There are a lot of a lot of angles to look at when analyzing the effects of the recent cyclone in Burma that killed over 100,000 people and destroyed millions of dollars in properties.
One implication that would most certainly affect the Philippines is another surge in global rice prices. It is reported that the damages on agricultural land in the affected areas are so dire that Myanmar officials are already stopping its rice exports. In fact, the Nyawpyitaw junta is expected to actually start importing rice to feed the people.
This is the culmination of the regime’s bastardation of Burma’s agricultural sector. Where once Burma was a major exporter of rice, the country’s contribution to the international rice supply has dwindled through the years. One major reason was the fact that, aside from neglecting agricultural infrastructure, the ruling generals have since set themselves up as the sole domestic buyer of rice in the country, according to the report of the Los Angeles Times. The bad thing about this is that since the junta buys rice very cheap, most Burmese farmers grow only what their families need, thereby slowing production.
This highlights the Nyawpyitaw junta’s being a big liability to the international community. And this strengthens the arguments for the regime’s ouster.
Now back to the cyclone. Writing for the Associated Press, Grant Peck argues that the disaster raises the risks for the embattled military regime.
Cases of regime change and other radical reforms resulting from a natural disaster are numerous. Most notable examples include the 1972 earthquake in Nicaragua that led to the decline of the Somoza regime and the 1970 cyclone that led to Bangladesh’ secession from Pakistan.
Peck argues that Burmese superstition has it that natural disasters are often signs that the government has lost the heavens’ approval. This, along with the regime’s slow response to the crisis, could possibly fuel additional unrest.
One of the junta’s dilemma, Peck’s article says, is whether to allow an influx of relief assistance from the international community or not.
Writes Peck: “Allowing a major influx of foreigners carries risks, injecting unwanted outside influence and giving the aid givers rather than the junta credit for a recovery. But keeping out international aid would focus blame squarely on the military should it fail to restore peoples’ livelihoods.”
“The most extreme change potentially could come within the military itself, providing an opening for more moderate officers to expand their influence if relief failures discredit the hard-line leaders at the top,” the correspondent for Southeast Asia continues.
For my part, I think that this need for foreign aid only emphasizes the obvious: that more resources are needed to cater to the victims of the cyclone, and unfortunately Myanmar’s government has limited resources.
Which leads me now to one basic question: why, then, is the ruling junta not postponing this week’s referendum on the military-backed constitution, which requires precious money that would be better spent for the victim’s relief?
The answer is that this proposed constitution is more important to the generals than those hundreds of thousands of Burmese lives affected by the cyclone.
This proposed constitution is supposed to be the culmination of the road map towards Burma’s democratization. But it is not.
The charter was supposed to be written by a convention that would include all sectors of Burmese politics. But the junta’s refusal to give up, or even dilute, its powers made the opposition boycott the process. And instead of negotiating with the opposition, the ruling junta proceeded and handpicked the delegates to the constitutional convention.
And as expected, the convention came up with what the Japan Times called a sham constitution. One that gives the military the right to appoint 166 of the 664-member parliament, gives the non-elected president (sure to be appointed by the junta) the right to seize all government powers in case of emergency and bars beloved leader Aung San Suu Kyi, by virtue of her being married to a foreigner, from holding public office.
It couldn’t get any more clever, really. Under this charter, the generals can claim to be operating in a democracy while exercising actual power and continuing their corruption.
Now you see how important the referendum on the constitution is for the Nyawpyitaw junta. They need this constitution approved.
The question is, will going ahead with Saturday’s referendum be actually beneficial to the junta’s prospects of getting public approval for this constitution?
At first glance, it would seem that postponing the polls would be a better choice for the regime. This is because the junta’s laggard response to the cyclone is sure to generate more “no” votes in this referendum.
If I’m the Than Swe, I would postpone the elections to appease the people’s emotions. That way, I’ll have more chances of getting more “yes” votes.
But the thing is that this is not how the the generals think. They don’t think based on the idea that the referendum would be fair and square.
They don’t care if 100 per cent of the population reject their constitution. They won’t honor the vote anyway. They are poised to do a Garci.
So yes, I think it would be beneficial for the junta to push through with this Saturday’s referendum. This is because most of the Burmese people would still be busy grieving for their dead and trying to gather what’s left with their lives and would therefore be oblivious to whatever miracles the junta would do with the referendum’s results.