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 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