year elections.
The regime shamelessly attempted to cheat and to use all kinds of unfair and cheating strategies to make sure a ‘must win’ by all means in the election. The junta did not announce the election date until the very last minutes – in order to make all opposition parties get less time to organize campaigns and to raise funds for the party. All of the opposition parties had been out matched with the government’s proxy party in terms of finance and number of the candidates they could have. And the USDP secured an automatic win in many areas simply because there are no contestants from any other parties. Moreover, the junta forced all the civil servants and their family members, soldiers in armies, navy, and air forces to vote only for the government’s party. They collected them as advance votes. According to the reports, it is not surprised to learn that more than 90 % of the advance ballots in many townships voted for the USDP. The claims to the Election Commission, which is heavily under the control of the junta, by the opposition parties about the USDP’s voting fraud in the polls were never answered.
I have been away from home. My parents did not tell me about their opinion on the elections until I called them a few weeks ago before the elections, and asked them to which party they were going to vote. They promptly answered to me – “no, we are NOT going to vote.” It is not surprised me because I knew that my parents were the keen supporters to NLD. NLD supports ‘no vote’ so, they will listen to it. However, I still felt that they were not like who they usually are. They are always keen in the country’s politics and community issues but, now, I did not feel it that they show any interest in the elections or any development of the news about the elections. I did not call them on the day of the election, out of their safety concerns. I found out, when I called them a day after the elections, what I thought was not wrong. I asked, “Mum, did you go and vote yesterday?” She responded that the whole family did not. “We got the cards for all the family members. We have no party to vote for. We do not bother to go there. And, we are busy at home with our work.” I did not feel any of my mum’s usual enthusiasm or active tone in this very rare occasion.
She continued, “But, you know, your father’s friend, U Khin Maung Oo, who is a businessman from Monywa, was the candidate for Kyant Phut (USDP) party. Around abut 9:00 am, he came to our home with his campaign truck and all his sons brought along. Even though we are familiar with him personally, we did not even ask them to sit down (normally, it is a general courtesy of any villages in Burma – always request guests or even strangers to take a seat, and have tea.)”
I started getting the sense of my mother’s energetic tone with her frustration – “Since we told them we are not going to vote for Kyant Phut party. You know – by hitting his chest with his hand, he forcefully told us to vote FOR him again and again, even if it is not for that party. Since we kept refusing his forceful campaign, he even told us that we are so old to understand about the new players of the country’s politics and stick with the old party. Since he could not persuade us, he moved to your brother and tried to persuade him by saying “As a young man – you should look ahead for your future and vote for the party which has a great potential as the leading party of the country.” Your brother got pissed and straightly told him – “We can vote for any party, but not for your party by all means. You are welcomed to our home as a family’s friend, but not as the one who is in that (lion) hat and in that uniform, now and never.”” My brother literally kicked them out.
Like my family, people in the country showed their dislike by protesting against the polls or by voting any other opposition parties, but not the USDP. All votes are yet to be counted, however, as everyone has long predicted, the government’s party will finally seek their victory through a various ways of cheating.
According to the new constitutions adopted in 2008, the 25% of seats at the parliament (both in People’s Parliament and Nationalities Parliament) have already reserved for the delegates from the military. On top of that, if the USDP won, the party’s candidates, who were former generals and recently changed their uniforms into civilian clothes, would be filled up for the 75 % left over seats in the Parliament. With the heavily present of military personals, many people’s hope that at least through our candidates, we could create a different atmosphere to the parliament of the future government was all evaporated. It was not that what we did not expect but it would be fair to say the whole nation got cheated AGAIN. Under any scenarios, it is not true to say that Burma, in its post election era, is moved a bit closer to what we have hoped for turning the country into a democratic society.