5 things to know about Myan­mar

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

YAN­GON: Myan­mar is hold­ing a gen­eral elec­tion on Sun­day, its sec­ond since polls in 2010 ended al­most a half-cen­tury of mil­i­tary rule. Five things to know about the South­east Asian coun­try:

Re­forms

Pres­i­dent Thein Sein’s gov­ern­ment makes the case that it is pru­dently man­ag­ing a suc­cess­ful tran­si­tion to democ­racy. Shortly af­ter com­ing to power in 2011, Thein Sein - a former gen­eral and prime min­is­ter in the pre­vi­ous mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment - in­sti­tuted eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal re­forms that re­sulted in Western na­tions largely lift­ing trade and in­vest­ment em­bar­goes they had main­tained against the pre­vi­ous mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment. This spurred for­eign in­vest­ment and much­needed eco­nomic growth. Sup­port­ers of the op­po­si­tion Na­tional League for Democ­racy see the coun­try’s democ­racy as half-empty rather than half-full. They be­lieve the gen­er­als and their cronies have too much of a vested in­ter­est in the sta­tus quo to chal­lenge ex­ploita­tion of nat­u­ral resources and en­sure eco­nomic jus­tice.

Hu­man rights

The eu­pho­ria over long-over­due re­forms has al­ready gone sour, as new po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers have re­placed those freed in mass re­leases, prior cen­sor­ship has been re­placed by law­suits against the press, and lib­er­al­iz­ing the econ­omy has failed to solve prob­lems such as in­come in­equal­ity and land grab­bing. The gov­ern­ment has also come un­der crit­i­cism, mostly from abroad, for fail­ing to stem vi­o­lence against the Mus­lim Ro­hingya mi­nor­ity, who are also de­nied cit­i­zen­ship. Some Bud­dhist monks formed a group to chan­nel the anti-Mus­lim sen­ti­ment into a po­lit­i­cal force that has al­ready suc­cess­fully lob­bied for laws re­strict­ing the Mus­lim com­mu­nity. The monks’ group does not sup­port the Na­tional League for Democ­racy be­cause it con­sid­ers the party soft on the is­sue. The party and its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, have also dis­ap­pointed ad­mir­ers by fail­ing to stand up for Mus­lims’ rights.

Elec­toral his­tory

The 2010 elec­tion was boy­cotted by the Na­tional League for Democ­racy, which saw it as il­le­git­i­mate and un­fair. It won 43 of the 44 seats it con­tested in 2012 by-elec­tions. But its small share in the 664-mem­ber par­lia­ment meant it could not chal­lenge the author­ity of the rul­ing Union Sol­i­dar­ity and De­vel­op­ment Party and its ally, the mil­i­tary, which al­lot­ted it­self an au­to­matic 25 per­cent of par­lia­ment’s seats when it drafted a con­sti­tu­tion in 2008. For the NLD, Sun­day’s polls are a chance to test the man­date it won in the 1990 elec­tion, when it gar­nered just over 80 per­cent of the seats, only to have the polls an­nulled by the mil­i­tary.

The play­ers

There are 91 par­ties run­ning can­di­dates, but the elec­tion is a two-horse race, with sev­eral wild cards. Suu Kyi’s NLD has pop­u­lar sup­port across the board, in city and coun­try­side, and is ex­pected to win a strong plu­ral­ity. Pres­i­dent Thein Sein and his USDP have a well-or­ga­nized po­lit­i­cal ma­chine with all the ad­van­tages of in­cum­bency, in­clud­ing the op­por­tu­nity to rig the vote if they so choose. They also en­joy the sup­port of many of the coun­try’s ty­coons, whose sta­tus as cronies to the pre­vi­ous mil­i­tary regime car­ried over to the mil­i­tary-backed rul­ing party.

With its au­to­matic 25 per­cent of the seats in par­lia­ment, the army does not need to cam­paign, but it can use its strong pres­ence in the vast ru­ral back­wa­ters to in­tim­i­date vot­ers to the ad­van­tage of its USDP al­lies. Par­ties rep­re­sent­ing the coun­try’s var­i­ous eth­nic mi­nori­ties are likely to win seats in their home re­gions. While most are at least loosely al­lied with the NLD, the votes of their law­mak­ers will be in play when it comes time for par­lia­ment to se­lect the na­tion’s pres­i­dent early next year.

Eth­nic trou­bles

Last month, the gov­ern­ment signed a cease-fire agree­ment with many of the coun­try’s frac­tious eth­nic mi­nor­ity guer­rilla groups, nom­i­nally putting an end to decades of armed con­flict.—AP

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