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Interview With Dr. David Steinberg On Burmese PM Speech - 2003-08-30


Q: Well, Dr. Steinberg, as you know, new prime minister General Khin Nyunt in Burma made a policy speech in which he said to the effect that there will be free and fair elections and leading to that there will be processes like having a convention, drawing up a constitution, approving the constitution through a referendum and holding free and fair elections. Then, of course, convening a national assembly and formation of a new government. But, there is no time frame whatsoever. What do you think of that, Sir?

A: Oh, I think that is progress. What is missing is this time table. [The] military government, since the very beginning, has always talked about the multi-party political system and eventual democracy. But they have never given it a time table. In order to be credible to the outside world, they need a time table. And this is easily done, if they want to do that. While the National Convention is reconsidering the Constitution, which is vastly drafted already, they should be bringing up to date the election or voter registration for the whole country because it has been many, many years since they have had an election and all that has to be brought up to date. And, if they were to do that, that would have given an added element of credibility what they were doing because that takes time. If they're going to have a referendum on the Constitution, you have to have voting registers in place.

Q: And, of course, there's another side of the story which is that the political movement outside of Burma has been vehemently protesting this because, they said, the present government must acknowledge the 1990 election results.

A: Well, to me that is not going to be likely simply because what it means to the government is -- get out of power and then we'll talk to you. Or, we'll talk to the new government. So we won't talk to you. I think, for any government, that is unacceptable. It means complete surrender. What I think should be done is that there should be an acknowledgement of the May 1990 elections and the fact that National League for Democracy won that election overwhelmingly. The NLD should be allowed back into the National Convention so that they play a very important role in determining how the constitution looks and then they should be allowed to campaign as all legal political parties should be allowed to campaign in any future election.

Q: On the other hand, there was much expectation before General Khin Nyunt gave the speech. But, in his speech, he did not mention anything about Aung San Suu Kyi's impending release from detention.

A: Right. She must be released, of course. That is sine qua non everyone will rely. It is essential for the government to do that -- and do that very quickly. They are facing problem in the Security Council of United Nations in September. They are facing the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) meeting October 6, I believe, and they are facing the question of European Union additional sanctions at the end of October unless they do some very important progress which certainly starts with the release of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Q: And, of course, in his (General Khin Nyunt's) speech, he did not mention about the participation of NLD in the process.

A: Well, I think, the NLD or the people in the NLD should be allowed in the Constitutional Convention. The National Convention is critical. We do need a new constitution, but, the NLD must have a vital role in that.

Q: According to the news wires, he (General Khin Nyunt) did talk something to the effect that superpowers should not interfere in Burmese politics and Burma has good neighbors. And if superpowers should try to intervene or interfere in the affairs of Burma, there will be regional chaos.

A: Well, I think, General Khin Nyunt has expressed that publicly and privately before. This is a reference, in part, with sanctions by the United States. They are not only the old sanctions of 1977 but also the new sanctions of 2003. So, he regards that as interference, that the Burmese government will not give in to those sanctions like he has said in a number of occasions. This -- interference, I think, is really quite a wrong word. What we want is some credible and free election again. We had one in 1990 that was free. We want another one as soon as possible in which the NLD will be allowed to participate to the full extent of what the legal system in Burma will allow.

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