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Myanmar vote ‘opportunity for change’: think tank

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Myanmar vote ‘opportunity for change’: think tank

By Danny Kemp (AFP) –

BANGKOK — Myanmar’s elections next year are set to alter the political landscape despite not being free and fair, with a chance that leaders of the ruling junta could step aside, a think tank said Friday.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group said in a report that the polls will give local and international stakeholders an opportunity to push for change, despite a constitution that entrenches the military’s political role.

Myanmar’s generals have vowed to hold the elections some time in 2010, the first national vote since 1990, when they refused to recognise an overwhelming victory by the party of pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

The ICG report said that the recent extension of Suu Kyi’s house arrest by 18 months, after a bizarre incident in which an American man swam to her home, had returned attention to repression in Myanmar.

“But while the elections will not be free and fair… the constitution and elections together will fundamentally change the political landscape in a way the government may not be able to control,” the report said.

The influential think tank said junta leader Than Shwe, 76, and his ageing deputy Maung Aye “may soon step down or move to ceremonial roles, making way for a younger military generation” after the polls.

“All stakeholders should be alert to opportunities that may arise to push the new government toward reform and reconciliation,” the group said.

The report said that the military regime must make the electoral process “more credible” by freeing all political prisoners including Suu Kyi and by bringing in key electoral legislation as soon as possible.

But it also warned that Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy — which has said it will take part in the elections only if the constitution is changed — that a boycott “could play into the hands of the military government.”

The constitution, approved in a controversial referendum in May 2008 just days after a devastating cyclone hit Myanmar, prevents Suu Kyi from standing for president, even if she were not imprisoned.

It also gives the military a dominant political role, with a quarter of the seats in the upper and lower houses of parliament to be appointed by the army’s commander-in-chief.

The military has ruled the country formerly known as Burma since 1962, launching bloody crackdowns on pro-democracy protests in 1988 and 2007 to preserve its rule and jailing dozens of its opponents over the last year.

But the new presidential system of government was “the most wide-ranging shake-up in a generation,” the report said.

The report said the international community, including Myanmar?s Southeast Asian neighbours, must continue to press the regime to make the vote as fair as possible “while looking for opportunities that the elections may bring.”

The report comes just days after visiting US Senator Jim Webb held the first ever talks between a senior American official and Than Shwe, leading to the release of John Yettaw, the US man jailed for swimming to Suu Kyi’s house.

Webb said his visit could lead to a “new approach” in US-Myanmar ties, including a rethink on sanctions, while Myanmar’s junta-controlled media said the trip had been a “success” for both sides.

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

August 21, 2009 at 8:33 am

Posted in Varieties in English

Tagged with ,

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