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Roundtable: A new government in exile?

Jan 22, 2009 (DVB), The announcement by the National Council of the Union of Burma of its plan to form a new exile government to rival the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma has met with a mixed response from political activists.

Some political activists in Rangoon are said to be excited by the 1 January announcement and the potential to raise the profile of Burmese affairs around the world, but many political groups in exile are concerned about the implications for the unity of the movement.

Myint Thein, joint secretary of the NCUB, said the move was intended as a way of opposing the State Peace and Development Council's planned 2010 elections.

"The NCUB will not accept the SPDC's unilateral plan to hold elections unilaterally in 2010," Myint Thein said. "In order to expressly oppose this, the NCUB has been planning to form a national unity government during 2009."

"We held a meeting on 7-8 January and discussed the details on developing a pragmatic strategy to form the government and we managed to issue the necessary instructions."

Although Myint Thein said the plan had been agreed by all opposition groups, current prime minister of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma Dr Sein Win said he was not consulted.

"That was what they declared. If they want make changes, [they should] discuss it properly, look at the pros and cons. Can we do it properly? Is this the right path?" Dr Sein Win said.

"As I have said before, we can’t be separated from the people inside the country. We need to discuss it properly, in particular with the [National League for Democracy-Liberated Area], as it represents the NLD inside Burma."

"Our government was formed on the basis of the 1990 election result. The winning party, the NLD, is still inside the country. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the majority of MPs are still there. We have to respect the desire of the people inside the country. We cannot accept a unilateral declaration without their support."

This raises the issue of the 1990 election result. The NCGUB is made up of people's parliament representatives elected in 1990. The new government is also to be formed of elected MPs, but also of armed rebel leaders and youth and women leaders, among others.

It seems that Dr Sein Win and other MPs-elect are worried that the formation of a new exile government now would undermine the result of the 1990 election and the position of the NLD and the Committee Representing the People's Parliament.

Sydney-based Burma affairs director Dr Myint Cho highlighted the views that came out of a meeting of three elected MPs and a group of Burmese exiles in Sydney, Australia, on 10 January.

"The majority of activists want to expand the government based on the MPs of 1990 election result," he said.

"At the upcoming meeting in Dublin, Ireland, the government should be formed with the majority of existing MPs and later, we would prefer to include ethnic national leaders, democracy group representatives and experts in decision making as necessary."

"We believe that we need not only ministers in the government but also specialists who are able to work effectively and skillfully throughout the world."

Thirty-three exiled MPs are meeting in Ireland from 20 January to decide whether to re-elect Dr Sein Win as prime minister and to discuss the NCUB's proposal to form a new government.

The question to ask here is why preliminary discussions on the proposal were held in Australia, where only five MPs-elect are living, and not in Thailand where there are nearly 20 MPs and 2 million Burmese?

Why has there been no prior discussion in US and European countries either? Some people have questioned whether this shows the lack of effective communication between MPs, exiled Burmese and the exile governments.

Most ceasefire groups refused to comment on the plans for a new government, but the colonel James Lum Dau of the Kachin Independence Organisation expressed some skepticism.

"It would be very good if the new government can create opportunities," he said. "But there has been no discussion of that idea with peace groups inside the country. It is one thing is they can say and do things abroad, but can they use that freedom inside the country?"

NLD and CRPP leaders also refused to comment, stating that they could not comment officially on organisations outlawed by the military government. But unofficially, they said they were worried about the implications for the unity of opposition groups.

Many exile groups kept their distance from the matter, and stranger still, Burmese political analysts who are usually forthcoming with their opinions also refused to comment.

In the end it was left to Josef Silverstein, professor emeritus at Rutgers University and a frank commentator on Burmese affairs, to provide a firm view on the subject.

"I don't see any need to change the government if there is nothing that that government could possibly do," he said. "For one thing, amongst the people living outside of the government of Burma, the military government, they are not really well organised, they have no authority, and as a result it seems to me to be a waste of time."

Professor Silverstein called for a genuine shift in power to the people instead of simply a new government carrying out the same activities.

"I favour the idea of the opposition coming together and forming a genuine movement that speaks for the millions of Burmese people who reject the military and have no voice in the government," he continued.

"But unless you are talking about a genuine movement in which there will be an effort to bring all the people who are outside of the control of the military together, to organise and to begin to challenge the military's right to rule and what they say, I don't see that it's worth the effort at this point."Reporting by Htet Aung Kyaw