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US senator Jim Webb has said he expects elections in Burma this year to be held on 10 October and said that people should vote in order to “build the future a step at a time”.
Webb has long been an advocate for engagement with the Burmese junta, a stance that has riled the factions within the old guard of Burma’s pro-democracy movement. A fortnight ago, a senior member of the now-disbanded National League for Democracy (NLD) party warned that Webb would not be welcomed on a diplomatic visit to Burma.
The NLD announced they would boycott the elections in light of laws that ban leader Aung San Suu Kyi from participating, but other details surrounding the election date have remained typically vague.
“What I’m hearing is that they will take place…on 10-10-10,” Webb told the Asia Society. If true, the date would be in keeping with successive Burmese generals’ fixation on numerology, which has dictated key decisions in the past: Ne Win, Burma’s first dictator, ordered that the Burmese currency be issued in denominations of 45 and 90, which are divisible by nine, his lucky number.
He also initially set the date of his resignation for 8 August 1988, which triggered the bloody student protests known as the ‘8888 uprising’, an auspicious figure in Burmese numerology.
The government is yet to confirm the date for the elections, although senior ministers have set they will be held in the latter half of 2010. Leaked details from a meeting in January this year between Burma’s agriculture minister, Htay Oo, and the head of Japan’s Nippon Foundation, Yohei Sasakawa, suggested that Htay Oo had told Sasakawa elections would be in October.
International opinion on the elections has been mixed: while the Obama administration and other Western leaders officially support the NLD’s decision, and Webb has acknowledged that the polls are designed to preserve the military regime, he told reporters yesterday that he did not support a boycott.
“In East Asia, in Southeast Asia, you have to build the future a step at a time,” he said. “When’s the last time China had an election? When’s the last time Vietnam had an election?
“It doesn’t mean we don’t talk to them, and it doesn’t mean we don’t try to advance the notions of a fairer society.”