By Adi Ramachandran || Contributing Writer
The recent democratic election in Myanmar is a much needed boost to those of us that still believe in much maligned democracy–a system, which despite all its flaws and imperfections, is still believed to be a preferable way to govern society and elevate citizens than the authoritarian alternative.
The National League for Democracy party, which won an absolute majority in Burmese Parliament, has ushered in what could be heralded as the beginning of a paradigm shift in Myanmar’s political history. The 2015 election is seen in the region, and the West, as a step toward the correction of two decades of abusive rule under the military Junta, since it took power in 1990 by violently ousting the newly victorious NDP under the purview of the prolific Aung San Suu Kyi. The Junta would later become internationally infamous for placing the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate under house arrest. The question of the day is whether it would be sanguine of observers to expect a different result this time round.
It is generally reckoned by a good number of political commentators and analysts alike that the long-term trend of the world, increasingly mirrored in rapidly developing South Asia, has been toward greater democratization and decentralization. Indeed, this has not been a trend from which the Burmese could have been shielded, when living perpetually in the shadow of the gargantuan Union of India, with all of its fissiparous tendencies. That being said, it is admittedly too soon to assume whether the landslide victory of Aung San Suu Kyi’s party will herald a radical departure from what had hitherto been a military stronghold over Burmese politics.
Although now would seem, at prima facie, an adequate time for Westerners to speak glowingly of Myanmar’s baby steps toward cultural enlightenment, it should not be forgotten that vast swathes of that state’s citizenry were denied the right to vote. Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya minority remain victims of a deeply ingrained hierarchy, which is a stain on that state’s already marred human rights record. It is deeply uncertain whether Myanmar could have, like its western neighbor, (somewhat) functioning democracy in the absence of the assumed prerequisites of development and management of diversity.
It is potentially problematic for Myanmar’s democratic future that the National League for Democracy will inherit a political structure dominated by scions of Myanmar’s military, for whom 25 percent of all seats in Parliament alone are reserved. Furthermore, national law guarantees that control of the key ministries of defense, interior and border affairs fall to the junta. It is not exactly difficult to imagine how, in the light of a threat to Myanmar’s political stability, this could potentially lead to an emergency situation in the country due to progress potentially being handicapped by the military’s ability to steer the nation in any political direction it chooses. Naturally, this would deter foreign investors who have recently shown the still relatively impoverished Myanmar great attention as that state’s economy gradually opened up to the world following American involvement. It is also the case that the face of the NLD Aung San Suu Kyi is constitutionally barred from serving as President due to her deceased British husband’s status as a non-Burmese national. Despite her repeated claims to lead the government through Constitutional loopholes, the identity of Myanmar’s President who will be selected next year is still unknown.
Consequently, it makes sense to celebrate the fact that the people of Burma have achieved more power under Suu Kyi, but at the same time they have remained skeptical that the nation’s transition to democracy has only just begun. Nonetheless, it is a step in a very positive direction for the country, the region, and the world.