New hope for Burma and Aung San Suu Kyi
Burma's by-elections on 1 April have been widely covered by international media. Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she hopes Sunday's by-elections marked the start of a new era in Burma.
Wednesday, 11 April 2012, by HRH Bergen, based on Rafto Foundation, Al Jazeera and Norwegian Burma Committee information
NLD wins 43 seats
Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi has been elected to the country's parliament in landmark by-elections, according to her National League for Democracy (NLD). The country's opposition party claimed a historic victory on Sunday for Suu Kyi in her bid for a seat in parliament, with NLD announcing that the Nobel laureate had won a parliamentary seat for the first time. Suu Kyi won an estimated 99 per cent of the votes in Kawhmu constituency, according to NLD official Soe Win, based on the party's own tally. Thousands of people clapped and cheered outside NLD headquarters in Yangon after the party announced the iconic leader's victory. Some people wept with joy at the news outside the party's headquarters in Yangon. The charismatic leader did not address the crowd but issued a statement asking supporters to respect the other parties. "It is natural that the NLD members and their supporters are joyous at this point", Suu Kyi said. "However, it is necessary to avoid manners and actions that will make the other parties and members upset. It is very important that NLD members take special care that the success of the people is a dignified one". This marks a stunning turnaround for Suu Kyi, who was a political prisoner, jailed by the military-led government for most of the past 22 years. The NLD also said it has won the 43 of 44 seats it contested in Sunday's elections.
The by-election is seen as a key test of the government's commitment to recent democratic reforms. More than six million people were eligible to vote, with a total of 160 candidates from 17 parties, including six new to the political stage, contesting for 45 parliamentary seats. The number of seats at stake is not enough to threaten the military-backed ruling party's overwhelming majority, secured in full elections in 2010. Suu Kyi's apparent victory had been widely expected, despite complaints by the NLD over alleged voting irregularities and campaign intimidation. Suu Kyi said she did not regret standing for parliament because the polls had boosted people's interest in politics after decades of outright military rule ended last year.
It was for the first time that the government invited teams of foreign observers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, European Union and the US, and journalists to witness the elections.Since taking office a year ago, President Thein Sein has carried out reforms including releasing hundreds of political prisoners, easing media restrictions and welcoming the opposition back into mainstream politics. The NLD won a landslide election in 1990 but the ruling military never allowed it to take office. The party also boycotted the 2010 polls that swept the army's political proxies to power and were marred by complaints of cheating and intimidation.
US to put pressure on military government
The US is shifting focus to pressuring the country’s powerful military to bring an end to decades of ethnic conflict and abuses, officials and analysts say. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced on 4 April that the US would ease selected sanctions including restrictions on investment to Burma, praising “dramatic” changes after the opposition swept by-elections. It was the largest set of steps taken yet by President Barack Obama’s administration as part of its push to encourage reform in the long isolated country, where President Thein Sein has reached out to the opposition and ethnic minorities.
Despite a peace plan agreed on 2 April in Karen state, the official said abuses persisted in a number of minority areas including “credible reports” in Kachin of rape used as a weapon of war, child soldiers and forced labour. The US has asked Myanmar at high levels to allow aid into Kachin. While two UN convoys recently made it in, at least 50,000 to 60,000 internally displaced people closer to the border with China still need assistance, the official said. Burma has been torn by some of the world’s longest-running conflicts; parts of the ethnically diverse country have been gripped by virtually incessant war since independence in 1948.
H. Clinton, announcing the new US incentives, warned that sanctions would stay in place against “individuals and institutions that remain on the wrong side of these historic reform efforts”. She also called for Burma to sever any military cooperation with North Korea, amid questions over the depth of the two countries’ ties before the Southeast Asian nation started its reforms. Tom Malinowski, the Washington director for Human Rights Watch, noted that tough US sanctions remained on lucrative sectors such as gems, natural gas and timber that have historically funded the military. By contrast, the areas that could benefit from the US easing of restrictions – telecommunications, agriculture and tourism – involve the private sector and could have a larger impact on ordinary people. “The idea here is that we want the armed forces in Burma to become increasingly dependent and ultimately subservient to civilian authority”, Malinowski said.
Rafto Prize and house arrest
Suu Kyi - who spent years under house arrest after her party won polls in 1990 but was not allowed to take power - has promised to use her voice to continue to push for further reform, reports BBC web news. During the student uprising of 1988 Aung San Suu Kyi became involved in political protests and assisted in founding the National League for Democracy (NLD), which won the 1990 general elections. However, the elections were not recognised by the military government of Burma. Suu Kyi became an icon for political liberation and democracy in Burma.
The 1990 Rafto Prize for Human Rights was awarded to Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League for Democracy in Burma, for her peaceful struggle under the military dictatorship. Aung San Suu Kyi's non-violent struggle for democracy was internationally recognised when she received the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize. Aung San Suu Kyi is the official patron of the Rafto Human Rights House in Bergen, Norway.
HRH Bergen, based on Rafto Foundation, Al Jazeera and Norwegian Burma Committee information