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Election Special

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ELECTION 2010 --- Shan State

When voters in Shan State’s 55 electorates go to the polls on 7 November they will have 12 political parties to choose from, but not all 12 parties will contest all of the 55 electorates. Only the military regime’s backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) will contest in all electorates. A sticking point to the USDP’s dominance of all the electorates in Shan state is the unresolved issue of the regime’s move to force all ceasefire groups to join the Border Guard Force. The United Wa State Army and the National Democractic Alliance Army also known as the Mongla group have so far refused to accept the regime’s BGF proposal. This will affect six electorates, four under the control of the UWSA, one under the NDAA and one under both.

The Shan National Democratic Party is regarded as the strongest local party, as it is led by the former general secretary of the 1990 elected Shan Nationalities League for Democracy and is politically connected to local networks and grass root organizations and has earned the trust of Shan voters.

The SNDP will contest in 40 of the 55 electorates.

The population of Shan State is estimated by the military regime’s Ministry of Interior as 4,786, 113, but opposition parties say these figures are wrong and it is more than 8 million people.

Reporters from Shan Herald Agency for News (S.H.A.N) spoke to voters in Shan State about the coming election. Many voters said they were not interested, confused, or had little information to make a informed decision about candidates, and in some electorates had heard nothing about the election or what it was for.

With only about 70 days left, time is fast running out to inform voters that they have to go to the polls in Burma’s first election in 20 years.

What the people say and want…

Ma Win, 40, is a single, a Shan businesswoman, who runs and owns a small mixed business in Panglong in Shan State south said.

“I’m not interested in politics or the election. I want our country to be better like other countries. I want the new government to improve the economy, education, heath care and transportation. I want the government to reduce our cost of living. The poor should get free and higher education so they can improve their lives. Poor people should have free heath care and we need better roads.”

Keep taxes low…
Sai Hseng, 42, married without children, he is a legal migrant worker in Bangkok and is from Panglong. He works in a factory as a tailor, earning 4,000 baht ($ 126.94) a month, about three times what he could earn in Shan State. Sai Hseng says.

“I don’t understand about what the election is about. I would like a new government to reduce taxes and don’t tax us by force. The new government should not export our rice because right now there is not enough for our people. I want 24-hour electricity*. I want forced labor to end. I want poor children not to be discriminated against and to have a free education. I want the government to create work for our people in Burma so we don’t have to find work in other countries.

*At the time of writing, electricity in Shan State is restricted to about three hours during the day and only in the wet season. The only people to get access to unlimited electricity are the military and their families.

I want to work in Burma…
Sai Lern Moon, 23, from Panglong, works in an aluminum factory in Pattaya, Thailand.

“If I work in my country I do not earn enough to live. I have to work in Thailand. I don’t know about the election. I won’t be going back to vote. If I go back it is difficult and expensive. I want a new government to reduce commodity prices. I want to be able to say whatever I think, I want to meet with whoever I want. Now we are prevented from meeting in a group of more than five people. In Burma [university] graduates don’t have jobs when they finish.”

I want my vote to count…
Nang Sao Doi, 24, is a teacher from Mongpan township, Shan State South, but now works in a school on the Thai Burma border. Nang Sao Dai says she will vote in the election on 7th November.

“I will return in early October. I’m very interested in the election. I will tell my students all about the election process. I want a new government, a good leader who will support the citizens. I think my vote will bring change to Burma. If an ethnic party is not elected it will have no meaning as the military will hold power as it has been reported that the military will automatically have a high percentage of the votes.”

I only report what they tell me…
A recently resigned middle-aged civil servant said she worked for the Ministry of Information but found it to restrictive.

“In 16 years I never interviewed anyone or wrote anything that was mine. Everything I did was read by at least seven senior officials before they allowed it to be published. In our small town near Taunggyi (the capital of Shan State), no one here is interested in the election because they are focused on earning a living. I don’t know what is in the constitution because I have never seen it. I only know about it from the [exiled] media. I don’t like the USDP and I won’t vote for them because they are powerful and force people to do what they want. All their members are supported by the military regime and they are village headmen.”

In Burma we’re always afraid…

Sai Poon, 39, married with a seven-year-old son who live with him and his wife in the northern Thai town of Chiang Mai says he earns about 150 baht ($4.76) a day as a daily farm laborer. Sai Poon is from Lashio the capital of Shan State north.

“I’m almost 40. I have never voted. If I didn’t work in Thailand I wouldn’t know anything about elections. I won’t be voting. The military regime want to control all Burma, including Shan state, they will try many ways to win this election. People in Burma have difficulty to travel, we cannot say what we think because we are afraid. Even when we are sleeping, and if the dog barks we are afraid the military might be coming for us.”

The military is bad for business…

Sai Kham Mao, 31, an university educated businessman from Shan State South says he will not be voting.

“People are not interested and don’t understand about the election. There will be no change. It’s not like other countries where elections bring change. In Burma it is the military regime and after the elections it will be the military regime. People’s lives will not be changed or improved, it will just be more of the same. Yesterday I flew to Tachilek from Taunggyi and I saw at the airport many ministry officials selling calendars for Kyat 1000 ($1) and Kyat l100 ($1.1) lottery tickets to raise funds. The military find ways to cheat and don’t help people as their constitution also does.”

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