Elections in Myanmar and Future Directions

Elections in Myanmar and Future Directions

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Concept Note

Myanmar has witnessed dramatic political developments since it held the last general elections in November 2010. Today the country is beyond recognition if one analyses how developments over the past five years have led Myanmar towards a democratic path and economic change. In 2010, there was an atmosphere of fear. People were scared to discuss politics. This wall of fear has collapsed. The National League for Democracy leader and democracy’s icon Aung San Suu Kyi and scores of political prisoners have been released and a wave of reforms has created a sense of optimism about the future. Developments like Myanmar’s integration into the regional groupings and economic changes along with the relaxation of media censorship have been welcomed by the international community.

Quite significantly, President Thein Sein has opened a dialogue with various ethnic armed groups, allowed the formation of the National Human Rights Commission and labour unions. These are by all accounts far-reaching changes. On 1 April 2012, by-elections were held in Myanmar for 45 vacant seats which NLD easily won. There is of course a lot that hasn’t changed. There are still numerous undemocratic provisions in the 2008 Constitution which will not be easy for the next government to amend. The armed forces have the right to reject constitutional amendments.

The November 8 general elections will be followed by the Presidential election. Analysts believe an era of uncertainty may follow the November elections. Both the NLD and the party close to the military face certain odds. Since a quarter of parliamentary seats are reserved for the army, and the ethnic groups too are expected to win a good number of seats in their respective areas, it is not easy for the NLD to win two-thirds of contested seats. The odds are perhaps even greater for the military backed party.

 Myanmar finds itself at the crossroads.  Free and fair elections are not an issue that concerns only the government and the NLD. These are also a challenge for the civil society. The level of international attention on Myanmar elections is also very high. The outcome of the 2015 elections will also have a bearing on the long-running civil war and ethnic imbroglio. Nevertheless, the forthcoming elections will facilitate significant change in major facets of Myanmar politics. But the central role of the army is unlikely to change in the near future.

 Beyond the party battles also lie deeper concerns surrounding the election. As things stand today, large groups of people including the Rohingyas, and other ethnic groups are likely to be disenfranchised. There are questions about how the electoral disputes will be settled and how the issue of likely horse-trading will be handled.

The discussion will revolve around two main sub-themes: (1) From political transition to democratic consolidation (focusing on the political campaign, issues raised etc and (2) the future trends and directions in the aftermath of the historic elections.

 

Information:

Chok Tsering
Program Coordinator