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“The regime must fall!”
Karen National Union Vice Chairman David Tharckabaw, speaking from an undisclosed location, said that’s the goal of his organization and others planning a boycott of the coming Burmese parliamentary elections, an event he describes as predetermined to affirm the military junta’s power.
“It’s not a democratic election, and it’s not going to lead to democracy and the freedoms the people want. It’s a way of protest to let the world know that the seven-step road map of the regime is simply to perpetuate the military rule,” Tharckabaw said.
The Karen National Union, which includes large numbers of Christians among its members, is joining the election boycott announced by Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party, the National League for Democracy. In a statement released on the KNU website, the union said it fully supports the NLD’s decision to boycott the elections in the predominantly Buddhist nation.
“We the Karen National Union earnestly and fully support decision of the National League for Democracy not to register as a political party under the unjust laws and 2008 constitution of the SPDC military regime and thus to boycott the upcoming elections,” the statement said.
The statement said the decision represents the will of the people.
“The decision of NLD, which is supported by an overwhelming majority of the people of Burma, is the decision of the people, and thus, it is a valid and legitimate decision,” the statement added.
According to the election commission and the new election law announced in March, political parties have until June 6 to register for the elections this year. The new election laws also require all political parties to swear allegiance to the 2008 constitution, according to published reports.
However, the Burmese military regime dissolved Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy May 6. The move effectively prevents the NLD from participating in this year’s elections.
Tharckabaw said the NLD and the KNU wouldn’t participate anyway because that would be seen as an endorsement of the regime.
“The elections are a guise to try to gain legitimacy, so participating in the election
would also mean that we are giving the government legitimacy and to help
perpetuation of military rule,” Tharckabaw explained.
International Christian Concern’s Logan Maurer confirmed the elections are a sham.
Listen to an interview with Tharckabaw:
“The Burma election is a farce, but it provides a good means to bring international attention to bear and it may be time something can be done. This is the first time we have a U.N. special rapporteur recommending a Commission of Inquiry into Burma’s war crimes, which could potentially lead to a U.N. Security Council vote to intervene as it did in Sudan and Yugoslavia,” Maurer said.
West Australian Southeast Asia correspondent and analyst Scott Johnson agreed, adding that the appearance of democratic elections is a ploy by the regime.
“Last year the SPDC organized a number of hit teams to kill all the ethnic minority leaders. Manh Sha was killed, for example, in February 2008. The entire election process is also flawed to begin with. All key ministries remain with the military and they get an automatic 25 percent vote amongst things,” Johnson said.
Assassination is a way of life in Burma, Tharckabaw adds, and his leadership team received information that the military junta was planning to kill Aung San Suu Kyi.
“Before the boycott we received information that the SPDC were trying to assassinate Aung San Suu Kyi to get rid of her totally because they thought that Aung San Suu Kyi was the soul of the party,” Tharckabaw said.
However, Johnson said the issues in Burma aren’t simply disagreements over policy.
“It’s likely that the elections and human rights could be two different issues, but the connection is the Burmese regime’s abysmal human rights record. In general the HR record is truly appalling and certainly contributing to distrust of the regime,” Johnson said.
Tharckabaw said the people don’t trust the government because of its repressive acts. He said there are two primary explanations for the government’s repressive actions. He says the first reason is racial and religious.
“The military regime is led by what you would call extreme racists. They want to have control of everything, the people, the land and the natural resources,” he said.
“They are racist and they hate the Karen people. There is religious discrimination. They want to change the ethnic nationalities into Burmese. They don’t want us to learn our own language and literature and they want us to learn the Burmese culture,” he added.
Listen to another interview with Tharckabaw:
“Religion is the basis of culture. And it’s not only the Karen, the Chin people are also Christian. And the regime hates the British colonial history because the British Christianized the Karen people,” Tharckabaw explained.
The second reason Tharckabaw gives is simply power.
“This regime is power mad. All the military dictatorships starting with Ne Win, the first military dictator who overthrew the democratically elected government after the British left. Their agenda is to set up Burma as the fourth Burman Empire,” Tharckabaw said.
Tharckabaw saids the history of the conflict goes back many years.
Joseph Allchin, a Southeast Asian analyst for the Democratic Voice of Burma, says the conflict goes back centuries.
“The Karens have a mistrust of the Burmese going back hundreds of years. But there are at least two Karen parties who will, it seems, participate, the Karen People’s Party and the Union Karen League . The problem is that whatever has gone before there has been no reconciliation. So it would be impossible for many groups, individuals or parties to participate who have been involved in fighting the Burmese junta in the past or who have been opposed to them in any meaningful fashion,” Allchin said.
Allchin said the Burmese regime has tried to dominate all of the region’s ethnic groups.
“The Burmese have attempted to dominate the various tribes that tend to inhabit the upland areas of the border for centuries. The current military government looks to several medieval kings who conquered and dominated these peoples, in true medieval style, as inspiration,” Allchin said.
“They are thus attempting political and racial domination of these communities through resettlement and what is known as the ‘four cuts policy’, which can be described as a ‘scorched earth’ policy, so complete destruction of property, rape, killing etc. This is essentially to destroy the support network for the longest running civil war on earth,” Allchin said.
Johnson said a long history of deceit has shown the people that they can’t trust their government.
“I think the decades of criminality, abuses, corruption and outright trickery have convinced most people with knowledge that the regime is not trustworthy. Previous ceasefires haven’t worked well and some groups have done such agreements before only to find themselves weaker and further repressed,” Johnson said.
Tharckabaw adds that the NLD’s 1990 election landslide contributed to greater oppression.
“The NLD won the election in 1990. But what happened was the government retaliated and further repressed the members of Suu Kyi’s party,” Tharckabaw pointed out.
Allchin believes the Burmese government policy is the reason the Karens and other ethnic minorities tend to look outside of Burma for support.
“As a result of this ethnic strife the Karen as well as other minority groups have sided with foreigners against the Burmese, this is another reason for tension, of particular note is the British, whom the Karen fought valiantly with against the Japanese and their Burmese allies,” Allchin said.
“The Karen were promised an independent state by the British, but the British left before they could follow through with their promise, and the Karen were essentially betrayed by their allies,” Allchin said.
He said the Karen goal is autonomy.
“So it is basically a situation of separatism, the Karen want some form of autonomy and what Aung San Suu Kyi proposes as well as most democratically minded voices is a federal system that would permit strong state governments, not dissimilar to the U.S. or Germany,” Allchin added.
“This is probably the best answer to ethnic strife and the issue of autonomy. One has to remember that in Karen state, as is the case in much of Burma’s peripheries, the infrastructure for having a viable state independent of the center is not really there,” Allchin said.
The KNU vice president said what the people want is peace and to have a sovereign Karen state.
“Our policy is to have a genuine Union of Burma. Burma is called a union and has been called a union from the beginning. We want a United States of Burma,” Tharckabaw said.
He adds that for the union to be real, the elections have to be real.
“They have central rule over the states; the states do not have any power. We want a real government and if the government doesn’t hold legitimate elections, the government must fall,” Tharckabaw concluded.