As the world on tenterhooks awaiting the results of one election that has traditionally been the most high-profile exercise in democracy for the entire world to witness and emulate, the stage is set next Sunday (by when hopefully we’ll know who the next occupant of the White House will be) for a less heralded display of the people’s prerogative, in Myanmar, Bangladesh’s next door neighbour. There, as elsewhere in the region, democracy has endured a decidedly chequered history, with leaders veering towards some version of ‘illiberal democracy’.
The most recent, or ongoing attempt at forging a democracy in Myanmar, bringing into the bargain democracy’s fairest handmaiden, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi had its undeniable roots in the administration of the former US President Barack Obama, whose very loyal vice president, Joe Biden, is in prime position to be returned as the next US president. Whether or not Biden resurrects a ‘third term’ for Obama and what he stood for, it will be interesting to see if Daw Suu Kyi, having met her destiny as leader of her country, is able to be more assertive against the generals (we cannot say ‘her generals’) of the Myanmarese army, the main perpetrators of the Rohingya genocide of 2017, with more familiar partners calling the shots in Washington. Her party is heavily expected to be returned to power next week.
One of the peculiarities of the constitution under which Myanmar adopted democracy, or some form of it as we all do, is the reservation of a quarter of the seats in parliament for the military, running up against a requirement of a three-fourths vote in the house to push through major constitutional changes.
As developments stateside have shown this week, democracy can be very heavy on mathematics, and the generals you may say have mathematically secured their dominance over the lives of the people of Myanmar.
There was global revulsion at the military operations in 2017 that saw hundreds of thousands of people flee burning villages into the squalor of the refugee camps that popped up in Cox’s Bazar. The horrifying violence left Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s international reputation in tatters and sees Myanmar facing genocide charges at the UN’s top court.
But U Than Htay, leader of the military-aligned Union Solidarity and Development Party, insists Myanmar has nothing to be sorry for. The USDP is the main opposition group standing against Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy in this week’s polls. Than Htay reportedly told a campaign rally he was free of “Muslim or Chinese” blood, while his deputy slurred an NLD Muslim candidate.
So, you see why despite Suu Kyi’s besmirched bonafides, the international community can really only support one side in the elections next week, if it is to remain on the side of humanity. And yet it must insist thereafter, that once in office, the Lady must repay this support more seriously.