Aung San Suu Kyi and her “Proxy President”?


proxy president

The democracy icon as puppet master

Partyforumseasia: Rumors had it that the long wait for the nomination of Myanmar’s next president was due to attempts on a last minute arrangement with the military to eventually accept Aung San Suu Kyi herself. Her own hopes were obviously being shared by many voters, but now it looks most likely that she has to stick to her first plan of choosing a sufficiently loyal “proxy president“. It will be an awkward solution, but justifiable under the assumption that the constitution has been drafted only to prevent “The Lady” and does not reflect the new democratic reality of Myanmar any more.

“Far from a remedy to the NLD’s presidential quandary, the proxy arrangement is riddled with its own practical pitfalls and political vulnerabilities. Analysts fear that dividing the centre of power into two camps – the proxy president and the puppet master – could cripple the NLD’s administration from its outset.” writes the Myanmar Times ( Link ) on 2 March with the cartoon above.

The main danger may lie in Aung San Suu Kyi’s political style which is being described as “imperious”. Assuming that the titulary president cannot be seen as a mere lap dog by the public either, the selection may be as difficult as the future working relationship.

Power is certainly helping older politicians to stay healthy and sharp – see the recent activities of 90-year-old Dr. Mahathir in Malaysia – but Aung San Suu Kyi, going to be 71 in June, is only starting with the full governing burden and responsibility in April. The transformation of the multi-ethnic country with countless minority problems among many others has a long way to go to catch up with the more successful ASEAN partners. A failure of the democratic awakening would endanger Myanmar’s economic recovery even more than the military takeover does in neighboring Thailand.

 

The Law As Political Weapon In Southeast Asia


Cambodia Compromise

From handshake to kicking out…

Partyforumseasia: World wide, there is a certain connectivity between law and justice, but the law, in most cases a result of politics anyway, is rather often a sharp political instrument as well. Some argue that the laws are just petrified political power to preserve the established structures of elite domination.
The newest twist of a long rivalry between Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy is unfolding these days with the announcement of Hun Sen that he will introduce legislation to ban dual citizenship. Sam Rainsy’s French passport, which is helpful for his newest self-exile in Paris to avoid imprisonment at home (for a rather obviously politically motivated conviction) would neutralize him as challenger to Hun Sen’s hold on power. Under the headline “PM’s pledge: ‘No pardon’ for Rainsy” the Phnom Penh Post (Link here) on 29 December is quite blunt about the move:

“Prime Minister Hun Sen has vowed to create a new law barring political party leaders from holding dual nationalities, an apparent move to further incapacitate beleaguered CNRP president Sam Rainsy.In his latest tirade against his long-time political rival, the premier also vowed to never again request a royal pardon for Rainsy, who in November entered his third stint of self-imposed exile to avoid prison on charges widely perceived as politically motivated.”

Other countries in the region might have inspired the Cambodian Prime Minister:

In Malaysia the only dangerous opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is in prison once again after a dubious conviction for sodomy. Without him the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat or People’s Alliance has fallen apart, and Prime Minister Najib Razak survives a string of scandals.

In Myanmar election winner Aung San Suu Kyi cannot run for president because her sons have British passports.

In the Philippines a citizenship drama is still unfolding. The Election Commission tries to disqualify the presidential bid of Senator Grace Poe because she is a foundling without sufficient proof of being a real born Phillipina, plus her former US citizenship. The Supreme Court has challenged the decision, so she may eventually run in the upcoming presidential election in 2016.

In Thailand former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is facing a law suit for negligence with the rice purchasing program of her government. The move is widely seen as a last and decisive attempt to exclude her brother Thaksin from any chance of coming back to the political scene.

Who says that politics is fair? At the moment all these legal battles show the ugly face of Southeast Asian hardball politics.
See also the chapter “Hardball: Power and Party Politics in Southeast Asia” in:

Book at Barnes & Noble incl E-Book

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Myanmar’s NLD: Much Needed Grace Period After Landslide Victory


Partyforumseasia: The victory of Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD was widely anticipated, sometimes cautiously though, in view of the deficits in the not completely free and fair voting system. But the peaceful voting process won international approval and the final triumph is probably beyond the expectations of the party itself, if not even its charismatic leader. ASSKThe Lady’s more than two decades long role as martyr, democracy icon and symbol of hope has triggered this exceptional landslide victory, securing 57.95 % of the seats in the House of Representatives and 60.27 % in the House of Nationalities, the upper house. See the detailed charts below.
This gives the NLD an absolute majority even with the junta’s safeguard of 25% of the seats reserved for the army. The long rule of the generals which lasted half a century may come to an end if Aung San Suu Kyi resists any temptation of “landslide-hubris” and finds a modus vivendi with the still powerful army. But the leading generals conceding defeat and promising a smooth transfer are very positive signals.

With the huge expectations of her voters and the broader public, the emerging leadership of The Lady (“above the new President” as she declared already before the election) will be confronted with enormous political challenges. These range from the minority problems aggravated by the dismal election results for their ethnic parties to the huge deficits in infrastructure, legal framework for foreign investment, smuggling and drug trafficking black markets to possible obstruction by the civil service so far controlled by the army.

But there is another immediate and enormous challenge: The victorious NLD as a political party is hardly prepared to take over all the responsibilities of ruling the complex country in a more than complex period of her history. Switching from decades of opposition to government roles is not easy, especially for those who have suffered imprisonment and feel entitled to rule. It will be a most urgent task to select and prepare future government officials for their role, including the next president who will be coming from the NLD. Many commentators seem to deplore the long transition period and the Thein Sein administration staying on until the presidential election next spring. Partyforumseasia sees it more as a blessing and a grace period for Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD to get better prepared for their government role.

The final election results as of November 15th, 2015 (Wikipedia)

Myanmar election results

 

House of Nationalities

Myanmar’s Hour of Truth or the Lady’s Last Gamble


Partyforumseasia: Well, the hour of truth and the final results of Sunday’s election will take some time to be announced. Logistically this election is a formidable challenge given the size of the country, the diversity of ethnic groups and ongoing violence, and the deficits in transport and communication infrastructure. What the New York Times called “the country’s first relatively free elections in 25 years” (Link here), will certainly be a milestone in the development of the political and economic latecomer among the ten ASEAN countries. Since last year, though, the military dominance is no longer such an exception. Neighboring Thailand, which used to look down on Myanmar and her military rule, is under a military junta herself. The example of the chaos in Bangkok may be on voters’ minds on Sunday, even if many are tired of the generals and dream of a more open democratic era under Aung San Suu Kyi. Aung San Suu Kyi
The democracy icon has been pulling huge crowds during her campaign with charisma and her personal history as victim of the generals. The military, sure, has not honored her victory in 1990, but the house arrest in her villa in Rangoon was not as cruel as incarceration could have been, and audiences with her followers over the garden gate were tolerated for many years.
What might psychologically happen to Aung San Suu Kyi is not easy to guess, but there are some telling facts:

1. Aung San Suu Kyi is getting old(er). With 70 most politicians are closer to the end of their service for the country than to the beginning. Exceptions are possible: Konrad Adenauer was 73 when he was elected as first chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949, and he ruled until 1963. At the ripe age of 87 then, he unsuccessfully tried to become president…

2. Aung San Suu Kyi dominates her National League for Democracy in a way that some see as more authoritarian than liberal democratic. Tactical campaign moves like snubbing the Muslim minority and courting the radical Buddhists of Ma Ba Tha, betray her urge to make it this time even at the price of ignoring the democratic values she embodies for many Myanmar citizens and maybe even more for international observers.

3. The actual gamble of Aung San Suu Kyi to get the votes out for her party and herself is being reported by Reuters and AFP after an interview yesterday, 5th November:
“If we win, and the NLD forms a government, I will be above the president. It’s a very simple message. I will run the government and we will have a president who will work in accordance with the policies of the NLD.”
That would be difficult in a presidential system and is against the constitution which can’t be changed against the will of the generals. So the message for her followers and supporters is: Make sure that we win, then I will take care of the formal questions when I’m in power. But it could produce a backlash from the supporters of the military and their USDP as well because of the potential chaos which may follow an open power struggle. Myanmar voters want stability and economic recovery, the ethnic conflicts going on for much too long already.

4. Coming back to the political psychology: Many victims of oppression and violence against opposition, many in prison for long years, have developed a sense of entitlement to high office. Shih Ming-Teh of Taiwan (25 years in prison) could not even convince his own party that he should be the president. Only Nelson Mandela (27 years in prison) made it to the presidency of South Africa. Partyforumseasia hopes that Aung San Suu Kyi will  approach the election results as sober and level-headed as possible!

Myanmar’s Democracy Icon: Still up to Expectations?


Partyforumseasia: Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is campaigning hard for the upcoming elections. But strategic shortcomings of the NLD campaign threaten to damage her aura as democracy icon. Like many politicians who have suffered under authoritarian governments for so long she feels entitled to lead the nation. But she might miss the right timing and see the political development bypass her. Without diminishing her merit and service to the nation by keeping up democratic hope against the military regime, a sad end to her political career is not excluded.
San Suu KyiSee the analysis by Nicholas Farrely in the Myanmar Times (Link)

Myanmar: What to Expect After the 8 November Election?


Partyforumseasia: Officially launching the NLD election campaign yesterday, 8 September, democracy icon and party leader Aung San Suu Kyi did not sound as confident of a clear victory as most observers predict it to be. Aung peacock
Asking the international community to monitor the election intensely and carefully shows her fears that military and USDP under president Thein Sein will try to manipulate the vote again after NLD’s accusations that the 2010 election was widely rigged. But the NLD had boycotted it anyway. As in other elections in the region before, parachuted international observers will have a limited understanding of the technicalities and equally limited access to remote areas. But an immediate effect of her appeal for international support is the anger of the military which in any outcome will have 25% of the seats in parliament and far reaching veto powers.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s widely criticized silence in the Rohingya issue was followed by a top level decision of her party not to allow Muslim candidates, even in predominantly Muslim areas. This, on the other hand, underlines her fear of antagonizing the Buddhist nationalists and their spearhead organization Ma Ba Tha, or Association for the Protection of Race and Religion.
For a decisive victory the NLD will need support from the parties of the ethnic minorities who may not be too keen to sacrifice their regional interests to the democratic battle cry of the NLD, though they all hate the military. Forging a pro-democracy and anti-military election coalition among the ninety (90) odd parties contesting this election is more than a herculean task for Aung San Suu Kyi.
Many voters are confused anyway, the NLD’s peacockpeacock symbol being used by at least half a dozen other parties as well.

Even with a sweeping victory for the NLD, Aung San Suu Kyi will have no chance to sideline the military. Ex-general and president Thein Sein has signaled his interest to run for another term in 2016 and his ouster of USDP party chairman Shwe Mann for being too cozy with Aung San Suu Kyi does not augur well for a viable arrangement between the two big players after the election.
With neighboring Thailand in a potentially explosive limbo between militarily supervised calm and democratic renewal as well as Malaysia with an increasingly shaky UMNO government, a more stable Myanmar would be preferable for the region and the investors.

Radical Buddhism Meddling in Myanmar’s Politics


Partyforumseasia: The international headlines focus predominantly on radical Islam, sometimes on radical Hinduism in India, from time to time on Christian fundamentalism in the US. Buddhism, all in all, has managed to keep an image of peacefulness, except in Myanmar, where Buddhist monks took part in violent attacks on the Muslim Rohingya minority. Since mid 2013 they are organized in the “Association for the Protection of Race and Religion”, also known under the acronym Ma Ba Tha or “မဘသ” in Burmese.
Ma Ba Tha pic.The organization is being described as nationalistic, fiercely anti-Islam, and well connected to the military. Though article Article 364 of the Constitution prohibits the “abuse of religion for political purposes”, Ma Ba Tha leaders are openly supporting the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). During its second anniversary conference in June, Bhaddamta Vimala, a senior monk and secretary of Ma Ba Tha, criticized the opposition as too inexperienced to rule the country and urged the monks to drum up support for the USDP in the upcoming elections on 8 November. Monks cannot vote but their influence among the population is considerable.
After independence the U Nu government tried to introduce Buddhism as the state religion, but the law was never passed after resistance in the multi-ethnic and multi-religious country. Nevertheless, Ma Ba Tha has celebrated “state religion day” on 30 August to commemorate the 1961 move toward Buddhism as official religion. The day’s religious importance derives from Buddha teaching the Metta Sutta, or discourse on loving kindness which seems to be rather irreconcilable with the militant and violent sides of Ma Ba Tha.
The organization was also more than supportive in legislation concerning religious conversions and interfaith marriages as well as compulsory monogamy and population-control – it actually drafted them. The last of the four laws was signed by president Thein Sein on 31 August, the whole package being criticized by the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi as discriminatory for the minorities. But this may backfire in the elections, because Ma Ba Tha has grown into a very powerful nationalistic force which will certainly use its considerable influence to support the USDP and reduce the chances of the NLD.
Nota bene: Christian groups in the West should not cry foul too easily. The Christian Democratic parties in Europe have enjoyed the churches’ support for many years, and American Evangelicals still wield considerable influence until today.

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…

Multiparty Systems and the Upcoming Election in Myanmar


Partyforumseasia: The much anticipated parliamentary election in Myanmar in November will probably be contested by around 70 political parties. 73 are already registered as eligible, 14 applications are still pending with the Union Election Commission (UEC). Out of the 73 registered so far, 53 will run nationwide and 20 only regionally. And among the 73 there are 43 ethnic based parties which reflects the complicated multi-ethnic structure of the country. MYThe many decades long civil wars in too many areas will make the voting process difficult if not impossible in some. But generally, the progress in regulating the election law and its supervision is being seen as positive by parties and external observers. Diversity and insufficient infrastructure will make the election a rather difficult task for everybody, and some flaws remain in details like enormous discrepancies in the size of constituencies and precincts (between hundreds of thousands and as few as 1400) which opens the doors to manipulations by the parties which can afford it.

The number of parties, a bit frightening at first glance, may be one of the easier parts of the exercise. First of all, it is much lower than the 235 registered parties in the 1990 election which was won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD but not accepted by the military. Secondly, the ethnic fragmentation of the country is certainly not easy to be overcome by any single party, though many pundits predict that the NLD may win a two-thirds-majority. And finally, Myanmar is in maybe not good but numerous company with its “Multitude-Party-System“:

The parliamentary election tomorrow in Britain, the mother of the two-party-system which worked for nearly a hundred years with the first-past-the-post election system, is being contested by only seven main parties (but seven already), and additionally a multitude of smaller ones as well. The UK has 428 registered parties and Northern Ireland another 36. There are about 800 candidates from minor parties and independents. In other European countries the party systems are similarly expanding or disintegrating, Germany had 34 parties in the 2013 election, etc.

Indonesia, to have a regional comparison, had an inflation of parties after the fall of Suharto. But the country managed to reduce the number of parties admitted to run in 2014 from 46 registered to finally 12 parties qualifying.

There are many reasons to establish a political party. From obvious material interests like state subsidies in many European countries or the license of publishing a profitable newspaper in Egypt to the personal ambition of born or self-declared leaders any combination is possible. Political participation is desirable in terms of democratic principles, but the competition must be regulated in order to make the system governable. Myanmar has progressed in that direction, many say that the November election will be the best in 50 years, so the international community and the Asian neighbors can only wish the country the deserved success.
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More information:
The International Crisis Group offers an excellent and downloadable background paper “Myanmar’s Electoral Landscape“, Asia Report No 266, 28 April 2015  (Link here)
For the evolution of Myanmar’s political system see: Moe Thuzar and Zaw Oo in Sachsenröder, Wolfgang (ed), Party Politics in Southeast Asia, Organization – Money – Influence, 2014, ISNB 1493587145 or ISBN-13: 9781493587148, available at Amazon, Barnes&Noble and other online distributors.B&N book

No Freedom To Lead: Aung San Suu Kyi Not Running for President


Partyforumseasia: Allowing Aung San Suu Kyi to run for president in the elections later this year would have changed the whole set up of parliament and government in Myanmar and ended the military control. From their standpoint it is only logical not to change the constitution which bars her from a candidacy. As far fetched as this clause may look, it is preventing a more than likely sweeping victory of the opposition.

Aung San Suu KyiMyanmar’s opposition leader and democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi has acknowledged she will be unable to become her country’s next president after elections later this year, a decision that will disappoint millions of her supporters.
The 69 year-old Nobel laureate will instead seek to chair Myanmar’s parliament where one-third of seats are allocated to the military, according to Aung Shin, a spokesman for her National League for Democracy (NLD).
Ms Suu Kyi has conceded that despite intense lobbying Myanmar’s quasi civilian government will refuse to abolish a constitutional clause barring her from the presidency before the elections that are seen as a crucial test of the country’s move towards a freer and open society after almost 50 years of often-brutal military rule.
The clause specifically directed at Ms Suu Kyi bars anyone from becoming president who has a spouse or child who is a citizen of a foreign country.
Ms Suu Kyi’s late husband was British and their two children hold British passports. Taking the chair in parliament would boost Ms Suu Kyi’s power and likely increase unity among opposition parties.”
See the whole article in The Sidney Morning Herald, LINK here

Myanmar: President Aung San Suu Kyi?


Aung 3Partyforumseasia: The long way from prison and house arrest to the presidential palace seems to open up for democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, “The Lady”. At the same time, her leadership of the National League for Democracy (NLD) comes under criticism by former supporters. “Foreign Policy” in its May/June edition (pp 32-34) publishes an article by Min Zin with the telling title “You Can’t Go Home Again”. The author, a former student activist in Burma, is now a journalist based in California. His feelings are nostalgic and disappointed at the same time when he comes back to a changed country: “And the more I spoke with Burma’s intellectuals, with the dissidents who had struggled alongside me so many years ago, what I heard was not simply joy about a country finally opening up to the world (…) but also the striking disappointment, in particular with our beloved Aung San Suu Kyi. (…) Today (…) even among those who love and respect Aung San Suu Kyi, her sainthood appears tarnished by an increasing aloofness and distance from the rest of the political opposition. Her leadership style makes her unapproachable. In the party congress of her National League for Democracy, held in March – the first in more than 20 years – she alone handpicked her central executive committee. But even worse than this worrying authoritarian streak, she seems willing, even eager, to please the former generals at the expense of moral and political principles. One of the most striking examples is her silence on the racist discrimination and violence against the Rohingya Muslim minority…”.
Exile, that shows history everywhere, makes it hard to leave the difficult past behind and see the new reality with open eyes. Many exiles remain bitter and may (often secretly) expect a compensation for their sufferings, one that Aung San Suu Kyi seems to be getting now.
But Min Zin’s question remains valid: What type of party will the NLD be in the next few years and how will The Lady and her handpicked executive committee lead it? The transition from decades as suppressed opposition to ruling a difficult country will not be easy.