Gambari’s Mission is Dead in the Water

20 February 2008

By Aung Zaw
[Source - Irrawaddy]

UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari is not a superman—I have to remind colleagues of that in order to moderate their expectations. But now I suspect that his mission to Burma is all but over.

On Tuesday evening, Burma’s military government announced that the draft of the proposed new constitution has been completed. The news came 11 days after the regime announced it would hold a referendum on the constitution in May and a general election in 2010.

Tuesday’s announcement is another nail in the coffin of the flagging pro-democracy movement. It is a signal finally to nullify the 1990 election winner, the National League for Democracy (NLD), and an indication that the dialogue process and the UN’s national reconciliation process are dead.

This means that Gambari’s Burma mission is no longer needed, although it’s surprising that he didn’t realize from day one that his job was just a sinecure.

The Nigerian diplomat had to earn his title somehow, however. Now he’s back in Asia again for what many observers are saying will be his last trip to the region.

After visiting China and meeting Chinese foreign ministry officials, Gambari said that the Burmese government’s proposals for a May referendum on a constitution written under military guidance and for general elections in 2010 were significant steps forward.

"This is a significant step as it marks the first time that we have an established time frame for the implementation of its political roadmap," Gambari said.

However, he also said Burma must create "an atmosphere conducive to credible elections," adding that this must include the release of political prisoners and relaxation of restrictions on opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest. But it’s all too late, and I don’t believe the Burmese people are listening to him.

The proposals are significant for the generals in Naypyidaw, as the draft constitution guarantees the military’s prominent role in future politics.

The constitution ensures that the military, in or out of uniform, continues to run the country in the future. It strengthens the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), the regime’s mass association, in the key role it plays in politics, with the military leaders pulling the strings.

Where does that leave the NLD? Tuesday’s announcement terminates the political life spans of members of parliament elected in the 1990 poll. The draft constitution also effectively bars Aung San Suu Kyi from running for office, on the grounds that she was once married to a foreigner.

Although the Burmese people haven’t yet seen the draft of the proposed new constitution, USDA members and government representatives at township level have begun work on the May referendum.

Angered by the crackdown on the September demonstrations, the people are in no mood to cooperate with the regime’s referendum. Yet sources in Rangoon say they will be forced at gunpoint to vote—and to vote “Yes.”

At this critical time, Gambari must make sure he is not endorsing the military’s proposed constitution and its road map to “disciplined democracy.”

It is understandable that Gambari wants to return to Burma to meet the junta’s supremo, Snr-Gen Than Shwe.

The regime equivocated over Gambari’s plans, forcing him to delay his visit until April. China, the regime’s major ally and political consultant, helped him obtain a visa.

Even if Gambari does return to Burma in April, he may have little to do there.

During previous visits, he was virtually a prisoner of the government and stayed in isolated Naypyidaw, following a regime-ordained itinerary that included attendance at a rally in Shan State denouncing September’s pro-democracy uprising.

Aside from earning him frequent flyer mileage on his Asian tours, Gambari’s mission is as dead as Burma’s pro-democracy movement.

The diplomatic jargon and the endless repetition of such clichés as "tangible results," “turning a new page” and “cautious optimism” no longer have any meaning. The mission is over.

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