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Burma Reconvenes Constitutional Convention Amid Growing Concerns of Nations


The planned visit of a representative of Southeast Asian Nations to Burma to talk about the country's democracy plans has been postponed. Burma says it is too busy relocating its capital. The international community is concerned about a lack of reform in Burma after decades of military rule. The government denies that, and points to a recently convened constitutional convention.

The international community is growing increasingly concerned about deteriorating standards of living, health and nutrition in Burma. For the first time, Leaders of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, at a summit in December, formally urged Burma to release political prisoners and provide tangible proof that it is moving toward democracy.

Another first: in December, the United Nations Security Council held a briefing on what was termed the deteriorating situation in Burma. The Burmese government said it is moving toward democracy and in December re-opened a National Convention that is drafting a constitution.

Lieutenant-General Thein Sein, convention chairman and third-ranking official in the junta, told delegates the purpose is to install a disciplined democracy in Burma.

He said, "This convention is the first and most crucial step in the transition to democracy. There is no other way."

But many political leaders have been left out of the process. The National League for Democracy, or NLD, which won elections in 1990 but was never allowed to govern, is boycotting because its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, is under house arrest.

NLD Spokesman Nyan Win, speaking at party headquarters, said the National Convention, or NC, is not representative.

Nyan Win said, "All the members in NC [National Convention] are handpicked by the government. So they are not [chosen] according to the people's voice."

He says the real purpose of the convention is to legalize the military's hold on power. The military also appears to be creating a political organization.

A government-sponsored civic group called the Union for Solidarity and Development Association, claims 22 million members or nearly one-half of the Burmese population. Some believe it will become the pro-military political party.

Its leader, Major-General Htay Oo, acknowledged the possibility at a recent news conference.

He said, "As public opinion changes and the situation changes in our country, our association can also change. But we will do what is best for the public."

Meanwhile, critics say that because of economic decline due to years of mismanagement and international sanctions, the Burmese people are slipping deeper into poverty.

A politician, whose party was banned after 1990 elections, Win Naing says growing despair could lead to social unrest similar to demonstrations in 1988 that brought a crackdown in which thousands were killed or imprisoned.

He said, "The trauma of 1988 is still here. So the people are waiting patiently, trying to tolerate everything as much as possible, and they are waiting for the time, the right time, and the right movement, which they and we are not sure when they are coming."

Nevertheless, the Burmese government says it will proceed with its plan. And it blames the slow pace of the process on what it calls jealous elements inside and outside the country.

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