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Myanmar Elections 2010- I: It’s All About Exclusion

The November 2010 elections in Myanmar do not promise to be fair and inclusive nor do they come with the agenda of complete restoration of democracy in the country. But, one thing these elections promise to be is a step towards a transformation which comes with opportunities for some important political changes in the future.

How significant are these changes going to be when the present situation looks grossly unjust? How will the outcome be affected when the new electoral laws have barred certain citizens including the most visible supporter of democracy in the country, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi?  Are these elections only an attempt by the military junta-backed State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) led by Prime Minister Thein Sein and the National Unity Party (NUP) to legitimize and further consolidate their power?

The USDP and NUP have reportedly floated more than 1,100 and 980 candidates respectively, nationwide. A total of 1,163 seats will be contested for national and state parliaments; this is in addition to the 25 per cent seats reserved for the military in parliament. However, USDP is aiming to win an overwhelming 90 per cent seats, to ensure two out of three vice-presidential candidates from the military.

The elections will be held in accordance to the new constitution which came into effect after a similarly non-inclusive referendum in May 2008. It forms the fifth step of the seven-step ‘road map to democracy’ announced by the SPDC. Following this, the sixth and seventh steps ‘“ convening of elected representatives and building of a modern, democratic nation, respectively will supposedly be pursued. The new Constitution and election laws have provisions for exclusion of many sections, especially those against the present regime. People are also questioning the validity of the junta’s ‘attempts to restore democracy’ in Myanmar when over 2,100 political prisoners are not being released and are barred from contesting these elections under the provisions of the 2008 constitution.

At least two constitutional provisions ‘“ anyone with a criminal conviction or who is married to a person of different nationality cannot participate in the election process; exclude Suu Kyi from the electoral process. The laws also forbid any group which employs and trains armed forces against the ruling government, from forming a political party and thus, contesting in the election. Hence, the majority of ethnic ceasefire groups, while removed from the list of unlawful organizations, will not be granted the right to any political process without first converting their armed forces into a Border Guard Force functioning under the existing regime.

This may pose some problems as these groups are eventually likely to prevent polling in territories they control which will again leave out a large number of people from voting. The Shan and Karen states seem to be the big casualties of these stipulations as it is highly unlikely that there will be any polling there owing to the provision which states that only conflict-free areas can hold elections.

Members of religious orders are also prohibited from affiliating themselves to a political party and thus, contest elections. This implies that the monks who protested against the government in 2008 cannot take part in the electoral process.

Then there is Suu Kyi’s party, National League for Democracy (NLD), which officially boycotted the elections. It is now conducting ‘voter education camps’ in several constituencies urging the people to reject the elections by choosing to refrain from voting as provided in the Election Commission Law. This is expected to further bring down the number of people participating in the elections.

While it is evident that the Generals Than Shwe and Maung Aye, will step down following the elections, their influence will still be felt quite substantially in the new government. It is therefore safe to assume that these elections will see the existing regime back in power, more dominant than before as it would now have a legal sanction as the winner of a nationwide election. The international community may or may not agree with this expected outcome, but it would have to accept it nevertheless.

However, how does one accept an outcome whose entire foundation is exclusion? For the present government, anyone who does not agree with them is not welcome in the system. The junta-led government has decided that even the slightest inclination to oppose the regime will result in exclusion from the elections. Former American President Harry S. Truman once remarked, ‘Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of the opposition, it has only one way to go and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror for all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.’ This holds true for Myanmar in the present context. The credibility of the first Myanmarese elections in 20 years is at stake, but the junta seems unperturbed.  The Myanmarese people’s long wait for democracy in their country is far from over.

* The article is written by Medha Chaturvedi.

* The writer is a Research Scholar at IPCS.

* The writer can be reached at medhachaturvedi@gmail.com.

* The article has been published with due permission from the Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies (IPCS)

* You may visit IPCS’s website at www.ipcs.org for further readings

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