A Great Victory For Democracy But A Long Way To Go For Freedom In Burma
The outburst of sheer joy among the Burmese people reaching near delirium with news that their heroic leader has led her party and her people to an unprecedented democratic victory was evident on the live footage carried on international channels and Internet. It was a collective expression of joy and happiness of a people rarely witnessed in the Asian scene. Aung San Suu Kyi the frail 65-year old woman who had spent most of her last two decades imprisoned – fighting a battle for freedom in her own non -violent way— scored another major triumph for her people last week.
She has not yet won freedom for Burma from the military junta that grabbed power in 1962 but clearly it was a huge step towards the emancipation of her nation, the footprint of which would be difficult to erase.
The exuberance of Burmese youth, singing, dancing, sloganeering —who had not seen the triumph of a civilian democratic force over the military junta that had kept them and their parents in chains is should be seen in the pictures. It is hard to capture them in words. But joyous as the event was, the country of Golden Pagodas is far from being the tranquil country it was half century ago when the khaki clad thugs took over.
The National Democratic Party of Suu Kyi won 43 of the 45 seats they contested in the Burmese Parliament last week but that would amount to only 5 per cent of the seats compared to 80 percent of the seats reserved for the military and the main party backing the military.
That is the composition of parliament according to the constitution forced down the throats of the Burmese people by the military junta. Even if Suu Kyi’s party hold an absolute majority the army has to power to over rule her decisions.
Yet the elections were considered ‘successful’ in that it had successfully mobilised the people breaking down the fear of the people in engaging in politics after generations of dictatorship.
Political observes have noted that what took place in Burma was last week was not a revolution but a small step in the very slow political evolution with no guarantees that democracy would be gobbled up again by the junta.
Two men could play a key role in the future of democracy in that country. The most powerful figure in Burma’s political system today is said to be its army chief Gen. Min Aung Hliang. The political system is run by former generals but backed by men still in uniform. The other is President Thein Sein a general in the former junta turned reformist. He surprised he Burmese and the world with the most dramatic political reforms since the military took over. He has released more than 600 political prisoners in an amnesty and thousands more are to be released. Thein Sein addressing parliament recently stressed the need to strengthen the rule of law, open up the economy and develop the national infrastructure.
Opposition to democracy
However it may soon be opposed by ultra conservative elements in the army including former generals. Irrawaddy, an independent news magazine recently reported that conservative elements including former army generals are nervous about the resurgence of a democratic opposition. Side lining Sein Thein and a relatively small group of fellow Reformists would not be difficult considering that Thein is 67 years old and has said that he would not play a political role beyond 2015.
The crucial answer to the question about the future of democracy in Burma is whether the ruling junta is in difficulties with governing the country with rigid economic sanctions being imposed on it by America and the European Union. Hillary Clinton, American Secretary of State soon after the election victory was known, announced that the United States recognises the ‘fledgling democratic transition’ and would ease the ban on American companies investing or offering financial services to Burma.
However she said that there was a long way to go in shaking off 50 years of military rule. The American move was a the first step towards lifting the ‘complex web of US Sanctions that contributed to the isolation of Burma for decades’ she had said.
America would soon name an ambassador to Burma and open up offices of US AID and support UN development projects. Clinton also called for release of all political prisoners and lifting of restrictions placed on released prisoners, national reconciliation among all ethnic groups and an end to military ties with North Korea.
The support extended by America to Aung San Suu Kyi and the Chinese reaction to it is being watched by international observers. Burma has been considered as the bulwark protecting China from encirclement by America in Asia and China has been considered as impoverished Burma’s Big Brother. China has invested heavily in oil and gas pipelines from Burma to South China for this region’s economic growth as well as in hydro electric projects. However, recently Burmese President Thein Sein suspended the construction of a massive Chinese funded Myitsone hydroelectric dam from which power generated in Burma was to be carried to China. It has been reported that the Burmese now considered the negative impact of the project to be much greater than when the agreements were signed.
On Thursday China welcomed the lifting of all sanctions on Burma and said that the victory of Aung San Suu Kyi was good for Burma’s political stability.
A Reuters report last week said that Suu Kyi who had been made a political prisoner by the Burmese military junta for long years had been a strong ally of China all along but Suu Kyi on her release after imprisonment in 2010 had said that she does not consider China to be an enemy.
This reaction is entirely compatible with her way of thinking as evident from interviews she had given and in the Reith Lecture of the BBC which she delivered last year.