Myanmar Election: How Free and How Fair?

Partyforumseasia:  Myanmar’s democratic opening has received regional and world-wide attention and praise, and subsequently attracted the interest of all shades of businesses, from the well-known fast-buck-entrepreneurs to long-term investment interests. Especially the latter are vital for the country if it wants to catch up with the neighbors in Southeast Asia. ASSK and Thein
The recent purge within the military dominated Union Solidarity and Development Party and the sacking of rather popular speaker of parliament Shwe Mann are widely interpreted as a step back from the reform drive promised by President Thein Sein.
Now speculations for the upcoming election on 8 November start to get more heated. Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi is sure that her party will win “if polls can be free and fair” (Agence France Press). And the country’s army chief, senior general Min Aung Hlaing recently declared:
“We wouldn’t mind even if the National League for Democracy won in the next general election, as long as it is free and fair. The Tatmadaw’s (Army) desire is to see the upcoming elections be held free and fair.” (Straits Times, 26/08/2015)

On the background of heavy-handed interference since the 1990 elections when the military had underestimated the NLD and simply ignored the results, such a statement sounds a bit too good to be true. At least the generals have learned to speak to the international media and the investors who want to see stability. The 2010 ballot was widely seen as rigged and a quarter of the parliamentary seats is reserved for unelected army officers anyway.
But to be fair with struggling Myanmar, organizing free and fair elections with a level playing field is certainly not as easy as in Denmark or Sweden. Ongoing problems with 135 (!!!!) distinct ethnic groups officially recognized by the government, festering and nearly intractable pockets of civil war with some of the minorities, the Rohingya question unsolved, rural underdevelopment and lack of infrastructure wide-spread, all that makes national elections more than a challenge. The definition of free and fair certainly has to be adapted to the local circumstances.
If the NLD wins a decisive majority, we have to take into account that its uncontested leader Aung San Suu Kyi is still full of fighting spirit but already 70 years old. The constitution does not allow her to be president and the president is head of the government. Details of the constitutional set-up are sobering:   “The Commander-in-Chief appoints the Ministers of Defence, Home Affairs and Border Affairs, selecting candidates from within the Defence Services (Tatmadaw), while the President appoints the remainder. The President also appoints the Deputy Ministers of the respective ministries, following the same qualifications as those of Union Ministers, with the exception of age (35 years, instead of 40).” Source:Wikipedia, Cabinet of Myanmar.
On this background it may be easy for the military to look good with free-and-fair statements and that they don’t mind if the NLD wins…

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