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Monday, 22 June 2009
Page: 6810


Mr SIMPKINS (7:20 PM) —Whenever I look around the world, I always see reminders of how the hard-working people of many nations are held back by autocratic regimes. I see examples of countries where the potential of the nation, and particularly its people, is being held back by the lack of democracy. These are nations where the spirit, enterprise and hard work of even the poorest people are yoked by regimes dedicated to the maintenance of their own power and wealth. The examples of such regimes are far too many, and the oppression will forever be intolerable.

This motion, however, gives me the opportunity to speak on one example of an autocratic regime that oppresses democracy and its people in order to perpetuate its hold on power and its pursuit of self-interest. I speak of the Union of Myanmar—the nation that most of us still refer to as Burma.

This motion notes that we have just passed the 19th anniversary of the 1990 general election that resulted in an overwhelming victory for Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, which won 392 of the 492 seats. Burma operated as a democracy between 1948, when it became independent from the United Kingdom, and 1962, when it became a military dictatorship. General Ne Win seized power, taking advantage of the instability of the democratic government.

The people of Burma wanted a return to democracy and, from late 1985, student protests gathered in intensity. The result was the fall of the government on 8 August 1988 in what is called the Four Eights uprising. Tragically, General Saw Maung declared martial law and seized control. It was he who first formed the State Law and Order Restoration Council, which then suspended the constitution. Maung was replaced by Senior General Than Shwe in 1992, and in 1997 SLORC was renamed the State Peace and Development Council.

It is right to say that name changes make no difference to the way a regime like this operates. Autocratic, self-serving regimes are defined by their record in murders, tortures, rapes, forced relocations, forced labour, recruitment of child soldiers and imprisonment of political opponents. Both SLORC and SPDC are condemned for their crimes against their own people. The outcomes for the people of Burma, which come from the oppression of the SPDC, are a failed economy and significant, widespread poverty. These are the usual economic hallmarks of regimes that hold the descriptors of dictatorships, communism or socialism.

A sad example of classic mismanagement is the 2005 decision by the junta to establish a new capital, known as Naypyidaw. The regime determined that it would establish a brand new capital, and it has been reported that they began moving government departments when it was still completely undeveloped. It has been suggested that the move commenced at 6.37 am on 6 November 2005 because a monk had stated that this time and date was astrologically significant. On 11 November at 11 am the second wave, comprising 1,100 military trucks carrying 11 military battalions and 11 government departments, left Rangoon. It would appear that the emphasis on the number 11 suggests an adherence to superstitious reasons, but it caused great dislocation because of the insufficient infrastructure.

It has also been said that the city has a huge development of tunnels under it to address the paranoia of the SPDC leadership, which fears either an internal insurrection or a foreign invasion. The regime seems to be increasingly guided by government-employed astrologers, which is shown by the creation of the new capital and which increasingly undermines any form of confidence in the new regime. It is therefore little wonder that the economy flounders and the people are increasingly impoverished. We know that Burma is a country torn by internal division and that the SPDC oppresses its ethnic minorities even more than the ethnic Burmese majority. Reconciliation with the ethnic tribes such as the Karen people can best be achieved through the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi.

I join with other speakers on this motion in calling on General Than Shwe to immediately and unconditionally release Aung San Suu Kyi, senior NLD leader, the courageous former general U Tin Oo, other members of the executive and all pro-democracy political prisoners in Burma.

I will finish by saying that the SPDC, as the rulers of the Union of Myanmar, is a regime that has no legitimacy. It is corrupt, it is incompetent and it is holding the people of Burma and the ethnic minorities back. Only through that democracy will that country and all its people thrive. I think that all the people of that nation want the SPDC’s time to be over. I hope that, when the time comes, the cost of freedom, particularly in terms of human life, will be minimal. Finally, I thank the member for Page for the opportunity to speak on this worthy matter and for her work in this area.