HomeCommentSham election all Burma army has to offer

Sham election all Burma army has to offer

It’s game, set and match to the Burmese generals.

Gwynne Dyer

On Wednesday they finally announced the date of the general election that was once seen as the real dawn of democracy in Burma: November 8.

But the army will emerge as the winner once again.

The political party that was created to support the generals, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, will not win a majority of the seats in the new parliament. Indeed, it may win very few.
But serving military officers will still have 25% of the seats, in accordance with the 2008 constitution (written by the military) and that will be enough to preserve military rule.

Those military officers (who wear their uniforms in parliament and vote in a bloc as the army high command decrees) will continue to dominate politics because 25% of the votes, according to that 2008 constitution, can block any changes to the constitution.
And if the soldiers can’t find or buy enough allies in parliament to muster a majority and pass legislation that the military wants, they have a fall-back position.

The constitution also allows the military to simply declare an emergency and take over whenever it likes.

Two weeks ago, the civilian parties in parliament tried to change those parts of the constitution.

They also tried to drop the clause that was written expressly to stop “Burma’s Mandela”, Aung San Suu Kyi, from being elected to the presidency. (She has two sons with British passports, so the constitution says that nobody with “foreign” ties can be president.)

The soldiers just used their 25% blocking minority to reject all the proposed changes.

Aung San Suu Kyi now has until Saturday to decide whether she will lead her National League for Democracy into the November elections or boycott them as she did in 2010.

In principle, it shouldn’t be a tough decision. Her party could win by a landslide — indeed, it probably would — but she still couldn’t be president, and any NLD-led government would be permanently under threat of removal by the army if it threatened military interests.

When she was asked at a press conference last year how the democracy project was faring, she gave a one-word answer: “Stalled”.
And in an interview in April she put the blame squarely on the countries that used to support her.

“I would just like to remind you that I have been saying since 2012 that a bit of healthy scepticism would be very, very good, and that too many of our western friends are too optimistic about the democratisation process here,” she said.

But Western sanctions ended, the investors piled in and the economy is being transformed — even though the military is really still in charge.

However, Suu Kyi has made some serious errors, too.
She took the generals’ promises seriously enough to let her party run in by-elections in 2011, and even took a seat in parliament herself. She undoubtedly understood that it was a gamble, but unfortunately it failed.

So now she has no practical alternative to going down the road she chose in 2011: taking part in the November elections despite all the limitations on civilian power, taking a seat in parliament herself, and working for change within the military-designed system even as she lends it credibility by her co-operation.

Aung San Suu Kyi used to be a symbolic leader of great moral stature; now she is a pragmatic politician who has to get her hands dirty.

But at least she is still in the game.
Dyer is a London-based independent journalist.

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