As we now ease into the new year, Burma watchers are looking for indications from Rangoon as to when national reconciliation moves might come about.
After a flurry of diplomatic moves towards the end of 2003 in Bangkok and Rangoon, hope for political reforms was high. This includes the release of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest since last May, as well as 1,300 or so other political prisoners.
Burma's new prime minister General Khin Nyunt last August laid down a seven-step Road Map that he said will bring about the new National Convention, drafting of the new constitution and a transition to democracy. Little or no visible progress has been seen so far.
On the other hand, recent new arrests and harsh sentences on activists seem to be the order of the day.
Consequently, politicians inside and outside of Burma are skeptical of any statement by leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as Rangoon's positive move toward national reconciliation and democratization.
Their skepticism is steeped in history. One glaring case has to do with the last National Convention (1993-96) which adopted the controversial 104 principles for the country's new constitution. Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy boycotted the then convention in 1995 for being undemocratic.
The big question on everybody's mind is whether the proposed new National Convention will again pick up the so-called 104 principles in its deliberations.
In a VOA Burmese Service interview, U Win Naing of National Front in Rangoon explains all the salient points of the 104 principles adopted by the 1993-96 National Convention.
The political role of the military as defined in those principles was and is a bone of contention among the Burmese politicians. The military would like to nominate from its rank and file 25 per cent of representatives in the national, state, division and regional assemblies. Only 75 per cent of the representatives in these assemblies will be popularly elected.