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What Others Say: Spin control is as

The Nation (29 November 1997)
  Editorial & Opinion 

What Others Say: Spin control is as old as dictatorships

Dictatorships with image problems -- and what other kind is there these
days? -- generally have two choices. They can permit genuine reform and
risk losing their grip on power, or they can make cosmetic changes and
hope to get credit for them overseas. 

All things being equal, tyrants tend to find the second alternative more
appealing. Only internal and international pressure can force them toward
the first. 

Take Burma, where as unsavoury a regime as you can find holds sway. Until
last week, its military junta was known by the appropriately repellent
acronym Slorc, for State Law and Order Restoration Council. Now the
21-member Slorc has been replaced by a 19-member State Peace and
Development Council; no doubt the Burmese generals paid some image-shop
handsomely for this brilliant move. But while some Slorc generals have
been replaced, the same four hard-liners remain atop the government, and
there's no apparent change in policy. 

Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace laureate and (according to a nullified
1990 election) rightful leader of Burma, remains under virtual house
arrest, and many of her supporters are still in jail. The Burmese
generals are seeking to spruce up their reputation because international
sanctions against them are beginning to bite; the economy in this nation
of 45 million people is deteriorating. 

Now potential investors should maintain the pressure until the junta
changes in more than name only. An appropriate first step would be to
begin a dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi. 

Cambodian dictator Hun Sen, who took over in a coup last July, offers a
second case. Hun Sen has promised to hold elections next May: The
question is whether he will hold a sham poll or truly allow people to
express their will. Again, international pressure is key; Cambodia
depends on outsiders for half of its budget. The United States, Japan,
Cambodia's neighbours in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and
others are pushing for the safe return of opposition politicians, for a
truly independent election commission and for other measures that could
ensure a free and fair election. Their pressure seems to be moving Hun
Sen and his regime slowly in the right direction, but nothing is sure

Western and Asian leaders should should make it clear to the dictators of
both Burma and Cambodia that reform isn't a matter of spin control.