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Statement on free and fair elections in Myanmar

Statement on free and fair elections in Myanmar if the Executive Committee of the World Council of Churches

17 September 2010

Statement on free and fair elections in Myanmar


WCC Executive Committee

         14-17 September 2010

Edinburgh, Scotland

1. Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962. During this time the government has been reduced to an amalgam of agencies serving various purposes of a military agenda. The challenges faced by the people of Myanmar are multifaceted and complex. The country has been entrenched in ethnic, political and armed conflicts between the repressive ruling military regime, political opponents and ethnic groups, resulting in the displacement of over 3.5 million people.

2. Human rights abuses have been systemic over the years. The militarization of society and politics, social and political control of local administration, and non-independence of the judiciary are reasons for intensifying systemic violations of the civil and political rights of its citizens. The courts’ function is subordinate to the executive, and they can neither function in accordance with the laws that they are supposed to uphold, nor can they function in a manner that can defend, let alone implement, human rights. The socio-economic and political situation in Myanmar continues to be a serious concern to the international community.

3. In 2008, the government of Myanmar pushed for a new constitution through a referendum that lacked credibility. The referendum was conducted even as the country faced its worst natural disaster, Cyclone Nargis, in which more than one hundred thousand persons perished and tens of thousands of others were left without homes.

4. There has been much criticism about the way the new constitution was introduced. The new constitution is designed to ensure the continuation of the status quo with semi-elected parliaments at the national and regional levels, in which the military will hold a quarter of all seats and exercise authority through key governmental positions.

5. Under its provisions, it appears the armed forces are placed outside judicial authority and will be the constitution’s guardian. Under the new constitution, all rights are qualified with ambiguous language permitting exemptions of the state’s choosing, the revocation of rights at any time and suspension of rights during a state of emergency. These qualifications will render meaningless all guarantees of rights.

6. The last democratic election in the country was held in 1990, but the military dictatorship refused to acknowledge the landslide victory of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party led by Aung San Suu Kyi. Following the adoption of a new constitution, a Political Parties Registration Law was introduced early this year. The date was announced for holding an election for the first time in twenty years, now scheduled to take place on 7 November 2010. Restrictive provisions of the Political Parties Registration Law will assure that many imprisoned dissidents will be excluded from the election process. Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the NLD who has been sentenced to house arrest for many years, will not be able to contest the forthcoming election. The NLD, which had refused to take part in the election, was also disbanded.

7. The new constitution has innumerable flaws and does not promise to ensure inclusive, free and fair elections. It is perceived by national and international observers that, if the elections are conducted within the framework of a questionable constitution and according to the restrictive provisions in the Political Parties Registration Law, the military’s power will only be entrenched even after the election. As the constitutional provisions reserve a quarter of the seats in national and regional legislatures for the military, it will create a powerful national defense and security council controlled by the commander-in-chief, who can wield extraordinary powers.

8. In Myanmar, which has been ethnically, socially and politically divided, any national reconciliation and democratic transition process should be based on essential processes that will uphold the fundamental freedoms and rights of all citizens. It is the responsibility of a credible government and an independent election commission to create favorable conditions to allow free participation of all citizens in the elections.

9. Multiparty representation and unobstructed participation in the electoral process, a free media, freedom of expression and an independent election commission are fundamental parts of a free and fair election process. While the top military leaders have stepped down from their positions to contest in the election, several opposition politicians still are being held as prisoners. Even before the date of the elections was announced, the military-backed ‘Union Solidarity and Development Party’ began to campaign across the country, including on all state-owned television channels and other government-controlled media.

10. The international community has unequivocally stated that unless all political prisoners are released and allowed full participation in the campaign and polling process, the elections will have neither legitimacy nor credibility. Various governments and international and regional civil society organizations have stated that the planned elections cannot be free and fair under existing conditions. Specific constitutional provisions reserve seats for the military in both houses of parliament and key ministries, which ensures that current and former military officials will dominate when a new government is formed.

Against this background of mounting concerns about the situation in Myanmar, the executive committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Musselburgh/Edinburgh, Scotland, 14-17 September 2010:

A. Urges the Myanmar authorities to take adequate measures to hold inclusive, free and fair elections, allow for the presence of international election observers, release all political prisoners without delay, respect fundamental freedoms for all, and that military rulers amend electoral laws to allow political equity;

B. Requests the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) countries to call on the authorities in Myanmar to ensure that the election is free, fair and effective as a mechanism to further accelerate progress in the implementation of the roadmap for national reconciliation and democracy.

Approved by consensus by the WCC Executive Committee, 17 September, 2010, Musselburgh/Edinburgh, Scotland.