PRAGUE – On November 7, when Burma’s first general election for almost two decades is to be held, a well-rehearsed script will play out. The country’s ruling generals will twist what is meant to be a democratic process, whereby the people get to express their will, into a mockery of free expression in which people vote in fear and without hope.
The international community must judge Burma’s generals by their actions, not their words and promises. The facts on the ground in Burma speak the truth more loudly than all the proclamations from the generals about a free ballot and a democratic transition.
More than 2,100 political prisoners remain in jail in Burma. Many have been tortured, kept in horrific conditions, and denied medical care. Attacks against the country’s ethnic minorities continue, with the deliberate targeting of civilians, including children, by the Burmese military and police. The country’s media remains censored, freedom of expression denied, and the most popular political party in the country, the National League for Democracy, which won elections in 1990, has been forced to disband because it decided not to register for the November elections.
In such conditions, free and fair elections will be impossible. This so-called democratic transition, a process designed solely by dictators and with input only from the regime’s loyalists, will result in continued dictatorship.