- The Washington Times - Friday, November 28, 2003

RANGOON, Burma (Kyodo) — Despite many obstacles, political analysts in Burma believe Prime Minister Khin Nyunt’s Aug. 30 “road map to democracy” can work.

The prime minister’s plan, largely denigrated in the West but embraced by neighboring Thailand, calls for reconvening the suspended National Convention on the constitution, holding a multiparty general election and forming a democratic government.

Successful reconvening of the suspended National Convention and producing a constitution are key to achieving democracy via the road map, several analysts said.

Burma held a general election in 1990, but the ruling generals refused to hand power to Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), despite its landslide win, claiming a constitution is necessary before the junta will cede power.

The junta convened the National Convention in January 1993 to draft a constitution with about 700 delegates called to deliberate on the basic law.

By 1995, the National Convention had adopted six constitutional chapters on Fundamental Principles, Structure of the State, Head of State, Legislature, Judiciary, and Administration.

But nine chapters remained and when opposition leader Mrs. Suu Kyi was released in July 1995 after six years of house arrest, she disagreed not only with the composition and procedure of the National Convention but also with the provisions already adopted.

NLD Chairman Aung Shwe wrote to the National Convention Works Committee chairman on Nov. 27, 1995, stating that the NLD wanted to reorganize the convention, change the procedures and cancel the basic principles already adopted.

He called for the authorities to meet Mrs. Suu Kyi to solve the problems and asked for a response by Nov. 28. But the junta stayed silent and the 86 NLD members attending the convention boycotted it Nov. 29.

A day later, the NLD delegates were expelled and in March 1996, the generals suspended even the pretense of a constitutional convention.

Now, Gen. Khin Nyunt wants to reconvene the convention as the first step on his road map to democracy.

But to leap even the first hurdle to reconciliation, analysts suggest, the junta must address the NLD concerns over the convention’s makeup, its procedures and the already-decided chapters.

Selection of new delegates will be another hurdle, and third, the junta must decide whether it will accede to the NLD demand that any new convention begin from scratch.

“Solution of these problems between the government and the opposition NLD is unlikely to be reached easily, but it is not impossible. Hurdles can be overcome when both sides come to realize the need for compromise,” one analyst said.

But then the question of timing arises.

It is believed it would take up to a year, even if all the decided chapters are left unchanged, to deal with suggested chapters covering citizens’ rights, the armed forces, political parties, amendment procedures, possible states of emergency, transition, the state seal, the national flag, the national anthem and other matters.

Another three months would be needed to transform the constitutional guidelines into a draft constitution in Burmese and English that could be published in newspapers for public suggestions before adoption via referendum.

Deciding who would be eligible to vote in any referendum would take even more time, as would deciding how many legal political parties might be allowed, leaving the analysts suggesting it will be at least three year before even the barest possibility of a democratic election can be expected.

The questions now are whether the NLD will even consider reconvening the National Convention, will accept the already decided chapters and will be willing to wait at least three years before any possible election.

And with Mrs. Suu Kyi still essentially barred from meeting supporters or outside interlocutors, it seems hard to imagine the National Convention getting off the ground quickly.

Still, the analysts do believe democracy can come to Burma.

But it is not clear if others in the country — and those in the increasingly critical outside world, where economic and political sanctions on the junta are growing — will wait as long as the generals hope for changes to be made.


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