Reflecting on the wisdom of Ludu Sein Win
Reflecting on the wisdom of Ludu Sein Win
by Celeste Chenard
Wednesday, 08 April 2009 15:47
“A clear cut international policy on the 2010 election is needed”
Through his words, veteran journalist Ludu Sein Win has fought to improve the situation in his country for over four decades, tireless in his pursuit of a better Burma.
Beginning his career as a reporter at the left-wing Ludu newspaper in the mid-1960s, it wasn’t long before his words and associations drew the ire of Burma’s then military head-of-state, General Ne Win, who ordered the publication shut down in 1967. As a consequence, Ludu Sein Win spent the ensuing 13 years in jail, and ever since his release a subject of surveillance at the hands of Burma’s security forces.
Today, despite paralysis in his right hand and the need of mechanically-assisted breathing, Ludu Sein Win, 69, still receives young people at his downtown Rangoon home, reveling audiences with both his personal story and his opinions on issues critical to Burma’s future.
With the 2010 general elections looming on Burma’s political horizon, Ludu Sein Win, in a recent sitting, didn’t mince his words – making a resolute appeal for a unified stance, inclusive of the international community, in combating the junta’s heretofore unilateral roadmap.
According to Ludu Sein Win, “The feelings of the people and my own feeling is totally to boycott the election. If we don’t recognize the national convention, boycotting the election is the only possible strategy.”
The media, international community and political activists, in his estimation should all come together in not recognizing the national convention, thereby encouraging a nationwide boycott of the election.
When specifically asked about the role of the international community in the 2010 elections, he made a clear request: “I want to ask Western countries and the exiled media to try to conduct a concerted effort, with a unanimous decision, to compete with the regime.”
His words are a reminder that whatever politics the U.S. opts to employ towards Burma will greatly impact worldwide opinion and influence the behavior of many other countries.
After all, should not the Obama administration seriously consider the fact that effective and collective action by the international community may be the only way to successfully, if indirectly, undermine the junta?
However, though advocating for a firm and continued rejection of the 16-year national convention process, a long-standing position of Burma’s democratic opposition and activists, Ludu Sein Win also recognizes the imminent need for reform within the ranks of the opposition’s leadership.
In Ludu Sein Win’s opinion, what is really important now is to build a revitalized and strong leadership inside the country, one that can bring new blood to the actual National League for Democracy (NLD) leadership, which is presently epitomized by leaders in their 80s – or older.
“What we need is good leadership”, he argues. “Look at the NLD headquarters, there are no activities, no discussions, no arguments…only quiet. Chairmen are over 90 years old and some cannot walk without assistance, or are blind. They discuss nothing and read nothing.”
“A leadership of octogenarians with no knowledge about the Internet cannot compete with young, well educated members of the military,” he continued. “The NLD needs a new organization within its headquarters because with this current leadership we cannot compete with the government…we cannot beat the government.”
Ludu Sein Win envisions a pivotal role for the evolving new media technologies, in a cyber war that Burma’s military government seems to have already acknowledged.
In a recent speech, a senior figure in Burma’s military regime accused foreign media of spreading lies to undermine national unity, a state-controlled newspaper reported on Sunday.
“Some countries (…) are using the media as a weapon to weaken unity, to disrupt stability and to deceive the international community,” Adjutant General Thura Myint Aung is additionally quoted by the AP as saying in a speech Saturday, marking the 14th anniversary of state-run Myawaddy Television.
The implacable censorship board, a highly controlled Internet and the pure number of jailed bogglers and journalists demonstrates just how seriously the regime considers the threat emanating from alternative sources to that of state-run media.
Undoubtedly, international media and the exiled media in particular have a key role to play in the coverage of the coming elections. Understanding this, isn’t it time to publish stories regarding the elections, especially since Burma’s domestic media have not yet (or ever will?) discuss electoral issues?
But to what extent can media, and in particular new media technologies, really affect the regime’s self-imposed isolationism and stimulate political change?
“The exiled media are very important for us,” confirms Ludu Sein Win, “they are our only weapon to counter the propaganda and misinformation of the authorities – they are the only media the whole nation can rely on for information and comments.”
“It is very important for members of the exile media to work hard for the course of the country and for the sake of the people,” he explained. “The media must reflect the real situation of our nation and the real feeling of the people and they must offer opinions and guide the people.”
However, the example of the 2007 uprising proves that intense media coverage and pressure are not enough to beat the regime. Media can pair with political transition or provide a supporting role, but alone cannot launch a successful transition. This doesn’t mean that one should underestimate the role of the media. On the contrary, the various forms of media pressure are greatly needed to raise the awareness of the people and to stimulate the necessary conditions leading to the collapse of the regime.
When speaking of the media, Ludu Sein Win emphasizes the role of the international and exiled media for those inside Burma, as for him they represent a vital community working toward a hoped for transformation of Burma’s socio-political and economic scene.
In his mind, it is not the tactics or the strategy that matters, but the effective application of general pressure from the outside world.
And even if it is assumed that change can only come from inside Burma, a strong and concerted approach to advocacy at the international level may yet be the most productive means to pursue change and demonstrate support for political activists, a strategy that could also lend itself toward the vital emergence of a strong, internal opposition leadership.
But could such a strategy actually bear fruit? Do Ludu Sein Win’s prescriptions to cure Burma’s wounds have a chance to succeed? With certainty, it wouldn’t be a piece of cake. But after years of failed politics, it should at least be worthy of pursuit, if an alternative approach to Burma is indeed required.
Even inside the U.S., American politicians don’t agree about the right policies to adopt. In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 17 members of Congress recently gave notice they were “greatly concerned” by indications that the United States was considering lifting sanctions on Burma.
Further, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted, in February, that both the policy of constructive engagement by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the sanctions-led approach applied by the U.S. and European Union have failed to achieve any results.
It is a position echoed in the words of Ludu Sein Win with respect to next year’s projected polling: “We need a clear cut policy on this 2010 election. Sanctions are a part of the fight, not a solution.”
Ultimately, what is clear is that opposite strategies cannot undermine a country ruled by a band of generals unwilling to give up their prerogatives, especially when the main trading partners of Burma – India, China and the nations of Southeast Asia – continue to willingly make deposits into the coffers of the generals.
Nevertheless, at the end of the day, Ludu Sein Win remains true to his roots and heart. Despite his overtures for a strong stance and strategic vision for Burma from the international community and exile groups, Ludu Sein Win is a self-professed romantic, still dreaming of popular uprising and believing in the Burmese peoples’ ability to free themselves of the generals’ yoke.
Even though he doesn’t see the prospects for another uprising in the near future and hammers home the need for a concerted and enhanced international approach to Burma, he maintains, “Change will not come from outside the country, we cannot rely on U.N or U.S intervention. We must rely on ourselves, we have the people power.”
For Ludu Sein Win, looking back at the events of late September 2007 proved to him that the Burmese people are not afraid and still willing to sacrifice to see a better Burma, even if it may cost them their lives.