Elections: Sowing Seeds of Change—Myanmar

Elections: Sowing Seeds of Change—Myanmar

This article is part of a series that will be released before the end of 2015, drawing from The Contour‘s annual print issue titled Upheaval, Revolution & Tragedy: The World of 2015, which can be found online at The Contour: Print Edition

Unprecedented changes have occurred as the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by the Nobel Laureate and democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi, claimed 390 Hluttaw (Myanmar Parliament) seats, a super-majority in a house of 667 seats that will allow them to elect the next president, ending over 50 years of military dictatorship in one fell swoop. Myanmar’s steady but soft steps toward change did not dominate headlines, but Myanmar has stunned the world with a historic shift of power to the people.

Who is Aung San Suu Kyi?

Myanmar’s current military government surprised the world with assurances of smooth transfer of power to the NLD. Still, recent elections do not completely secure such a future for Myanmar, and martial grip over the country’s government has not loosened. Under current laws, the military claims a quarter of the seats in Hluttaw, effectively preventing the parliament and the president from altering laws without its consent. Another military law bars Aung San Suu Kyi from the office of president because her children hold foreign citizenship. It remains to be seen how smoothly the official transfer of power is accomplished in early 2016, when a President and two Vice Presidents will be elected.

This will be the first nationwide free and fair democratic election in Myanmar since 1962 when a military coup d’etat dislodged Prime Minister U Nu’s democratic government. Myanmar had since been plagued by internal conflicts between political parties and ethnic groups. People’s movements for democracy were ruthlessly suppressed by a military regime that isolated Myanmar from the rest of the world. With no major foreign investments, Myanmar endured a 50 year period of low economic growth and industrial development. Tensions between the Buddhist majority and a 5 percent minority of Muslims rose leading to Buddhist extremists conducting anti-Muslim riots, causing a mass exodus of refugees. Aung San Suu Kyi was conspicuous in her lack of vocal criticism of Buddhist extremism in the critical period leading up to Myanmar’s historic elections. Restraint has been a signature of her 5 year wait for free and fair elections since 2010 when the military regime had agreed to take its first tentative steps toward democracy.

Suu Kyi, daughter of Bogyoke ( General ) Aung San, leader of struggle from colonial rule, led a decades-long mobilization of the masses using non violent means practiced earlier by Gandhi. Although a large part of this time was spent in house arrest and personal duress, Suu Kyi never disengaged from communicating with the military. Despite her disqualification to be president, Suu Kyi’s statement after her historic election victory on BBC was a classic display of her strength, unmistakable in its implication that the new government will rest with Suu Kyi. She says she will be “A rose by any other name.”

by Sara Dasgupta ’19