In a week, on April 1st, the Burmese vote for the next government. In the meantime, more and more bad news come out of the conflict-riddled country.
It all started very promising. Aung San Suu Kyi and her party NLD decided to participate in this year’s elections. It showed the world that maybe there is more to the democratic reforms implemented by the military junta than many critics wanted to acknowledge. Now, shortly before the elections, things look less rosy: “the NLD, which is fielding candidates in all but one of the 48 seats contested on April 1st, faces a number of challenges. These include candidates with low recognition, an inexperienced and still-fearful electorate, and a well-funded incumbent whom the NLD alleges is playing dirty.”, the Citizen writes. But even if they succeed: only 48 seats are available. Even if they win most of them, Suu Kyi’s NLD won’t be able to threaten the military who are holding a strong majority in the government.
Nevertheless, the elections themselves are of little concern to many people in Burma who have other problems to face. China – who never joined the West in boycotting Burma – is planning several big projects in the country. There is high opposition to especially two of them: a pair of gas and oil pipelines going right across the country to connect the Chinese Yunnan region with a Burmese port. The other is a large scale dam project– which has, however, been (temporarily) suspended. Both projects have extensive environmental and social costs for the local communities.
Meanwhile, in the regions of ethnic minorities, the conflicts – which started in the 1960’s after Burma gained independence – continue despite the upcoming elections. Even if the Karen National Union (KNU) has signed a ceasefire accord with the Burmese Army earlier this year, the situation is far from secure in their area in the South-East of the country. The military is still very present and intimidating. Thousands of Karens still live in camps on the Thai border.
The ethnic minorities – which all together amount to around 1/3 of the people living in Burma – also fear the future if more enonomic investments reach the country. “There are deep concerns that development aid ($66 million reportedly requested) and potential massive economic investment from the international community may be used in ways that are harmful for the ethnic nationals, exploiting their land, dislocating their local communities, and triggering armed resistance,” similarly to the two projects described above. Like one of my Burmese classmates said the other day: “Jobs will come, but first they take our land.”
Similarly, the situation in the Northern Kachin state has never really calmed down. Even worse, as Human Rights Watch published last week: “the Burmese government has committed serious abuses and blocked humanitarian aid to tens of thousands of displaced civilians since June 2011, in fighting in northern Kachin State. Some 75,000 ethnic Kachin displaced persons and refugees are in desperate need of food, medicine, and shelter.” The Kachin Independence Army have not yet reached any agreement with the government.
Most recent news are even more concerning. Japanese Mainichi Daily News write: “Election authorities in Myanmar have postponed voting in three of 48 constituencies in the April 1 by-election because of what the military-backed government says are security concerns.” Bad news for the NLD because “the party consider the areas its strongholds.” What is more, ABC news reports that “neither journalists or election observers are being allowed” to enter Burma next week.
Let’s wait and see what happens next in what was supposed to become the world’s youngest democratic state.