03/31/2011, 00.00
MYANMAR
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The new government, a “puppet” in the hands of the military, says Burmese trade union leader

U Maung Maung stresses the absence of “new faces” in parliament, where most are military or former military. The new president plays “the role assigned to him,” but will not share power. Trade union leader urges the international community not to recognise the government. For him, the dictatorship is weakening, “a few more shoves in the right places will lead to its collapse.”

Yangon (AsiaNews) – Burma’s “civilian” government, which yesterday replaced the country’s 20-year military junta, will not bring major changes and will not guarantee greater democracy, this according to the leaders of the nation’s pro-democracy opposition, including trade union leader Maung Maung. Speaking to AsiaNews, the latter said that he could not see any “new faces” in parliament or in the government. In his inaugural speech, newly appointed President Thein Sein said that he wants to modernise and strengthen the armed forces to improve the country’s defences. He rejected demands for dialogue launched by the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), also ignoring a call by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for real change.

In his speech yesterday to a joint session of parliament behind closed doors in Naypyidaw, capital of Myanmar, President Thein Sein promised to reinforce the armed forces and fight corruption. He also said that the minimum wage would be increased and that the environment deserved greater protection. At the same time, he slammed “neo-imperialists” who “look upon our nation” because of its “strategic position, geographically and economically.” For this reason, we must “defend the nation” to “avoid destruction” through “hard, capable, patriotic and modern armed forces.”

A few days ago, NLD Vice President Tin Oo urged the government to engage in political dialogue for the purpose of national reconciliation. President Thein Sein rejected the proposal. Instead, he said that “communications, transportation, education, and the economy must be boosted” and that the opposition’s vague calls for dialogue are “insufficient”. He also demanded that Western powers treat Burma as a true democracy and lift longstanding economic sanctions that prevent the country’s development.

Contacted by AsiaNews, U Maung Maung, secretary general of the National Council of the Union of Burma, an organisation set up in 1992 to achieve full democracy in Burma, did not mince his words. “There are no new faces because 25 per cent of parliament is constituted by military and 73 per cent by former military or representatives of the USPD,” the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, a creation of the military junta. “There is no possibility,” he said, “of amending the constitution, a precondition for participating in elections. We do not rust this so-called civilian government”.

Speaking about Thein Sein’s statement, U Muang, who is also a trade union leader, said, “The goals of Senior General Than Shwe are very clear since before the referendum: army, army, army.” There will be no power sharing and Thein Sein is just playing the role “assigned to him”.

“People want change, even within military circles,” for the future, U Maung Maung said. “There have been cases of mutiny among troops around Yangon,” he noted, “as a result of demands for more money and better wages . . . as well as dialogue.” For the trade union leader, “there will be no change, if Than Shwe has a free hand to do what he wants.”

Lastly, he urged the international community “not to recognise either the new parliament or the new government” because real change will only come “through pressures for dialogue. The military junta is weakening, and a few more shoves in the right places will lead to its collapse.”

 “We can't say this is the change people have wished for,” said Ohn Kyaing, spokesperson for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, because the election “was based on the 2008 constitution, and was not inclusive [of the people] despite the fact the whole world asked for inclusiveness”.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also called for dialogue and greater cooperation between government and opposition, urging the authorities to develop a credible system of government.

“Responding to the longstanding aspirations of the Myanmar people for national reconciliation, democratisation and respect for human rights remains essential,” he said.

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