Sunday, 22 November 2015

The Grand Delusion of Democracy in Myanmar

by ABRO,
The National League for Democracy (NLD) in Myanmar, led by Nobel peace laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has won the majority of available seats in Parliament according to the official results released by the Myanmar election commission.  International observers claim that after 50 years of military rule, this is a “Transition to Democracy”.  This article will explain why such claim is a Grand Delusion.

Despite this victory, the shadow of military dictator “retired” Senior General Than Shwe hangs over Myanmar. Not surprisingly, the so called “democratic” constitution crafted by the former military dictatorship in 2008, continues to serve the interests of the Junta.  Myanmar’s military dictators have found alternative ways to camouflage military dictatorship as “civilian government”.  They have succeeded in creating this illusion by changing their uniforms, forming a mock parliament and their own political party USDP (Union Solidarity and Development Party) from USDA (Union Solidarity Development Association) and creating an unamendable constitution.  During the military dictatorship, USDA was an association lead by government officials with many of its members coerced into joining the association.  Than Shwe appointed ex-military General Thein Sein as leader of USDP and President of Myanmar in November 2010.  According to the constitution, 25% of parliamentary seats have to be reserved for representatives of the military.  Constitutional amendments can only be made if more than 75% of the members agree to the changes.

The election commission itself has been appointed by military generals with a former lieutenant-general acting as commissioner.  As this commission blithely released results indicating Aung San Suu Kyi as leader of the winning party should rightfully be President, legislation introduced by Than Shwe’s military regime in 2008 bars a democratically elected leader like Suu Kyi who has foreign relatives (her late husband and her two sons are British Citizens) from becoming President.  Even if to circumvent this law, Suu Kyi nominates someone to take her place as President, her nominee will be answerable to the National Defence and Security Council (NDSC) who have the authority to override certain decisions made by the President.  There is almost no escape from military rule in Than Shwe’s constitutional labyrinth with at least 5 of the 11 NDSC members having to be appointed by the Military Commander in Chief who in turn has to be appointed by the NDSC.

Just before the election held on 8th of November 2015, the Thein Sein government announced that the release of the official election results will be delayed indefinitely and power would be handed to the winner of the election by February next year.  These delays give Thein Sein and his military backers further leeway to maintain or strengthen their power base regardless of the election result.  After receiving the news of her election win, Aung San Suu Kyi is reported to have already sent letters to Thein Sein and he has not replied to any of these letters.  There are also reports that Thein Sein’s representative said that, until the election commission has resolved all complaints regarding the election results, talks with the NLD leader will not happen. 

So how do minorities fare in this “democratic” election? Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party has not contested in some constituencies in the Shan, Kachin and Chin states, as well as other areas of Myanmar which are under military control.  One of the reasons being, the current government has used “security reasons” to prevent elections from being conducted in many of these areas.  In Arakan state, the Rakhine National Development Party’s (RNDP) leader Dr. Aye Maung, the main perpetrator of violence against the Rohingya and other Muslim groups, has made a clean sweep in the election with the Myanmar government barring 1.3 million Rohingya and other Muslim groups from voting.  This provides him with further opportunity to accelerate the expulsion of the entire Muslim community from the state.

The poster child of democracy herself, Ms. Suu Kyi, has taken sides with the majority, ignoring the minorities who have been supporting her for decades.  Her party has ethnically cleansed itself of all Muslim members ahead of the election.  For the first time in the history of Myanmar, there will be no Muslim parliamentarians.  At this moment in time, the person who courageously fought for freedom and rights against Myanmar’s military dictatorship is fearful of losing majority support.  It therefore follows that recent changes in the country are possible signs of the tyrannical rule of the military ending for the majority Buddhist people alone with the pathway to “freedom” being paved exclusively for them.  The exclusion of the entire Muslim community including Rohingya, is a stereotype of ‘majority representative democracy’ or one could even call this aberration a ‘Muslim-free democracy’.

Myanmar’s “democratic transition” is simply ‘old wine in a new bottle’ produced by General Than Shwe and his cohorts.  As the western nations throw their support behind these cosmetic changes they turn a blind eye to the ongoing genocide, the wars in northern and eastern Myanmar and the detention of political prisoners. 
The perpetuation of this Grand Delusion of “Democracy” comes at a horrific cost to the people of Myanmar, particularly the Rohingya of Arakan state.

Call to Action:

1) The International Criminal Court (ICC) should investigate the ongoing crimes against humanity and genocide across Myanmar.
2) International communities should create a safe zone for Rohingya people and establish an independent Rohingya state within Arakan state while the central rulers, authorities and majority ethnic/religious group continues to segregate and push out the Rohingya people.
3) According to the responsibility to protect, the UN and its member countries should enforce appropriate conditions that ensure aid delivery reach the hands of victims on the ground in Arakan state, Shan state, Kachin state and other areas.
4) Myanmar should immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners and thousands of Rohingya detained in and outside Arakan state.
5) Myanmar should immediately stop waging wars in Shan, Kachin states and other areas.
6) Myanmar should immediately cease segregation, discrimination and ethnic cleansing against Rohingya and other minorities including those from 42 concentration camps in Arakan state.
7) Myanmar should immediately lift the blockade on international aid supply in Arakan state, Shan state, Kachin state and other areas.

For media contact:
Habib +(61) 406 310077

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