The Challenges To Democracy In Myanmar

by Patrick Stafrace on Dec 6, 2015

On November 8th in Myanmar, The National League for Democracy (NLD)–inaugural democratic party of Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi–claimed a historic victory for the young democratic state, winning 60% of the national vote and ending decades of political struggle against unjust military rulers.

For proponents of Suu Kyi, the victory has been the result of vigorous restitutions in order to correct the developing nation’s balance of power, quashed by the military junta of 1990. The two decades since have provided ample opportunity for the Union Solidarity and Development Council [USDC] – the official name of the military regime of Myanmar — to adjust the constitutional framework; enforcing state mandates which allocate 25% of parliamentary seats to the military and establishing autocratic protectionism from foreign influence.

The latter will be of direct concern to the newly elected party. Due to the marriage of Suu Kyi with British historian, Michael Aris, the task of finding strong allies to constitute her senior cabinet and presidency roles will test the Democratic Party’s ability to administer its newfound power. Reuters correspondent Aubrey Belford anticipates that the NLD itself, with little experience in power, “may struggle to make the transition from political struggle to governance”

Observers within Myanmar suggest that the presidency may be given to Soe Moe Thu, a supposed “pet” of Aung San Syi Kyi. Notwithstanding the legitimacy of Moe Thu and his constituency, his potential presidency would act purely as a conduit of power for Suu Kyi and has the potential to form a dysfunctional government. Once power has been established within the NDL, the remaining 111 or 40% approximately of bicameral seats will further add to potential dysfunction if a coalition cannot be formed between the military.

There are strong signs of political reconsolidation: few days had past until outgoing president, Thein Sein, a proponent of Aung San Suu Kyi, gave alms to the NDL and stated, “The transition of power will be swift and peaceful”. Thein Sein detracted from the military junta in 2011 and was responsible for the exoneration of hundreds of political prisoners; his actions however are not consensual between key military leaders who benefited directly from the junta.

Despite abrasive disapproval within the military party, Thein Sein is embracing support from foreign organisations. From the UN Security Council to Australian Queen’s Counsel Representatives, diplomatic relationships have been formed with the objective of drafting a new constitution. The outgoing party, the Union Solidarity and Development Council [USDC], comprises of Myanmar business tycoons and key military personnel who directly gained from the proceedings of the 1990 military junta. Comprising of a diverse representation of Myanmar’s ethnic and religious minorities, including radical Buddhist monks who are prevalent throughout South-East Asia, the prospect of constitutional amendment will have to respect the legitimacy of their democratic representation.

The primary task will be to dissolve military influence within government institutions, for democracy is alive and breathing in the international community’s youngest democratic state. Already, co-operation has been secured with strategic allies, Aung San Suu Kyi’s strength will be tested further in her ability establish a party which represents the equal determination of its people.

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