Burma's democracy process mired in deceit

As the United Nations envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, again readies himself to discuss the country's torturous, so far nonexistent, path to freedom, it is worth considering those who will sit opposite him at the negotiating table.

The military junta that has been in place since 1962 has long since proven itself incapable of honour and bereft of sincerity. It has stalled and run diversions for decades and worn out more than one well-intentioned interlocutor. For these reasons, Mr. Gambari must be very wary of the junta's announcement of a referendum on a new constitution in May and for general elections in 2010. Already, the lies that the Burmese people have been subjected to have risen higher than "Rambo IV"s considerable body count.

History does not lie. The State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) (now the State Peace and Development Council, ) (SPDC) issued Declaration No 1/88 on 18 September 1988, stating that it was taking over state power to carry out four "duties." In the same declaration, SLORC pledged to the monks and the lay people that the holding of a multi-party general election would be its final duty.

Furthermore, the commander-in-chief of the Defense Services said on 23 September 1988: "... since our organization, formed with members of the Defense Services, has also pledged loyalty to the nation, I believe that it will never renege on the promise it had given to the nation and the people.

The SPDC also passed Law No 14/89 or the "People's Assembly Elections Law" on 31 May 1989. Section 3 of that law states: "The Parliament shall be formed with representatives elected from the constituencies in accordance with this law."

The international community acknowledged that the election held in Burma in 1990 in which the National League for Democracy, with Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi as its leader, was elected with over 80% of the vote, was fair and free.

That government, elected by the people of Burma, has never been allowed to take its place in the Burmese parliament. Many of its members have been imprisoned, detained or exiled, including of course, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Speaking to local and foreign journalists in 1989, the commander-in-chief of the Burmese Defense Services clearly said that the military couldn't draft the promised new constitution because it was not an elected entity. The military government also extended its promise to allow the new constitution to be drafted by the elected representatives of the people.

Yet, even before a genuine dialog between the military government (the SPDC), and political groups, including ethnic representatives, could take place, it unilaterally launched Announcement No 1/2008 on 9 February 2008 that the "Approval of the Constitution draft will be sought in National Referendum to be held in May 2008" and under Announcement No 2/2008 that "in accordance with the forthcoming State Constitution, the multi-party democracy general elections will be held in 2010".

This openly flaunts that fact that the authorities are duty bound to first explain to the voters how they view the 1990 election result and the reason why they refuse to accept its results.

Studying the two announcements from February, it is apparent that the authorities did not follow standard practice. In the case of Announcement No 1/2008, for instance, the draft state constitution, which needs to be approved, should have been made public first and the Referendum Law under which the constitution must be approved, enacted.

Even though Burmese state-run newspapers carry slogans daily about "the emergence of the state constitution" being "the responsibility of every citizen", the authorities did not create conditions that were necessary for the citizens to actively and enthusiastically participate in the constitution-writing process.

This amounts to ignoring the will of the constituents and is an open violation of the democratic rights of the people. A democratic nation can never be run in this way. The reason the National League for Democracy was formed in accordance with law is to restore human rights and democratic rights in Burma.

Regardless of the situation, the National League for Democracy will continue to cooperate with the United Nations, the UN Secretary-General, and the UN Special Envoy.

It is only through open dialogue and free and fair elections that will Burma will once again be a nation of freedom and peace, and a viable and valued member of the community of all peoples.

Such a process must be inclusive, participatory, and must incorporate genuine dialogue with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and with ethnic parties for national reconciliation and democratic transition. Mr. Gambari must be given all the back-up the international community can muster.

Thaung Htun is the Representative for United Nations Affairs of the Burma UN Service Office, National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, the de facto government in exile.