Newspapers in the Asian region support Burma’s first election in 20 years as a small but important step towards eventual democracy.
Chinese papers strongly urge Burma and the rest of the region to ignore the West’s condemnation and press on with their own methods of political change.
A Thai paper says that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) will have no choice but to endorse the results as Burma’s inclusion in the group helps support its high economic growth.
The Indian press hopes that small political steps will eventually “open the floodgates”.
However, a Burmese exile publication replies that it is a “fantasy” to think that change is just around the corner.
EDITORIAL IN CHINA’S HUANQUI SHIBAO (GLOBAL TIMES)
If the outside world wants to encourage Burma to open up, the West should take the lead in toning down its hostility… The incompatibility of China’s policy on Burma with the West is difficult to change. We should do more work on Southeast Asian countries and form a consensus with them on Burma.
SUN GUANGYONG IN CHINA’S RENMIN RIBAO (PEOPLE’S DAILY)
While in Myanmar (Burma), this reporter contacted the people of Myanmar from all walks of life and felt the common aspiration of the masses: The new government produced by the general elections will be able to ensure social stability, improve the lives of the masses, and enable Myanmar to take the road of prosperity and development.
ZHUANG GUOTU IN CHINA’S GLOBAL TIMES (ENGLISH EDITION)
Though the election may not be perfect, it’s a step forward in the country’s democratic development… There is no successful precedent among developing nations to achieve democracy by following Western instructions. I believe developing countries, including Myanmar, should seek their own democracy based on domestic conditions.
YIN HONGWEI IN CHINA’S GUOJI XIANQU DAOBAO (INTERNATIONAL HERALD LEADER)
Even though many restrictions and many challenges still exist, it was indeed not easy for the Burmese military government to take this step. If international public opinion really cares about Burma, it should be a little more tolerant.
EDITORIAL IN BANGLADESH’S DAILY STAR
Regrettably, neither Myanmar’s immediate neighbours nor the Asean countries have been able to do much to convince the military rulers in Yangon (Rangoon) to return power to where it belongs: the people.
However, notwithstanding the negativities we would like to share the optimists’ view that in the dark cloud there is yet a silver lining and that this will be the start of the process of democratisation in Myanmar, albeit slowly.
KAVI CHONGKITTAVORN IN THAILAND’S THE NATION
The poll again places Asean in an awkward position as it must be the first to endorse the outcome being condemned worldwide. It also comes at a time when Asean wants to expand its international role. Asean’s overall bargaining power still rests on its continued high economic growth contributing to global economic recovery.
Asean argues that Burma’s full integration with Asean would help to sustain such dynamism due to its huge population and abundant natural resources. Eventually, it is inevitable that Asean will have to embrace Burma’s post-election by concurring to have Burma take up the Asean chair in January 2014, after Brunei. It is a fait accompli.
COMMENTARY IN THE AUSTRALIAN
For those who believe there is a way out of the Burma impasse, other than confrontation, and that more pragmatism and less sloganeering is needed to achieve the economic reform that will, as in China, bring real improvement to the lives of its 50 million people, there is no doubting the potential importance of the poll.
EDITORIAL IN INDIA’S THE TRIBUNE
Let us hope that the optimists prove right. The elections should be used by the pro-democracy forces in Myanmar to force the military junta to go back to the barracks and leave the task of governance to politicians.
EDITORIAL IN INDIA’S DECCAN HERALD
While the election is a farce, it is not without its merits. It signals that the generals are testing the waters, albeit gingerly. However flawed it might be the vote is a small step in Myanmar’s political transformation.
Several Western countries have rejected the election outright. Their approach is wrong. They must use the opportunity the election has thrown up to engage with Myanmar’s new government. They must leverage to push it to release Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners. Isolating the generals has not worked in bringing change in Myanmar; perhaps engaging them positively will rid the generals of their deep suspicion of the world.
EDITORIAL IN THE INDIAN EXPRESS
If a door opens even a crack, the light must come in. This hint of progress must be expanded from here. Moreover, it should also be kept in mind that the most difficult or dangerous moment for a dictatorship is precisely when it begins to reform. It’s quite possible that the tiny changes wrought by the military now will eventually open the floodgates. India is aware of the fine print, and has thus silently encouraged this process.
ZOYA PHAN IN BURMESE EXILE MAGAZINE IRRAWADDY
There has been too much focus on the small possible changes after the election, and not enough on how very little will really change, or possibly even get worse. The imagined changes are equivalent to giving a starving man a single grain of rice. It is not enough.
Aung San Suu Kyi has said that we must hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Sadly, much of the international community seems to be living in a fantasy land when it comes to the election, not just hoping for the best, but trying to convince itself that change may be just round the corner. We know from experience with this dictatorship, however, that it is the worst which happens to us over and over again.
BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.
By SETH MYDANS
Published: November 9, 2010
BANGKOK — The two main opposition parties conceded a long-expected defeat on Tuesday in Myanmar’s parliamentary election, which was carefully engineered to elect a civilian government that would be controlled by the military.
There was no official announcement of the outcome of the voting, but scattered results suggested a huge victory for the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party.
The tally had been a foregone conclusion, with the election rules slanted to favor the military-backed parties and opposition parties each contesting only a small fraction of the seats.
As the votes were being counted, the Burmese army battled ethnic Karen rebels who had taken over the post office and police station in the border town of Myawaddy. As many as 20,000 refugees have fled across a river into Thailand since the fighting broke out Sunday, but the fighting appeared to have died down Tuesday and the refugees were returning home. More than a dozen people were reported to have been wounded, a few of them in Thailand by stray gunfire and rockets.
The election was intended to legitimize military rule behind a mask of civilian government, analysts said, ending a half century of outright military power in the former Burma.
The National League for Democracy, headed by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, declined to take part, saying campaign rules were undemocratic and unfair. The party won the last election, in 1990, but the military annulled the result and clung to power.
Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi has been held under house arrest for most of the last 20 years. Her latest term of house arrest expires on Saturday and there is a slight possibility that the junta will free her now that the election is over.
International reaction was sharply split between Myanmar’s big neighbor and supporter, China, and Western nations that have pursued a policy of isolation and sanctions against Myanmar.
China on Tuesday welcomed the vote Tuesday, one day after the United States and the United Nations issued strong statements condemning it.
Myanmar’s neighbors in Southeast Asia, who have wavered between acceptance and criticism of the junta, also welcomed the elections.
On Monday President Barack Obama said, “It is unacceptable to steal an election, as the regime in Myanmar has done for all the world to see.”
In a statement, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the vote was “insufficiently inclusive, participatory and transparent.”
The fighting on the border was a reminder of a long-running civil war with a number of ethnic groups that has raged for decades in remote mountains and jungles, far from the politics that consume the cities.
Continuing unrest in parts of the minority ethnic areas led the government to exclude some 1.5 million people from the election.
In one of the world’s longest-running separatist insurgencies, minority groups in Myanmar’s untamed regions have been fighting against government control since Burma won independence from Britain in 1948. The people fleeing into the Thai border town of Mae Sot were the latest wave of refugees who have sought safety over the years in camps along the border. Thai officials said they would be sent back when the situation returned to normal.
By Tuesday, the government appeared to have taken control and the fighting had subsided to smaller clashes along the river, including the area of Three Pagoda Pass, according to news reports from the border. At least five Thai villagers were wounded when rocket-propelled grenades landed near Mae Sot, the Thai military said.
The Irrawaddy, a Thailand-based magazine with contacts inside Myanmar, reported that as many as 20 people were injured in Myawaddy and that some may have been killed.
The attackers were a breakaway group of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, which has given up a long-standing demand for independence and is now seeking autonomy under the umbrella of the national government.
Like some other ethnic groups it has reached a ceasefire with the government forces. But many in these groups are angry at attempts by the military to absorb them into a border guard force, and the current fighting could be linked to that grievance.
- Factbox: Major ethnic minority armed factions in Myanmar Reuters
- Army-backed party claims victory in Myanmar vote AFP
By AP Tuesday, Nov. 09, 2010
Fighting between ethnic rebels and government troops rumbled on for a third day Tuesday as activists warned that the violence, which has sparked a refugee exodus from Burma, could escalate in the aftermath of contentious elections.
Clashes at key points along the Thai-Burma border since Sunday have sent some 20,000 panicked villagers into Thailand, which already shelters a quarter-million ethnic minority refugees from brutal campaigns by the Burma army.(See pictures of the vast differences between the poor and elite in Burma.)
The exodus underlined Burma’s vulnerability to unrest following the country’s first election in two decades on Sunday, which was billed by the ruling junta as a key stage in its self-proclaimed road to democracy. Its political opponents and Western nations have decried the vote as unfair and repressive.
President Barack Obama said Monday it was unacceptable for Burma’s government to “steal an election” and hold the people’s aspirations hostage to the regime’s greed and paranoia. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the voting was not inclusive enough and lacked transparency.(See pictures of the hope for Burma’s future.)
For a third day Tuesday, sporadic gunfire erupted in Myawaddy. Refugees told Thai officials, however, that government forces had retaken the Burma border town and that the fighting was likely to end, according to Thai Gov. Samard Loyfar of adjacent Tak province.
“We have to evaluate the situation to see if the clashes have actually ended before sending them back,” he said.
By Tuesday morning, some 20,000 refugees had fled into Thailand, said government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn. He said the government was working with humanitarian groups to tend to them and remained concerned about the violence escalating.(See pictures of what life is like for the youth of Burma.)
“At the moment, officers along the border have beefed up security, especially at the spots where clashes occurred,” Panitan said.
Burma has been ruled by the military near-continuously since 1962, and rebellions by its ethnic minorities predate its independence from Britain in 1948.
Sunday’s election was the first in Burma, also known as Burma, since a 1990 vote won by pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, which was barred from taking power and boycotted the new polls. The regime says the election heralds a transition to civilian rule, but junta-backed candidates are virtually certain to dominate the new parliament.
Several human rights groups warned of possible civil war as ethnic groups are pressured by the government to accept a new constitution that offers them little autonomy. Several groups that field potent guerrilla armies refused to take part in the election.
“If the dictatorship goes ahead with plans to attack all armed groups refusing to surrender, today’s fighting will be the equivalent of a first small skirmish,” said the Burma Campaign UK in a statement.
In the heaviest clashes, Karen rebels reportedly seized a police station, post office and other buildings Sunday in Myawaddy. More fighting broke out further south for one hour Monday at the Three Pagodas Pass, said local Thai official Chamras Jungnoi. There was no word on any casualties.
Refugees marched, shepherded by Thai security personnel, through the streets of the Thai town of Mae Sot, which is just across a river from Myawaddy. Those few carrying belongings toted them on top of their heads, while several lucky ones got rides on pickup trucks.
They were being sheltered near the Mae Sot airport at a location that was becoming overcrowded.
State media and the Election Commission reported Monday that 40 junta-backed candidates won their races, but a day after the polls closed, virtually no other official results — even on voter turnout — were available
The junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party was certain to win an overwhelming number of seats. It fielded 1,112 candidates for the 1,159 seats in the two-house national parliament and 14 regional parliaments. The largest anti-government party, the National Democratic Force, contested just 164 spots.
The constitution sets aside 25 percent of parliamentary seats for military appointees.
The NDF said provisional returns it had collected showed it winning 15 seats.
NDF chief Khin Maung Swe accused the USDP of using every possible method to steal the vote, and said it was “sure to win 90 percent if they continue to cheat in such manner.”
The NDF is led by breakaway members of the former National League for Democracy of detained Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi, who has been locked up in her Rangoon villa on and off since 1989. The party was disbanded this year after declining to register.
Suu Kyi’s term of house arrest is supposed to expire Saturday, though the junta has kept silent over whether it will grant her freedom.
Associated Press photographer Apichart Weerawong in Mae Sot, Thailand, and writers Thanyarat Doksone in Bangkok, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Frank Jordans in Geneva contributed to this report.