Elections in Burma are taking place and it appears that Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy is going to win by a landslide with the ruling Union Solidarity & Development Party conceding defeat.
But I must place emphasis on the word appears. After all, the NLD won the last multi-party election in 1990 convincingly and the military junta refused to recognize the results. Dictatorships are by their very nature arbitrary and capricious. What is to prevent the junta from doing the same this time and placing Suu Kyi back under house arrest? Who would stop them?
It is true that Thein Sein, the current military ruler, is light years ahead of his predecessor, Than Shwe especially where it concerns his relations with Suu Kyi. General Shwe forbade the mention of Suu Kyi’s name. As long as he remained in power this election would have been inconceivable.
Despite improved relations with the junta, Suu Kyi is barred from becoming president because of a provision in the Burmese constitution which prohibits those with foreign born spouses or children to rule the country. This provision was clearly written with Suu Kyi in mind given that her late husband and children were born in Britain. Regardless of the results, the military is guaranteed 25% of the seats in Burma’s national assembly and gets to appoint the ministers of defense, border security and the interior. The military can also block constitutional amendments and has control of key industries. Needless to say, even the NLD wins a majority and the military recognizes the election results there is nothing to prevent them from dismissing the civilian government in six months from now.
With all this in mind, it must be remembered the military has ruled Burma (officially called Myanmar) since 1962. Any step towards civilian and democratic rule should be greeted with optimism however guarded that optimism might be.