Aug 21, 2009 (DVB), The elections in Burma next year will herald a complete transformation of the country's political landscape, with an opportunity to influence Burma's future direction, says a think tank report.
While many Burma observers have criticised the looming elections as a means to entrench military rule, an International Crisis Group (ICG) report, Myanmar: Toward the elections, says the outcome is unpredictable.
The elections, scheduled for March next year, are "significant because the controversial constitution on which they are based involves a complete reconfiguration of the political structure", says the report.
The introduction of a presidential system and fourteen regional governments constitutes the "most wide-ranging shake-up in a generation", it says.
The constitution, ratified in May 2008 only weeks after cyclone Nargis hit Burma, appears to guarantee 25 per cent of parliamentary seats to the military even prior to voting.
The government claimed that 92 per cent of the Burmese population backed the constitution, although reports of voter intimidation and vote rigging have been documented.
"The change will not inevitably be for the better, but it offers an opportunity to influence the future direction of the country," says ICG.
"Ultimately, even assuming that the intention of the regime is to consolidate military rule rather than begin a transition away from it, such processes often lead in unexpected directions."
Last week's sentencing of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to 18 months under house arrest means she will not be able to participate in the elections, with many seeing her trial as a ploy to ensure this.
The sentencing "further undermined what little credibility the [elections] may have had," said the report, adding however that "All stakeholders should be alert to opportunities that may arise to push the new government toward reform and reconciliation".
Senior officials of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) today agreed to urge regional foreign ministers to appeal to the Burmese junta for the release of Suu Kyi, marking a break with its policy of non-interference in internal affairs of member countries.
Reporting by Francis Wade