THE WORLD HOLDS ITS BREATH AS PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEES ARE KNOWN
by Alan Nichols
A glimpse of the capital Naypyidaw, site chosen by astrologers and a long way from Yangon (Rangoon). Photo Alan Nichols, 2015
On February 8 a joint session of the Parliament of Myanmar will meet in the capital Naypyidaw, where nominations will be decided and made known, one of whom will be elected President. Both houses of Burma’s newly elected legislature will announce the dates for the electoral college. The Upper House, Lower House and the military bloc will each convene independently to discuss their nominations for the vice-presidency. One of the three nominees will be elected president. The current president’s term ends on March 31. It remains illegal for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to be elected because her sons have British passports.
Speculation has persisted that U Tin Oo, the Patron of the National League for Democracy, Suu Kyi’s party which won 80% of the available seats in the November 8 national election, may be the nominee. This was strengthened by his statement to reporters on February 2 ‘Daw Aung San Suu Kyi should be the president. She should. I will act as the stepping stone so that we can reach this achievement. That’s all.’
Negotiations with the military about the presidency have been ongoing since the November 8 election. But an article in the army-owned newspaper Myawaddy last Monday, written under the pen name of Sai Wai Lu, claimed that charter change was impossible.
Another surprise has been a meeting between Suu Kyi and former dictator Than Shwe. According to Than Shwe’s grandson, Than Shwe referred to Suu Kyi as ‘the future leader’ of Burma and he would assist her as best he could. (Sources: The Irrawaddy news service, February 2, 2016, and Voice Weekly)
One significant appointment already made is Shwe Mann, Burma’s former Parliamentary Speaker, now chairman of the Legal Affairs and Special Cases Assessment Commission within Parliament. The Commission’s task is to support parliamentary committees as they amend new laws and draft new bills. Shwe Mann stood in last year’s election for the Union Solidarity and Development Party (which controlled government since 2010 and were supported by the military) but lost to the NLD candidate. He has had a close working relationship with Suu Kyi.
Ms Khin Saw Wai, whose party is the Arakan National Party, won her second term last November. She has warned the new Parliament not to amend either the 1982 citizenship law or the package of ‘race and religion protection’ laws which were passed by Parliament last year. She said she was worried about ‘race annihilation’ is the Muslim-majority townships. The Arakan National Party led efforts to overturn the voting rights of temporary identification cardholders, known as ‘white cards’, which were held by hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas.
The issue of the Rohingyas has been controversial, with more than 100,000 in makeshift camps after religious violence (Buddhist verses Muslim) erupted in the western state in 2012.
Pay cut for parliamentarians
The National League for Democracy on the very day they entered Parliament as a majority, implemented a new donation policy to raise party funds. Outgoing NLD Members have agreed to donate the entirety of their ‘party pension’ a state-funded gratuity for their time served in parliament, to a party fund. New members have agreed to give up between 25 and 50% of their pay (on a sliding scale depending on their tasks), to the party fund. The extra funds are to be used for party offices, which previously relied on donations from supporters.
Support for working mothers
Three days after giving birth to her child this month, Wint War Tun, a new NLD Member of Parliament from Karenni State, had to attend her first day in Parliament.
This has raised the tempo of the argument from working mothers that Burma needs a social welfare policy which makes better provision for working mothers. For example, the municipal guest house in the new capital, Naypyidaw, lacks a kitchen or common cooking space.
Of 791 women who stood in the election last November, 149 were elected, putting female representation at 13%, three times of the last parliament. The campaign for better social policies for working mothers is nationwide and has the support of NGOs and the International Labour Organisation.
CIVIL SOCIETY GROUP ACTS ON DRUGS
[Last week’s blog introduced the increasingly public role for civil society organisations in Myanmar. This story is one example.]
Alan Nichols in January 2015 viewing the vast poppy fields near Kayah State north east of Yangon
A Christian civil society organisation named Pat Ja San, linked to the Kachin Baptist Convention, have been operating a vigilante drug eradication program in northern Kachin State, despite threats to volunteers’ lives.
For two years volunteer groups have been leading anti-drug campaigns to destroy poppy fields. Last month, it became violent, with one volunteer shot dead and three others injured by poppy growers in Tanai and Waingmaw townships. Drug growing s illegal in Myanmar, and the US Government has poured millions of dollars into drug eradication and burning off programs in recent years.
Between 600 and 1400 members of local CSOs have travelled to large plantations in five townships to destroy the illicit crop.
Tang Gun, secretary of a drug eradication group in Myitkyina, the Kachin State capital, told The Irrawaddy on February 2 that teams have destroyed more than 1500 acres of poppy fields in one town, and 2000 acres in another. He said the teams aim to prevent the production of heroin in the region. “Locals suffer a lot from drug-related problem,” he said. “Many young people already face addiction to the drug. We don’t want to see more of that.”
The growing of poppies resumed in 2011 after a 17-year ceasefire between the Kachin Independence Army and the government broke down. As well as eradication programs, the CSOs aim to persuade growers to plant substitute crops. “We have a lot of good soil in Kachin State,” he sad. “We can grow crops other than poppy.”