Since the Nominal Civilian Government of Myanmar started working from 2011, the first ever free and fair elections took place in the country on Sunday. The Constitution has a provision of a reservation of 25% of the 666 seats for military officers. The military officers are chosen by the commander-in-chief. However, the army retains a veto over any modifications in the Constitution. Yet, it is being termed as one of the most democratic elections in the country.
The country, which has been under military rule for more than half a century, gave the Burmese population the right to vote without distress this year. This time, more than 30 million people were entitled to vote in the Myanmar elections. The free elections gained a major support in the form of Aung San Suu Kyi, the epitome of democratic efforts, who has been confronting the junta for years.
Wearing her symbolic flower thazin in her hair, Suu Kyi had, earlier, urged the international community to maintain a close eye on the Myanmar elections to keep it fair and just. She believed that the elections would be impartial and so, one of the most iconic events in the history of the country.
Voting took place peacefully with no serious instances of violence reported from anywhere as people were seen coming out smiling from polling stations.
Since 2011, the military-backed Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP) had led the authority. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) is expected to bring fair democracy and thus have high chances of winning most of the parliamentary seats though she cannot become the President (as she has two British sons and the Constitution bans those with foreign children from the office).
Why are these elections important?
There are several reasons that make the Myanmar elections important, not only for Myanmar but to its neighbors as well. One of the main reasons is that these elections are expected to be completely fair and involve no manipulation by any forces in power. These elections have included most of the ethnic as well as religious groups in the electoral process, and most importantly, it is expected to bring in constitutional changes once the government is formed.
Even as these so called democratic elections took place in Myanmar yesterday, facts remain which scrutinize their integrity. One of the prime issues in the country and the reason for their severe criticism is the racial discrimination or ignorance towards human rights.
NDL lead by Suu Kyi is the ray of hope for the people living under harsh military rule and repression of monks. The Buddhist majority of the state has a clear and vocal delinquent against the minority Muslims (especially the Rohingya Muslims). Rohingyas are, constitutionally, not a part of the State even though generations of families have resided there. Minority Rohingya Muslims remained deprived of voting rights even in this election which leaves a question mark on the fairness of the Myanmar elections.
This has given rise to both resentment and sore feelings in the affected communities, particularly in view of the anti-Muslim riots two years ago, and the progression of a radical Buddhist nationalist movements.
Amid such discrimination, Suu Kyi, who promises to bring equality and eradicate discrimination from the society, seems to stand as an opportunity for people to come out of this disparity.
What is the significance of this election to India?
India and Myanmar share a 1,624-kilometer-long border, which has been the high point of cross-border insurgency between the countries.
Several critical issues are to be elucidated for an improvement in the relations between these neighboring countries. Myanmar’s betterment of relations with China on grounds of economic gains is of major concern to India, as it could lead to negligence from Burma’s foreign policies. There is a need to identify negotiations with various ethnic parties over a ceasefire agreement for a peaceful cross-border relation. These negotiations are expected to have long-term influence within Myanmar, as well as alongside the border with Nagaland and Manipur.
India would benefit by indicating a willingness to work with acknowledged indigenous groups to settle border differences. On the other hand, India also needs to develop a framework of strategic policies including Myanmar, Thailand, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Malaysia to build a marine and land route on the outlines of China’s suggestions on the one belt highway.
At the same time, India also needs to focus on completing several planned and unfinished ventures that it has with Myanmar. Various governments have neglected and ignored several infrastructure development projects, cross-border trade, river networking proposals and energy investments schemes. These projects need to be finalized to achieve a solution to the last mile problems.
Since August 18, 2011, over three years of dialogues have taken place, consisting of more than nine official negotiations between the Government’s Union Peace Working Committee (UPWC) and the ethnic armed organizations’ Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT). Although, it produced some significant accomplishments in the initial stages, eventually only eight of the more than 20 ethnic armed groups signed the so-called Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) on October 15, 2015, well short of the nationwide agreement that was sought.
These arrangements were expected to provide relief to the cross-border insurgency issues between India and Myanmar and develop a peaceful coexistence.
If Suu Kyi wins the elections, India would see a ray of hope as she believes “India is her second home’’ and she looks up to India for their democratic governance. India can expect an in-depth bilateral conversation about the issues mentioned above and create improved relations. This can also lead to help resolve certain Northeast India issues.
Last week, Myanmar President Thein Sein asserted in an interview with a news agency, that the government and the military would provide full support to the democratic elections to make sure they “follow and respect the results of a free and fair election”.
The president described the elections as “the most meaningful and important one in Myanmar history”.
As a reply to Suu Kyi’s request to the international community to monitor the elections for an unbiased counting of votes, around 10,000 election monitors registered with the country’s election commission including delegations from the United States, the European Union, and Japan. Electorates themselves were also vigilant with the help of social media.
The election commission said it would be announcing the results from Monday at 9 AM and would continue throughout the day and the entire week.