For­ward and Back

Af­ter Aung San Suu Kyi’s mas­sive win in the gen­eral elec­tions, Myan­mar is still caught in a state of in­er­tia.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Taha Ke­har

Where will Myan­mar go

from here?

On Novem­ber 8,the Na­tional League for Democ­racy (NLD) won the gen­eral elec­tions in Myan­mar by a land­slide. Ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey, the party had se­cured 80% of the con­tested seats. NLD is there­fore ex­pected to form a new govern­ment by April 1 once a new pres­i­dent and two vice pres­i­dents are ap­pointed by both houses of par­lia­ment.

How­ever, skep­tics be­lieve that it is un­likely that the party led by No­bel lau­re­ate Aung San Suu Kyi, will be able to as­sume pub­lic of­fice. In the past, the NLD has been re­peat­edly blocked from en­ter­ing the cor­ri­dors of power even though it has gar­nered con­sid­er­able political sup­port.

Dur­ing the gen­eral elec­tions in 1990, the party won by a land­slide. How­ever, it was pre­vented from as­sum­ing power by the mil­i­tary regime that has ruled the coun­try since 1962. An­a­lysts be­lieve NLD will meet a sim­i­lar fate and the demo­cratic forces will, once again, be dis­re­garded in favour of the army.

How­ever, it would be wrong to sim­ply write off the prospect of a demo­cratic regime hold­ing sway in Myan­mar. De­spite the grow­ing dis­trust over the mil­i­tary’s in­ten­tions, there is still hope that a NLD govern­ment will seize the coun­try’s reins in April.

In the months lead­ing up to the for­ma­tion of a new govern­ment, Sui Kyi has made con­sis­tent ef­forts to strengthen re­la­tions with of­fi­cials who could jeop­ar­dize her party’s chances of com­ing into power. A se­ries of meet­ings has been held be­tween Suu Kyi and se­nior mil­i­tary fig­ures.

Since the elec­tions, she has also met Lower House speaker Thura U Than Shwe, Pres­i­dent U Thein Sein and Army Com­man­der-in-Chief, Se­nior Gen­eral Min Aung Hlaing.

Suu Kyi’s meet­ing with U Than Shwe is ar­guably a ground-break­ing de­vel­op­ment that is likely to al­ter the political fab­ric in unique and in­ter­est­ing ways.

It ap­pears as if his­tory no longer has a bear­ing on the political di­rec­tion that Myan­mar will take. As a re­sult, U Than Shwe, the for­mer dic­ta­tor who kept the NLD leader un­der house ar­rest for 15 years be­tween 1989 to 2010, has billed her as the “fu­ture leader” of the coun­try.

The in­for­ma­tion was re­vealed through a Face­book post by Nay Shwe Th­way Aung - the grand­son of U Than Shwe - and has put spec­u­la­tions at bay.

In a sim­i­lar vein, Suu Kyi has dis­cussed the painstak­ing de­tails of the han­dover of state power to the NLD with the out­go­ing govern­ment. The out­comes of th­ese talks have been broadly suc­cess­ful. On his Face­book page, In­for­ma­tion Min­is­ter U Ye Htut said “Suu Kyi led the meet­ing to hand over head of state and govern­ment du­ties smoothly and sys­tem­at­i­cally. Ac­cord­ing to the in­for­ma­tion min­is­ter, even the most triv­ial de­tails in­volv­ing the trans­fer of power have been looked into.

How­ever, there are still a whole range of ques­tions that have yet to be an­swered.

Al­though the pres­i­dent and army chief have vowed to ac­cept the re­sults of the Novem­ber elec­tion, there are a se­ries of hur­dles that need to be ad­dressed be­fore democ­racy can pre­vail.

As per Myan­mar's con­sti­tu­tion, the army can mo­nop­o­lise 25% of all par­lia­men­tary seats. In ad­di­tion, it has the au­thor­ity to con­trol sev­eral key govern­ment posts. Th­ese in­clude de­fence, in­te­rior and bor­der se­cu­rity. It is dif­fi­cult to en­vis­age a NLD govern­ment if such prin­ci­ples con­tinue to ex­ist.

The mat­ter is fur­ther com­pli­cated by a se­ries of re­stric­tions im­posed on can­di­da­ture. Un­der Myan­mar's con­sti­tu­tion, 70-year-old Aung San Suu Kyi would be un­able to serve as pres­i­dent be­cause her late hus­band and sons are Bri­tish na­tion­als. While she has sug­gested that she will rule through a proxy can­di­date, there is no guar­an­tee that the mil­i­tary regime will not use this con­sti­tu­tional prin­ci­ple to thwart the NLD’s at­tempts to as­sume con­trol.

As the fu­ture of democ­racy in Myan­mar hangs in the bal­ance, it is dif­fi­cult to as­cer­tain the ex­tent to which the NLD’s vic­tory in the Novem­ber polls will im­pact the coun­try’s political map.

At this crit­i­cal junc­ture, political point-scor­ing is the driv­ing force that will de­ter­mine how far democ­racy can go.

Amid ne­go­ti­a­tions with se­nior of­fi­cials, Suu Kyi has em­ployed a di­verse menu of tac­tics to heighten the NLD’s po­si­tion as a party that is con­scious of so­cial and political needs. Al­though the out­come has been fa­vor­able, there re­mains a shadow of doubt over how ef­fec­tive the NLD’s ten­ure will be.

In early De­cem­ber, Suu Kyi was seen pick­ing up garbage in her home district to set an ex­am­ple for the NLD law­mak­ers and en­cour­age them to keep their con­stituen­cies clean. She even urged jour­nal­ists who were re­port­ing on the scene to stop tak­ing pho­to­graphs and col­lect trash.

Whether it was a pub­lic­ity stunt or a gen­uine con­cern for the en­vi­ron­ment, Suu Kyi man­aged to do what none of her pre­de­ces­sors had done. She put her fin­ger on the pulse of an is­sue that mer­its pub­lic im­por­tance. Myan­mar does not have reg­u­lar trash col­lec­tion or land­fill sites. En­cour­ag­ing law­mak­ers to act as garbage col­lec­tors will em­pha­size the NLD's com­mit­ment to serve the pub­lic. More­over, if the mil­i­tary regime goes back on its prom­ise, the party can seek sup­port from the peo­ple to en­sure that democ­racy is achieved.

How­ever, Suu Kyi’s crit­ics be­lieve the NLD is not the only change-agent in Myan­mar. Many of them are of the view that the party lacks pro­fes­sional ex­pe­ri­ence and largely con­sists of dis­si­dents. Suu Kyi has also been flayed for mo­nop­o­liz­ing the party’s func­tions and fail­ing to nur­ture a new leader who can man­age its affairs.

Amid th­ese ten­sions, Myan­mar stands the risk of ei­ther mov­ing to­wards a bleak fu­ture or ex­ist­ing in a vac­uum cre­ated by a mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship. How­ever, April 1 will de­fine the course that the coun­try will take and no con­clu­sions can be made be­fore this date. The writer is a poet and au­thor. He is a law grad­u­ate of SOAS.

As the fu­ture of democ­racy in Myan­mar hangs in the bal­ance, it is dif­fi­cult to as­cer­tain the ex­tent to which the NLD’s vic­tory in the Novem­ber polls will im­pact the coun­try’s political map.

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