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Suu Kyi faces pressure to deliver in new era


The most heartening feature of the landslide electoral victory of the National League for Democracy (NLD) in Myanmar is the maturity and statesman-like quality being displayed by its chairperson, Aung San Suu Kyi, who is now showing all potentiality to become a beacon of hope in south and southeast Asia.

At a time when wild jubilation is taking place all over Myanmar and accolades are being heaped on the Nobel laureate, the lady, as she is called in the length and breadth of Myanmar, has played her cards adroitly, knowing fully well that in spite of the massive numerical superiority in parliament she is hamstrung by the Myanmar army’s constitutional status.

That is the reason behind her overture to President Thein Sein and Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the all-powerful commander-in-chief of the army, for reconciliation talks. Both of them have accepted the offer.

But, even if the army comes forward for talks it may put its foot down for accepting the 2008 constitution as the basis for all future negotiations.

Experience has however made Suu Kyi wiser and she has checkmated the army at the first round by declaring the results of the election in advance from her party headquarters as the counting progressed.

Obviously the lady took lessons from what happened in 1990 when the military junta managed to maintain a lull even after the NLD had secured a massive majority at the end of the vote counting process and declared the annulment of the election within two days.

At that time, the NLD committed a fatal mistake. It sat quietly for two months and allowed the army to snatch away power by using a quasi-military organization named the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC).

Suu Kyi knows that she must neutralize the army if she wants to usher in the democratic process and lift the poverty-stricken Myanmar out of a morass. She knows that she cannot be the president under the existing constitution unless it is amended because she had a foreign spouse and two children with foreign nationality.

Hence, her thunder that she would be above the president. But how this can be possible is difficult to guess. Either to achieve this or to become the president straightway she has to amend the constitution, which may be impossible for her given the fact that 25 percent of seats in parliament are reserved for the army. Seventy-five percent approval from parliament is necessary for amending the constitution.

However, the strategic position being enjoyed by the commander-in-chief is certain to emerge as the biggest stumbling block before Suu Kyi.

The army chief appoints and controls the ministers of defence, home and border affairs. Therefore, Su Kyi or anybody appointed by her as president will have no power over the country’s security order.

Moreover, the general has the right to approve presidential or vice-presidential candidates. He can veto any proposal to amend the constitution and take back power from any government at any time if he wishes. In a word, the army chief, and not any elected government, is the ultimate authority in Myanmar.

This may be the reason behind the Tatmadaw, as the Myanmar army is called, maintaining its poise and assuring that it will not stand in the way of transfer of power even in the face of such a massive defeat for the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the junta proxy, as the military top brass knows it very well that the army’s position is unassailable.

But its slogan of “discipline flourishing democracy”, meaning primarily crushing of ethnic armed rebellions, has received a setback as the NLD has swept the election in ethnic minority dominated areas too, nearly obliterating the ethnicity-based political parties there.

But the army is now the most important political institution in Myanmar with firmly entrenched economic interests. It has made billions of dollars by indulging in trades of jades, natural gas and other national assets.

This is what observers call the “Burmese way to capitalism”, leaving an adverse impact on the country’s economy. Foreign direct investment has increased in recent times but the kyat, the Myanmarese currency, has depreciated by 24 percent against the US dollar between April 2014 and September 2015.

Suu Kyi’s real test will be finding a solution to the long standing armed ethnic conflicts. By voting for the NLD en masse the ethnic minorities, consisting of about 40 percent of Myanmar’s total population, have entrusted Suu Kyi with a responsibility she may find it difficult to live up to.

(Amitava Mukherjee, IANS)

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Landslide at an illegal Jade mine in Myanmar kills 13

A workers can earn $300 per month or more in Myanmar. This attracts migrants who are willing to take great risks.

Rescue teams search for the bodies of miners killed in a landslide in a jade mining area in Hpakhant, in Myanmar's Kachin state on November 24, 2015. Search teams said on November 24 they had abandoned hope of finding survivors from a landslide in north Myanmar's jade mining heartland which killed more than 100 people. It is one of the deadliest incidents surrounding the billion-dollar jade trade that enriches a shadowy elite while destroying the local environment and social structure. AFP PHOTO / AFP / STR

YANGON— Dozens of Jade miner were killed while scavenging in a mining pit. This mishap occurred after the start of monsoon rain and due to lack of safety measure’s and dangerous conditions inside the mine.

Myanmar’s Kachi state in the north has Hpakant Township where vast wasteland of deep pits and huge rubble heaps produced by mining companies using heavy machinery and dynamite.

Due to heavy rainfall instability in area has increased and a pit wall collapsed on scores of workers, said Khin Maung Myint, a National League for Democracy (NLD) Upper House parliamentarian from Hpakant.

“They found 12 bodies so far and sent 50 to the hospital,” he said, adding he believed up to 100 men could still be under the rubble. “There is heavy raining so they had to stop searching,” he added.

extraction of bodies from the landslide area
extraction of bodies from the landslide area. Image source: voa

The men had illegally entered a company pit where work was suspended. Deadly accidents are common in the Hpakant mines, where poor migrants from across Myanmar scavenge mining waste and pits for jade stones.

On May 8, 13 people reportedly died in a landslide. Several accidents with a lower death toll occurred in December and January. In one of the worst accident in recent memory, 114 men sleeping in a mining camp died when they were crushed by a collapsing waste mound last November.

In 2015, an estimated 300,000 itinerant miners were scavenging for jade in Hpakant, a recent state media article said. It noted there had been a sharp rise in workers in the past few years, along with an increase in large-scale mining and waste dumping.

Naw Lown, secretary of the Kachin National Development Foundation, said the hazardous conditions were created by powerful, licensed companies that dumped waste with no regard for safety regulations or environmental rules.

“They don’t take responsibility, they care only for their benefits. They don’t explore according to the rules and regulations, and they don’t dump waste in a systematic way,” he said.

Authorities have thus far struggled to enforce safety laws, or to control the masses of itinerant miners, a situation that the new NLD government urgently wants to change. It has announced plans to improve mine safety during its first 100 days in office and will issue no new mining license until new rules and environmental safeguards are in place.

“We… will make arrangements for systematic mining there,” Win Htein, director-general of the Mining Department, told state media on May 19. Measures such as moving at-risk camps of miners, creating safe zones and enforcing tighter rules on dumping are being planned.

Khin Maung Myint said there were around 150 firms extracting jade, adding that NLD officials “want to stop all mining during the rainy season because it’s dangerous, but that’s very difficult because there are interests (of companies) owned by the military.”

Living conditions in the remote, mountainous area are tough and most workers share simple shacks set up in dirty camps. Addiction to drugs such as heroin and opium, which are cheap and produced in northern Myanmar, is common.

Yet income levels are good by Myanmar standards as workers can earn $300 per month or more. This attracts migrants who are willing to take great risks.

Jade rock found at the mine
Jade rock found at the mine. Image source: voa

Khin Maung Myint said many are driven by the hope of finding a large jade stone. “They dream they can find a golden pot at the end of the rainbow,” he said, adding that most migrants come from impoverished, crisis-affected Rakhine State

Reverend Sai Naw of the Baptist Church in Hpakant said many laborers simply work to feed their drug addiction. “The main danger for miners is the landslide, but we estimate that 60 percent of the migrant miners use drugs, though there is no detailed or correct data,” he said, adding that the recent opening of a NGO health clinic providing free clean needles would help reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS.

While countless poor men toil in dangerous conditions and scores die, the owners of mining companies are reaping huge profits.

Jade industry has an estimated worth as $31 billion annually according to an investigation by the London-based natural resource watchdog Global Witness and is Myanmar’s most valuable sector. It found most mining firms had military connections and hid their ownership and license contracts.

China is the market of Jade where it is highly priced. The Jade is exported to nearby border as unregistered raw blocks from where it goes to Hong Kong for processing.(VOA)