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Heads We Win, Tails You Lose
|by Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle|
Elections in Myanmar called by many by its old name Burma are likely to be held this year. The results however have been foretold in a scenario that is Heads We Win, Tails you Lose for the military led government. In a typical diabolical way the Myanmar government, wary of influence of Daw Aung Suu Kyi and her political party, the National League of Democracy (NLD) ensured that the Party either forsakes Suu Kyi as the leader or is barred from the elections. The Political Parties Registration Law disenfranchises prisoners and people with past criminal convictions who are not allowed to belong to a political party and so excludes Suu Kyi, who is head of the National League for Democracy.
Thus the most popular party in the country is being marginalized by ensuring that its links with leadership are sundered. It was evident that the NLD will refuse to participate and on 29 March the Party announced its decision not to join the elections. Party spokesman, Nyan Win, announced after a daylong meeting that all 113 delegates present had agreed that the party should not register for elections because as Suu Kyi had noted in a message sent to them electoral laws enacted by the junta "are unfair and unjust," and "undemocratic."
The boycott of elections by the NLD was more than expected after the military junta had framed rules that those parties who have leaders who have been charged by a court of law cannot register. This move was obviously to cause a split in the NLD and there were reports that some of the members were talking of participating as a split outfit. Aung Suu Kyi had left the decision to the party. Now that the NLD is not participating the elections would lose much of the credibility with only government sponsored or supported participants, it may turn out to be a farce. However some observers feel that this is the first step in the slow and steady path to democratization in the country.
The annual Armed Forces Day parade is a good occasion for assessing the possible events ahead in Myanmar. Senior General Than Shwe announced that there would be no outsiders permitted to observe the elections thus, "During the transition to an unfamiliar system, countries with greater experience usually interfere and take advantage for their own interests, for this reason, it is an absolute necessity to avoid relying on external powers," he said. The present supreme commander Senior General Than Shwe and number two, Maung Aye are expected to retire handing over the reins to Junta number three Thura Shwe Mann, 62 after the elections.
The Elections will not necessarily mean transformation to democracy as the armed forces chief will be senior to the elected president, who may be a military man and the Generals will retain control over key ministries and a quarter of parliamentary seats. With the NLD out of the elections it is expected that civilians in the parliament will be largely those who support the military and are acceptable to it. How long it takes for the Myanmar administration to shift to democratic governance remains to be seen, given the external or the militancy challenges in the country, the internal role of the Army will always remain large and in turn there would be a major involvement of the Army in politics.
The global community is also likely to review its Myanmar strategy. While the United States agenda in Myanmar shifted after the Presidency of Barack Obama to that of engagement there has been no improvement in relationship so far. However a policy of engagement for one year or more is not likely to lead to any substantial response by the military junta. The US and the international community will have to develop a more patient approach which may take years rather than few months for confidence to build up in the highly suspicious military leadership of Myanmar.
The NLD’s decision not to forsake its leaders and others who were not eligible to participate in the elections which in turn disqualified the Party is a strategic one. While tactically it would have suited the party to avoid the ban and participate by simply denying membership of Aung Suu Kyi and other convicted leaders, this would have seen it aligned to the military junta and even if it had won a few seats would have permanently tarnished the image for fighting elections under a faulty constitution. Now the party has kept its options open and is possibly wanting some favourable intervention by the international community and particularly ASEAN to force the military junta to rethink its decisions or wait out till the Constitution itself provides scope for participation in the days ahead.
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