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Myanmar Prelude


Myanmar goes to the polls on November 8. The nationwide general election may or may not be free and fair but it has already triggered considerable speculation. For one thing, it has fared pretty well in democratic transition compared with political experiments in Egypt, Afghanistan and Iraq. However incremental the progress has been in Yangon, Myanmar is regarded as a freer and more democratic country today. President Thein Sein has introduced a slew of reforms. But the forthcoming poll is likely to face several challenges. First, the government is, as is to be expected, worried about problems called “performance anxiety”. Second, Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has started complaining about the presence of ghost voters and the possibility of rigging. If it is a just possibility, it should not at this stage be a cause for concern. More to the point is the anticipated undue military intervention. Monk Wirathu and his 10 million strong Ma Ba Tha support the junta-led Union Solidarity and Development Party(USDP). It gives the election a communal complexion especially because of Buddhist persecution of Rahingyas and other Muslims in the country. Suu Kyi herself is on a shaky wicket in supporting Muslims. The National League of Democracy (NLD) led by her has not fielded a single Muslim candidate. Millions of Muslims may not be left out of the electoral process. Ethnic minorities, rebels and insurgents might pose a major challenge as well. The Wa rebels active in the northeastern region bordering China have called a meeting of all non-signatories to the recent nationwide ceasefire. Elections may be far from normal in the disturbed areas. The recent floods which have affected 12 out of 14 administrative regions have hit a million people and it casts a shadow over the holding of a representative poll.

The international community is keeping a close watch. Ejection observers from several countries are already in Myanmar. But that has nowhere in the past ensured free and fair elections. New Delhi is especially concerned about the outcome of the poll. The Manipur ambush and the pact between the NSCN (Khaplang) and the junta in power are disturbing factors. But at the same time, India has been keen on being friendly with the Myanmar government as Aung San Suu Kyi is not overly supportive of it.

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