Is Myanmar a Democratic CountryAre Myanmar a democratic country?
Myanmar's elections: Are reforms genuine?
Myanmar's by-elections this weekend, in which about a 10th of the Myanmar MPs' seat was challenged, were celebrated as the most important indication that Myanmar's incipient reforms are serious. Electoral irregularity was reported in the election, but none was so significant that on election day, which was ruled by Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD (National League for Democracy) nominees, an immediate row was sparked.
For the first year in Myanmar's political life, the NLD, which has been the most important player in Myanmar's democratic system for more than two centuries, will now sit at the political tables. In spite of the effort of the military and the present civilian-military administration to help the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in winning the by-elections (including reports of bullying of NLD nominees and supports, supposed assaults on some NLD supporter and denial of the possibility to conduct demonstrations in important places of interest ), the USDP won only a small part of the 48 rallying places that were challenged.
Suu Kyi herself has won a seats in parliament and may even occupy a cabinett position alongside President Thein Sein, so Myanmar has a true multi-party system for the first since the 1962 war. Electoral processes took place alongside many other governmental and economical reform efforts over the last 18 month.
A number of advanced democratic countries are strengthening assistance to Myanmar and are considering lifting penalties that have been in place for more than a decade due to the serious violations of humanitarian law by the former army dictator. Westerner companies expecting an end to the penalties are also getting ready to join Myanmar, one of the biggest undeveloped developing countries in the word and one of the most important sources of raw materials.
Successfully by-elections and the creation of the NLD in this House, however, do not guarantee that the reforms have been fully cemented. Part of the regime accepted the vote because the relocation does not yet pose a threat to the might of the army and its civil coalition cadres. Suu Kyi and Thein Sein also do not have enough influence over their followers to guarantee a success of the overhaul.
Last year, after the official withdrawal of the Burmese army in November 2010, Myanmar has started to undergo enormous changes. Thein Sein, a former soldier who seems to have a instinct for reform, has introduced a number of changes with surprising speed. Aung San Suu Kyi has embraced a relationship with Thein Sein and informed her followers in private that she considers the president's motivation to be real.
Meanwhile, the administration has liberalised capital spending legislation, devised measures to release the euro, started blueprints to end the country's countless civilian conflicts with various insurrections by indigenous minorities, hosted the IMF and other global finance organizations and vigorously solicited capital spending and relationships from around the globe. Myanmar last months announcement that it would begin hiring out overseas bankers, a huge opening for fiscal reforms.
In the meantime, even before the NLD won the by-elections, the Bundestag, although ruled by former soldiers, has actively questioned the politics of state. It has also established a NHRC, inviting exiled politicians to come back and releasing many detainees. The NLD's electoral success will now give it forty parliamentary seat.
Defenders say the Suu Kyi faction and Suu Kyi will give priority to the government's increased openness and help end the many ethnical uprisings in the nation in order to build a genuine state. Aung San, Suu Kyi's founder and head of independent movement, has reached agreements with indigenous minorities to establish a federation with great independence for the territories of minorities.
This treaty broke down after Aung San was murdered, and the land fell into a decade-long civilian conflict that is still going on today. A number of countries in Europe have again provided significant assistance to Myanmar, as has Japan. The real test will come in three years' time if Myanmar is to conduct nationwide polls for all those places that could allow the NLD or other opposing political groups to actually exercise parliamentary clout.
However, the by-elections should be seen as an occasion similar to the release of Nelson Mandela: a move towards constant transformation, but only a move. It will have the authority to criticise the NLD and suggest changes, but it will be a small political group in the parliamn.
Myanmar's real test will come in three years' timeframe if it is to conduct nationwide parliamentary polls for all those places that could allow the NLD or other opposing factions to actually exercise censorship. Prior to this period, the regime will have to deliver on other challenging commitments, such as opening up the world of the masses after years of tough legislation, establishing a competitive environment for all major factions and addressing the biggest and most challenging people.
Myanmar's leading scenery in 2012 is in contrast to China's end of the 1970', when Deng Xiaoping ruled the political arena, or South Africa's post-apartheid period, when Nelson Mandela's vote ruled. Being Suu Kyi or Thein cannot guarantee that the reform will last. A number of democracy opponents fear that Suu Kyi has already gone too far to make compromises with the regime, which may make it difficult for her to criticise what she is doing.
Although Suu Kyi is clearly the most loved character in Myanmar, some ethnic minorities still fear that even the Nobel Peace Prize winner, who has expressed her support for greater independence for her, is not fully trustworthy because she is a member of the Burmese community. Although former leader like Senior General Than Shwe and his number two, Maung Aye, seem to have gone into retirement, they have occupied the administration with hard-liners.
Several of them are clearly trying to get Thein Sein in their way to hold onto force for the armed forces, according to Burma official and analysis by Burma's defence professionals such as Larry Jagan in Bangkok. Most of the defence budgets remain off the books, practically unresolved in this House, and the local armies clearly maintain the huge powers to fight the residual uprisings.
A recent Human Rights Watch Human Rights Watch reports that the struggles between the army and the Kachin Independence Army, one of the biggest and most influential ethnical forces, have been escalating over the past two years, resulting in the proliferation of refugees in the north of Myanmar and serious ill-treatment on both sides, involving hard labour, torturing, the use of children troops and summary killings.
In the last five years, Myanmar has become more strategic for the United States. This may be an important new target for US businesses, even if they have to make up for Asia's already existing Myanmar-based businesses, struggling with bad infrastructures and a shortage of skilled labour.
Myanmar cultivation also offers the United States another prospective Chinese local affiliate. It is not difficult to envisage Myanmar's involvement of Myanmar's terrorists in such an obscure world. After the elections, the United States and other major democratic leaders should remain slow to address Myanmar.
It should further increase support and make sure that it goes to areas of national minorities where some of the streams of refugees have been the greatest and where the need for relief is greatest. United States, South East Asia's leaders, Australia, Japan and the European Union could also work more effectively with the World Bank and the IMF to better understand Myanmar's huge needs and prepare a reform agenda for the bank, finance and education sector during a large relief meeting in Myanmar scheduled for this past summers.
But as the choice is only a small move towards a truly free nationwide voting, Washington and other stakeholders should not now remove penalties for Myanmar's trading and investing. Instead, they should at least stay until the end of 2012 or 2013 to see how the NLD and Suu Kyi are handled in this House, what kind of liberty they must criticise and drive lawmaking forward, and whether the 2015 plan for holding their own referendum is likely to go ahead.