Formerly Burma, the Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar has not held elections in 20 years. On Nov. 7, Myanmar, governed under military junta rule, will hold its first general elections since 1990.
According to CNN, the announcement impelled U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to encourage a free and fair vote. The U.N. called for the prompt release of political prisoners so they can vote. The release includes the head of the disbanded National League for Democracy (NLD), Aung San Suu Kyi, who is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. A pro-democracy leader, she has been under house arrest since 1989.
Fair Elections Appear Suspect
Apparently, the Myanmar military government defiantly snubbed a 1990 landslide majority win by the NLD party when it took 392 of the 492 contested seats. Since that time, an outwardly imbalanced constitution, drawn-up in 2008 by the junta, ensures, among other things, that the military gets one-third of parliamentary seats.
A constitution that secures these seats for the military before an election takes place hardly seems free or fair. Given that the citizens of Myanmar have not voted in an election for the past 20 years, though, this may be something they have to let ride in order to exercise, as a human being, even a scrap of political freedom. Perhaps playing a small role today will lead to greater change in the future.
The junta takes credit for restoring national elections in Myanmar as an element of its “roadmap to democracy” program. However, according to an AP report at Yahoo! News, the junta controls when candidates can begin campaigning.
Despite the formal Nov. 7 election date, the junta has not announced an official campaign kick-off yet. Some feel that, while the time to campaign will be short, the fact that an election will take place at all is more important, and the key focus.
Do the Burmese people accept that the military will likely remain in charge, but being able to vote outshines that grim prospect? Does this sound jarringly familiar to Afghanistan’s 2009 elections?
Afghanistan’s Attempt at Democracy
For the Afghan people, the 2009 presidential and council provincial elections should have been a giant leap forward in the realm of democracy. Instead, riddled with allegations of widespread vote-rigging for President Hamid Karzai and threats of physical abuse, the elections turned out to be another uphill struggle.
Millions of Afghan people were able to cast their vote — and they did so bravely in an expression of free choice — something they were not privy to under the oppression of Taliban rule.
In the end, though, election fraud launched the Afghan people back to square one. Was there ever a chance for a fair vote in the first place? It does not appear so.
Like the people of Afghanistan, the Burmese in Myanmar may receive the privilege to cast their vote on Nov. 7 — only to see election results show nothing changed. If the election is merely a ploy by the military junta to impress the international community, it is a cheerless ploy to be sure.
Pokpong Lawansiri, “Burmese Elections: Neither Free nor Fair,” guardian.co.uk
Margaret Beesher, “UN Urges Burma to Free Political Prisoners before Elections,” Voice of America®
AP article at Yahoo! News
Kocha Olarn, “U.N. calls for fair vote as Myanmar announces election date,” CNN