Illusion Of Democracy
The narrative is being rewritten in a country which, for a long time, was set on a disastrous path of cultural, environmental and economic ruin. The media is filled with “glimmer of hope” and “justice prevails” headlines, but for the people of Myanmar (formerly Burma) a difficult road lies ahead. On November 13th, results were released that the National League of Democracy party (NLD) had secured a landslide victory in the paramilitary elections. The NLD now have the power to elect the next president of the country and also select one of the two vice presidents, something that was unthinkable up to recently.
Outside observers continue to be skeptical of this new-found democracy as there remains a rather large elephant in the room. The military will continue to have a major influence on the day-to-day lives of the Myanmar people due to constitutional stipulations. While the public clearly showed they wanted greater freedom from the military by voting in the 348 NLD representatives (out of a total of 664 seats), the country’s civil service continues to be under the thumb of the armed forces.
The Puppet Master
While the NLD has the power to choose the next president, they will not get to pick the leader they have long envisioned. Party leader, Aung San Suu Kyi cannot succeed Mr.Thein Sein due to a series of new election laws which were brought in to rule in 2010, laws which were widely seen as being written specifically to prevent Suu Kyi from taking office. One such law barred anyone married to a foreign national from running for office (Suu Kyi's late husband was British). However, Suu Kyi declares herself as the puppet master for the incoming government with the President being no more than a figurehead. “I will be above the president,” she declared in a phrase that has ricocheted around the political arena. “I will run the government, and we will have a president who will work with the policies of the NLD.
Spending the best part of a decade under house arrest, labelled a ‘danger’ by the government, no one deserves this victory more than Suu Kyi. It’s not the first time that the NLD has had success at the ballot box, in 1990 an election was held and the NLD won 80% of the seats, but the results were ignored by the same junta which kept Suu Kyi a prisoner in her own home. Informed that she would be freed if she left the country, Suu Kyi refused, wishing to stay and serve as an exemplar of freedom and the continued fight for human rights.
Tougher Battles Ahead
This election was seen as setback for the Myanmar army but in reality it was only a phantom blow as they can still veto any moves to change the constitution. The euphoria which has overtaken the country will be short lived as pressures are mounting to deal with the long running issue of the persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority.
Stripped of their right to vote by past governments, many Rohingyas now hope that the NLD will work to restore their human rights and reverse the persecution they have suffered for generations in Myanmar. Leaked government documents from earlier in the year showed that there were plans in place to inflict "mass annihilation at its highest levels" on the Rohingyas. Suu Kyi and her party have so far, purposely ignored the group's plight as it would risk losing support from the public. After the election results were announced, an NLD official stated that the Citizenship Act of 1982 would be reviewed, which represented a chink of light for the Rohingya. As is always the case though in Myanmar the military may have the final say.
Once ranked as the second least developed nation on the United Nations Development Index, Myanmar was a country where peace, democracy and the most basic human rights did not exist. Trying to navigate the international waters as a rapidly emerging country will be unfamiliar terrain, but for a nation who have waited as long as this surely this election victory for Suu Kyi and the NLD might be a sign of better things to come.