Politi­cians play to vot­ers’ needs

‘Politi­cians should de­sign a clear roadmap for change and re­store pub­lic trust’

Mizzima Business Weekly - - FRONT PAGE - Phyo Thiha Cho

Khin Ma Ma Myo is the founder and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Yan­gon-based Myan­mar In­sti­tute for Peace and Se­cu­rity Stud­ies (MIPSS), which was set up this year. She stud­ied pol­i­tics, eco­nom­ics and gov­er­nance at uni­ver­si­ties in Ja­pan and the United King­dom. Myan­mar Now reporter Phyo Thiha Cho spoke with Khin Ma Ma Myo about Myan­mar’s po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion ahead of the elec­tion, the prospects of re­forms to the 2008 Con­sti­tu­tion, and the mil­i­tary’s con­tin­ued con­trol over the min­istries of defence, home af­fairs and bor­der se­cu­rity.

Why do you think the pub­lic dis­cus­sion of con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments has gone quiet?

Achiev­ing con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments or re­solv­ing the peace process will take a long time. Now, po­lit­i­cal par­ties are con­duct­ing cam­paigns with a fo­cus on the pub­lic’s im­me­di­ate needs, such as poverty re­duc­tion, ed­u­ca­tion and health, rather than long-term, struc­tural re­forms in pol­i­tics, econ­omy and so­ci­ety.

Do you mean po­lit­i­cal par­ties are fo­cus­ing on fun­da­men­tal needs, in­stead of ad­dress­ing the pub­lic’s po­lit­i­cal ex­pec­ta­tions, such as greater democ­racy?

I as­sume some po­lit­i­cal par­ties are chang­ing their ap­proach to pri­ori­tise im­prove­ment of peo­ples’ liveli­hoods. Af­ter that, they will push for po­lit­i­cal re­forms. It should not be read as if they are ne­glect­ing the po­lit­i­cal ex­pec­ta­tions of the peo­ple. It’s just that their first pri­or­ity now seems to be the de­vel­op­ment agenda.

The Union Elec­tion Com­mis­sion re­cently said they can guar­an­tee only 30 per­cent ac­cu­racy in the voter reg­is­tra­tion list be­cause the pub­lic is not tak­ing enough ini­tia­tive to cor­rect it. Do you think pub­lic in­ter­est in pol­i­tics is low?

Many of our peo­ple were in­volved in po­lit­i­cal move­ments in the past. How­ever, many of them now have lit­tle hope in pol­i­tics. Po­lit­i­cal groups that emerged from the pub­lic were de­feated by the former mil­i­tary regime….

For ex­am­ple, many peo­ple took part in the 1988 up­ris­ing and cast their votes in the 1990 gen­eral elec-

tions, but then the mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment did not hand over power to the win­ning party. Peo­ple protested against it and some or­di­nary peo­ple be­came po­lit­i­cal ac­tivists. The gov­ern­ment then op­pressed th­ese ac­tivists. Peo­ple tried to call for the re­lease of po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers. Al­though some of them were freed, they still could not elim­i­nate mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship as it is deeply rooted in the gov­ern­ment ad­min­is­tra­tion af­ter decades (of army rule).

There is also a lack of unity and har­mony among po­lit­i­cal ac­tivists, there are dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal ide­olo­gies. As a re­sult, they de­vi­ated from their com­mon goals and could not present a clear po­lit­i­cal re­form sce­nario to the pub­lic.

Th­ese are some of the rea­sons for the de­cline of pub­lic trust in pol­i­tics. Politi­cians could im­prove this dire sit­u­a­tion by de­sign­ing a clear roadmap for change and re­store this trust.

In some cases, the im­pacts of pol­i­tics were more se­vere on or­di­nary peo­ple than on politi­cians. For ex­am­ple, while the lat­ter were hold­ing peace talks, or­di­nary peo­ple are still flee­ing from on­go­ing armed con­flicts. It is not enough for politi­cians to only talk about the im­por­tance of peace.

Do you think there could be an op­por­tu­nity to amend the Con­sti­tu­tion if the op­po­si­tion wins a ma­jor vic­tory dur­ing the up­com­ing elec­tions?

I think that (in case of a vic­tory) the for­ma­tion of a new gov­ern­ment by the op­po­si­tion could not in­flu­ence con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment.

An is­sue to be con­sid­ered is whether the gov­ern­ment can in­flu­ence all 75 per­cent of (elected) par­lia­men­tar­i­ans. This is im­pos­si­ble. And even if it is pos­si­ble, con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments would need at least one vote from the re­main­ing 25 per­cent of mil­i­tary of­fi­cers in par­lia­ment. (Editor’s note: Con­sti­tu­tional re­form re­quires more than 75 per­cent of par­lia­men­tary sup­port. Re­form at­tempts were blocked sev­eral months ago by the rul­ing Union Sol­i­dar­ity and De­vel­op­ment Party and army MPs.)

In ad­di­tion, it must also be con­sid­ered whether any new gov­ern­ment would get full ad­min­is­tra­tive pow­ers. We can cat­e­gorise the min­istries into three groups: se­cu­rity, fi­nance and so­cial ser­vices. Un­der the 2008 Con­sti­tu­tion … the min­istries con­cerned with se­cu­rity are not un­der the man­age­ment of the gov­ern­ment, but di­rectly un­der the mil­i­tary.

Which min­istries are con­cerned with se­cu­rity?

The min­istries of defence, bor­der af­fairs and home af­fairs, they are the most pow­er­ful min­istries in the coun­try. The Con­sti­tu­tion does not al­low the gov­ern­ment to man­age th­ese min­istries di­rectly.

Also, the gov­ern­ment ad­min­is­tra­tive sec­tor for the whole coun­try is un­der the man­age­ment of Gen­eral Ad­min­is­tra­tion Depart­ment of the Min­istry of Home Af­fairs (which is headed by an army gen­eral).

Khin Ma Ma Myo. Photo: Myan­mar Now

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