Archive for the Election Category

The Election

Posted in Election on October 9, 2010 by burmaperspective

Some truisms:

1.     The junta, under some form, will remain in charge after the election

2.     While I am not entirely sure what “free and fair” means, under any possible definition, this election will not be free nor will it be fair

3.     The election is going to happen

Most commentators seem to focus on the first two points.  If you do a search for “Burma election,” you will find plenty of writing on those subjects.  And, as a result of those, the general consensus among commentators seems to think that the election is a net negative.  I’m going to focus on #3 and say that I believe that the election is actually a net positive.

The most common reason people give suggesting that the election is a bad thing is that it will somehow give some international credibility to the junta, who can, for the first time, actually proclaim that they are the democratically elected government.  Indeed, we have seen some statements in this direction from Thailand, India, and China.  To that I say, “So what?”

China, India, and Thailand are already dealing with the junta in every possible way.  The UN did not, in 1990, remove the Burmese delegation because they were not the elected government.  The Burmese are, today, a full member of ASEAN, and are even scheduled to hold the Southeast Asian games, in Naypyidaw of all places, in 2013.  From fellow totalitarian countries like China to democratic ones like India and South Korea, the regime is not suffering from lack of trading partners.  They have gotten guns from Israel and military help from India, China, Russia  and others.  So, after the election, what changes?  The US has steadfastly refused to put pressure on its allies in the region to temper their dealings with the regime.  The election may make it a bit easier for these nations to make their arguments, but the actions are already there.

So then, why do I think the election is a positive thing?  Two reasons.  First, it has gotten people talking and participating in the process.  I’ve been in classrooms in Yangon where people are talking about “democracy” as a concept.  I’ve seen a seminar where a teacher took students point-by-point through the new constitution and pointed out its deficiencies.  Is this conversation happening outside the cities?  Probably not as much.  But, at least its happening for the first time since 1990.  And these discussions will continue as people attempt to exercise what limited rights they do have under the constitution.  While the government-sponsored parties are the only ones running nationwide, 37 parties have put up candidates for at least some of the seats.  These brave candidates are facing down draconian election laws, impossible odds, and even attacks from “democracy”activists.  Does it mean change?  Not right away.  But it is a small movement in the direction of change.

Third, the election also means personnel change.  While we all know that many generals are merely trading their uniforms for business suits, there will now be two constituencies – the military proper and the civilians.  We simply do not know what level of infighting exists within the military.  As new faces appear at the top in uniform, and others in suits, an opportunity may well be created.  For what exactly?  Who knows?   It may actually mean more bloodshed.  But, I’m in favor of anything that may upset the status quo.