Vote boycott, not a right choice for Suu Kyi party

Vote boycott, not a right choice for Suu Kyi party

Myanmar’s junta chief Senior General Than Shwe this week presided over the country’s final annual military parade ahead of the so called transition of power to a “civilian” government. The junta is finalising preparations to hold the country’s first elections in 20 years. No date has been announced for the controversial polls but some government officials have hinted that the vote was likely to take place in November this year.
The announcement of the new electoral laws this month, have made it clear that the regime is not ready to take any chances on the outcome of the elections.
The elections are being organised under the new constitution, formulated by the junta to maintain its grip on the power. The military, which is ruling the country since 1962, is showing no intentions of transferring power to a civilian set-up.
They have apparently learnt a lesson from the past experience. During 1990 elections, the country was under martial law and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and many prominent opponents of the regime were detained. But the generals were taken by surprise after Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide victory.
The regime, however, did not recognise the results of the elections and the victorious Suu Kyi had been made to spend 15 of the last 20 years under house arrest.
The ruling generals managed to get-away without holding any elections during last two decades. However, under immense international pressure, they announced a lengthy and carefully designed “roadmap to genuine democracy”.
As a first step they amended the constitution in 2008 after a controversial referendum. Much to the disappointment of democracy campaigners, the new constitution reinforces the army’s dominance in politics. The armed forces are entitled to a quarter of seats in the national and local parliaments, the head of the military is able to intervene in national politics and army officers will occupy the most important government ministries.
As if that was not enough to ensure military’s authority, the constitution also states that the army can declare a national emergency and assume power whenever it wants.
Built on the framework of this constitution, the controversial election laws effectively bar any political prisoner including Suu Kyi from standing as a candidate or being a member of a political party. This also includes more than 2000 political prisoners in jail, at least 11 of whom are senior members of the NLD.
This week is going to be a time for tough decisions for the NLD. The party has to expel Suu Kyi and other ‘convicted’ members to register before the new Election Commission. Suu Kyi has recently said that she does not want her party to participate in vote. But she also does not want to sound selfish by imposing her decision on the party. Now it is up to the party’s leadership to decide the future course of action.
The NLD’s election boycott would definitely hurt the credibility of the entire elctoral process but it would also give the junta a free hand to manage the affairs of the country without any political opposition. That would mean playing into the hands of the ruling generals.
As far as the legitimacy of the elections is concerned, the Myanmar regime does not appear to be too much concerned about it. After all they went ahead with the controversial referendum in 2008, despite the international condemnation and criticism.
Democracy is a steady process, especially for developing countries like Myanmar. It is obvious that the regime is going to resist the change, as it has so far for last 50 years. But this is also true that political process- no matter how flawed it is-has its own dynamics. Despite all its efforts to hold power, the military would certainly lose some powers as a result of the elections. Off course, there would e military nominated parliamentarians but also there would be some real representatives of the people who would not always toe the junta’s line in the decision making process.
So the NLD should try to achieve maximum possible political space through these elections, even without the participation of Suu Kyi. She can still provide vital political guidance to the party without being registered as its leader.
Once the new governance system would be in place in the country, it would be much easier for the opposition to push further for a genuine inclusive democracy. It is indeed a slow process, but at least it is better than the status quo that we have witnessed in Myanmar for last two decades.

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