Saturday, May 19, 2012

18-19 May, 2012 Seminar on Democratization in Burma: Challenges and Prospects

Seminar on Democratization in Burma: Challenges and Prospects
Supported by Euro Burma Office
Institute of Social Sciences
New Delhi Presentation by Dr. Tint Swe
Seminar on Democratization in Burma: Challenges and Prospects
Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi

Since I took refuge here it is real privilege to learn from India. The views from different personals from different levels and diverse angles are interesting indeed. Though some of them at times did not agree with me, I am grateful to them. Recently I had an opportunity to visit the Northeast twice to listen to and speak about Burma there. Even if they are not in a position to influence India’s Burma policy I took seriously of their voices. Again it is an opportunity to learn from you in this seminar. We must know better each other. Thanks to the organizers!

Here I see many known speakers from whom I have heard several times. But changing situation in Burma calls for new reviews and fresh investigations. This seminar coincides with upcoming Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Burma. The Burmese pro-democracy movement and Indian civil society groups which have been supporting us have sent memos to honorable PM. If the Indian media’s report which said that PM will receive Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is correct, we will be pleased of it.

In a TV panel discussion, an Indian diplomat disagreed that the protocol prevented the PM to meet an opposition leader. I am not a student of internal relations but I am curious when British PM David Cameron as well as South Korean President Lee Myung-bak visited Aung San Suu Kyi’s residence. It can be argued that those heads of government are from far away countries. Thailand PM Yingluck Shinawatra, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, and Malaysian PM Mohammad Najib Abdul Razak have already met her. Yet again if it is to say that they are small nations and big China is yet to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, my appeal is India should do differently from China.

I am pleased that India is the first country where Burma Parliamentarians come and learn Indian Parliamentary system before they went to EU and Japan. But it was before the representatives from NLD were elected. The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) is officially associated with the Communist Party of China (CPC) well before the elections were held in Burma. It is not based on ideology but mutual interest. So far no political party from India has any party-to-party linkage with the USDP or the NLD. Four recently elected NLD MPs were invited by Australian Labor party.

The international forums such as the Socialist International (SI) and the Liberal International (LI) were supporters of pro-democracy movement and for NLD it is a difficult decision to affiliate with one particular group.

When it comes to Indian government, the official position is quiet diplomacy. Indian high profile politicians in office always said India did not export democracy to any country. So if the changes in Burma are meant for democracy, it makes India difficult to take credit.

A sort of invitation to Burmese in exile comes from President’s mouth for the second time last week. Some viewers welcome but not many exiles are excited. Many ask for amnesty announcement and the bill which guarantees for safe return. It is right because many political organizations such as the government in exile (NCGUB) and the free trade union federation (FTUB) are declared unlawful associations. Some of the Members of Parliament in exile have been sentenced to 25 years and the court orders are still valid.

Millions of Burmese refugees are not thrilled because there is no improvement of job opportunities, health and education facilities. For ethnic peoples of Burma the infrastructure in their States have no development by any means. Therefore I have advised the peoples of Northeast India to help their fellows because Delhi and Naypyiday are too far from them.

Since the Foreign Direct Investment Law was enacted in late 1988, over 30 foreign countries invested more than US$ 16 billion in over 400 projects in Burma as of March 2010. India pays much preference to BIMSTEC and energy sector was assigned to Burma. Most FDI was in oil and natural gas and other energy-related activities. Agriculture shares merely around 1% of FDI. You know better than I do where India is investing in Burma.

Burma has the potential to be an economic frontier. Burmese people who have been disgraced and degraded by their dictatorial rulers are ashamed of their standing and are eager to show their abilities and talents. However, they need foreign assistance and more democratic changes to accomplish what amounts to a mission impossible. Businessmen everywhere are the same and they just want to make money and profit. Sharing benefits is fine but at this juncture, mutual benefit cannot be done with multinationals and Burmese tycoons.

Most Burmese admire the Asian Tigers. They want to catch up with them quickly. However, material success is not the sole aspiration. The growth rate and the GDP are not always indicative of a people's wellbeing. Human rights and environmental concerns are an imperative but what we really want is the prosperity of the entire population including minorities and a way of life with dignity.

Burma's civil society has not yet fully formed. NGOs and INGOs in Burma can be divided into two categories. Many NGOs have been active in Burma well before the 2010 election. New NGOs have come only after Daw Aung San Suu Kyi gave the signal. Those which came in earlier might have concluded that the NLD had lost the battle and saw no option but to work under new regime. Then they tried to cultivate a second democratic force which is non-NLD third force. In just a year, they were proven wrong. The NLD has become a legal entity and won a landslide in the by-elections.

This shows how foreigners created a mess. Although they might be well-intentioned, their plans do not help as intended. Dividing the pro-democracy camp is not a good thing because the bad times are not yet over in Burma and the military is still challenging democracy.

Everybody knows the view of a political leader expressed to media sometimes need to read between the lines. Since her first meeting with President, Aung San Suu Kyi talks of optimism and reconciliation. However a couple of days ago, Aung San Suu Kyi during a Skype video link-up organized by the George W. Bush Institute said, “I sometimes feel that things, that people are too optimistic about the scene in Burma. You have to remember that the democratization process is not irreversible. I have said very openly that we can never look upon it as irreversible until such time as the military commits itself to democratization and efficiently.”

Yes Burma Army of today is an institution to which no world leaders come and urge for political change. The Generals neither from China nor from India speaks about democracy with Burmese counterparts, I assume. So it is awfully difficult to convince Burmese generals. May I conclude you have to remember that the democratization process in Burma is not irreversible!

Dr. Tint Swe
Burma Center Delhi (BCD)
New Delhi