Where is Burma Headed after Election?

Published on November 4, 2010

By Nehginpao Kipgen

The Brunei Times – November 2, 2010

There has been a lingering question as to what might happen after a general election in Burma, which is scheduled for November 7. The military junta has so far been successful in its manipulated game of an expected easy victory.
As a keen observer on the Burmese political developments, I have noticed two visibly school of thoughts on what the November election might bring to Burma. Some believe that the election is a step toward establishing a stable democratic society, while others see it as a carefully orchestrated political game to entrench military power in civilian clothes.
With a lesson learnt from the devastating defeat in the 1990 general election, the military employs every available state resources to ensure their victory. Indeed, it does not need a scientific method to predict the likely outcome of the almost forgone conclusion.
During the 1990 election, the military-backed National Unity Party won only 10 seats, and the National League for Democracy (NLD) surprised the entire echelon of the military with its landslide victory, winning over 80 percent of the parliamentary votes.
Even before anyone goes to the poll, post-election scenario is predictable from how the 2008 constitution was adopted i.e. 25 percent of parliamentary seats are reserved for the military. The same constitution also stipulates that any amendment to the constitution must be approved by over 75 percent of the parliamentary votes.
Another guarantee for the military win is the dissolution of its main rival party, the NLD. Any political scientist can undoubtedly say that Aung San Suu Kyi is one individual feared most by the military leadership, and perhaps there are some who respect or despise her as well.
There are two important reasons why Suu Kyi is secluded by the junta. First, she enjoys the overwhelming support of the Burmese people. This support is due to a combination of several factors, including her charismatic leadership, courage, and determination; and she being the daughter of Aung San (the man who led the negotiation of Burma’s independence from the British). Second, it is because of her international fame and support for leading a non-violent democratic movement.
The Junta has successfully prevented Suu Kyi from running the election, and also disbanded her party i.e. the NLD. By doing so, the military finishes the first big task of its electoral politics.
The second and bigger concern is to garner international legitimacy for the flawed election. To achieve this goal, the military junta chief, General Than Shwe, visited India in July, and China in September. Winning the support of these two Asian giants, which both have strong economic interests, is critically important for the military leadership. Given the nature of their cordial relationships, there is no doubt that a communist state and a democratic state will readily recognize the results of the election.
The international community will continue to have differing opinions. Some will welcome the results of the election, while some will say it is short of international standard. China, India, and Association of Southeast Asian Nations will be some of the first nations to welcome the result, while Western democracies will criticize the outcome.
It is intriguing to see where Burma is heading after election. One thing, however, is clear that Burma is transitioning to a parliamentary form of government, under which Than Shwe will still have the ultimate power, at least for the next few years.
Transition, indeed, has begun. On October 21, the military changed Burma’s national flag, national anthem, and official name of the country. It was in 1989, the military changed the country name from the Union of Burma to the Union of Myanmar. Its new official name is called the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, though it is not a republic state yet.
For Than Shwe, security for his family and close associates is extremely important for the remaining of his life. Under no circumstances, Than Shwe would like to end up his life like the former military leader, General Ne Win, who was placed under house arrest in the final days of his life. Neither Than Shwe will like to end up like Slobodan Milošević, who was charged with crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Tribunal.
Than Shwe wants to transform Burma without having to face for the crimes he and his cohorts committed. Indonesian transition is something Than Shwe ponders. Like General Suharto of Indonesia, Than Shwe wants to develop a new political structure in which the elites will ensure his safety.
Nehginpao Kipgen is a researcher on the rise of political conflicts in modern Burma (1947-2004) and general secretary of the U.S.-based Kuki International Forum (www.kukiforum.com) whose works have been widely published in five continents – Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, and North America. He currently pursues a Ph.D. in political science at Northern Illinois University. He can be reached at nkipgen@niu.edu.

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