A Small Step for Democracy in Burma but More Attention Needed For Ethnic Minorities
Posted on April 2, 2012 by Matisse Bustos Hawkes
Burma held parliamentary by-elections for a portion of the entire parliament body yesterday. By most accounts, the polling went relatively smoothly with some incidents of irregularities being reported. Our friends at the U.S. Campaign for Burma created a feed about the election on Storify, a platform for aggregating and curating news stories from across the social web- including news sites, Twitter, YouTube, etc.
Scenes in this video from Democratic Voice of Burma depict election workers inside voting stations and people queuing to vote by referencing a ballot. The only hint that this is a new experience is an interview with an election monitor noting that so far as he’s witnessed, all has been peaceful.
There were hopeful congratulations shared by the U.S. government and others for Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and leader of the National League for Democracy, the main opposition party. The Washington Post reported that White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement:
This election is an important step in Burma’s democratic transformation, and we hope it is an indication that the government of Burma intends to continue along the path of greater openness, transparency and reform.
And Mark MacKinnon, The Globe and Mail‘s East Asia correspondent tweeted that Suu Kyi herself is intensely aware of the gradual nature of the transition:
At press conference at her house, Aung San Suu Kyi was asked where Burma was as a democracy, on scale of 1-10. “On the way to 1,” she said.
— Mark MacKinnon/马凯 (@markmackinnon) March 30, 2012
Indeed the focus on Aung San Suu Kyi was understandable as she has spent more than a dozen years under house arrest and her party is estimated to have won 40 of the 45 seats up for grabs.
However, we hope that in future reporting on Burma’s transition that more attention is paid to the ongoing crisis in the ethnic minority regions where thousands of civilians are still being forced to run for their lives at the hands of the SPDC’s army. WITNESS’ former partner Burma Issues works to document the conditions for people living in these regions, including Karen State in eastern Burma as detailed in the video, “Shoot On Sight.”
Burma Issues interviewed ethnic Karen people living in Thai refugee camps about the election. In January a cease fire was declared between the Burmese government and the ethnic Karen army (the KNU), but citizens interviewed by Burma Issues state they are “happy but uncertain” that a lasting peace could be established as seen in this video. Most in this short video about the elections know who Aung San Suu Kyi is and seem to trust her as an agent of change, but do not yet believe that the situation has improved enough for them to return home:
We also want to remind activists in Burma of resources we have available, including this video series created for new users of video for advocacy.