Burma’s next step

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Elections signal possibility for new start for the suffering country

Natasha Tersigni
News Editor

Some might see the  election of pro-democracy activist and political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi to office in Burma a mere year after has a major step forward for the struggling country that has been under military rule since the 1962. Others think that this by-election, like the multi-party elections in 1990 and 2010, may mean little for the advancement of democracy in the country

University of Regina journalism professor Trish Elliot has spent much of her career working in and around Burma. She believes the military rulers of Burma understand the need for change.

“The country has been stalled in their devolvement since the ’40s,” Elliot said. “There are more reasons for the regime to try and rehabilitate – more economic reasons. Right now. Burma is just a resource depository for other countries. They come and get the oil, gas. and minerals. So, if Burma ever wants to get beyond that and establish a manufacturing centre and an advanced economy, it has to enact political reforms, because otherwise they will always be fighting sanctions and they won’t be able to attract foreign investment."

After the 1990 democratic elections, the military junta in Burma refused to acknowledge Suu Kyi’s victory. First declaring that they would relinquish power once a new constitution was drafted, the junta later reneged, annulling the results, placing Suu Kyi under house arrest, asserting their authority to rule, and cracking down on opposition leaders. Those who left Burma formed a government in exile, the Rockville, Maryland-based National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma.

Nobody can say at this point whether the aftermath of the April 1 by-elections – which saw Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy take the position of second party in the Pyithu Hluttaw, Burma’s lower house of representatives – will be different from the elections in 1990 that also saw Suu Kyi in a prominent political position. But Elliot believes that increased scrutiny of Burma’s electoral system by journalists in an increasingly strong national press has the potential to make a difference.

In February of 2012, Elliot released a documentary, Breaking Open Burma, that she has been working on since 2008.

The documentary chronicles the lives of Burmese journalists who work throughout the country trying to make people aware what is happening and that things need to change.

“I think most people look at Burma as this monolithic state where nothing goes on, but that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Elliot said

“Journalism is all about creating an open transparent society. Just the presence of journalism pushes that along.”

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