Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Cautious optimism in Burma: The Church of England Newspaper,
Church leaders have welcomed the National League for Democracy (NLD) in Burma’s parliamentary by-elections elections his week, but have warned that a great deal of work lies ahead for the new government.
In just the third election the country has held in the last 50 years the NLD won 43 of the 44 seats it contested in Sunday’s by-election. Official results have not yet been released, but NLD leader and Nobel peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi hailed the vote as a “new era” for Burma.
“This is not so much our triumph as a triumph for people who have decided that they must be involved in the political process in this country,” Mrs. Suu Kyi said in a victory speech at her party headquarters in Rangoon. “We hope this will be the beginning of a new era.”
The NLD will be a minority party in a parliament that is dominated by representatives of the military junta and its political allies. Of the 664 seats in parliament, the military is allotted 25 per cent of the seats and the junta controls a further 55 per cent of the seats. However, Mrs. Suu Kyi stated “we hope that all parties that took part in the elections will be in a position to cooperate with us in order to create a genuinely democratic atmosphere in our nation.”
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) welcomed the election results but “warned that Burma still has a long way to go, and urged the Burmese government to proceed with further reforms as part of the process towards genuine democratisation, peace and national reconciliation in the country.”
CSW’s East Asia Team Leader Benedict Rogers said, “This is clearly a very significant and very welcome result, and it shows the true feeling of the Burmese people. Their clearly expressed desire is for freedom, justice and democracy, values represented by Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD whom voters have overwhelmingly supported. This is, however, just the beginning, and there is still a very long way to go.”
The military government’s hostile attitude towards religious groups, critics charge, is one of the key areas needing reform. Last week the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) 2012 Annual Report listed Burma as one of its “countries of particular concern.”
“It’s no coincidence that many of the nations we recommend to be designated as CPCs are among the most dangerous and destabilizing places on earth,” said USCIRF Chairman Leonard Leo. “Nations that trample upon basic rights, including freedom of religion, provide fertile ground for poverty and insecurity, war and terror, and violent, radical movements and activities.”
Christian churches have been subjected to years of government repression in Burma. Within the last month government troops ransacked a Baptist Church in Kachin State and on 10 March broke up a Christian conference in southern Chin State.
Mr. Rogers urged the Burmese government to “initiate a political dialogue with the ethnic nationalities, to secure a political agreement and a peace process that will end more than sixty years of civil war and stop the military’s crimes against humanity.”
“Until these steps are taken, the international community should be careful about how it responds to the by-election results,” he said, noting that “until all the people of Burma can live in peace and freedom, we cannot say that Burma is free. Today Burma has taken a welcome step forward towards change, but it has not yet changed.”
First published in Church of England news paper.