Many folks of the older generation will still call it Burma. Once the name pops up, it will invoke memoires of the 1939 – 1945 world war two. Although unsung, some of our grand parents or great grand parents remain as famous as the English ‘Mad Jack’ who fought in the same war. While Jack earned his fame out of using a broadsword, bow and arrows against the new rifle and tank technology, our grandparents are revered because they either had their military training in Burma or they fought alongside British Commonwealth troops in the most challenging Burmese terrain during the Second World War.
When Uganda was getting its independence in 1962, Burma was falling prey to a military coup that has since seen it through different shades of military rule to-date. In 2010, there was a semblance of multiparty elections that were later largely described as ‘fraudulent’. A military backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) declared victory in that election. Millions of Burmese respected the election outcome as a mere continuation of the longstanding full-blown martial rule.
On November 8th 2015, Burma (now called Myanmar) held its widely scrutinised multiparty election under a first-past-the-post electoral system. Prior to this vote, a lot of investment was made to the process – at a legislative reform level, at the administrative level and at a civic competence level. I was privileged and honoured to witness the November 8th historical election.
Conversations with the ordinary people of Myanmar days before the election only revealed one key thing; not withstanding the several false starts that the country had had in the last 53 years, the people’s resolve to make things different and better was insurmountable.
In Myanmar, the recent vote represented the weapon of the hoi polloi to wage war against an opportunistic junta that conveniently wore a smart mask of a political party. Opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) under the leadership of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi won the just concluded election with a definite landslide in a vote that has been widely described as contest between the civilians and the military. Uncommon in many autocratic settings, incumbent and military backed USDP graciously conceded defeat, a step that has left the world generally wowed and humbled.
The challenge that lies ahead now is for the new NLD constituted government in Myanmar to champion meaningful reforms. Socio-political and economic reforms that will entrench and guarantee sustained democratic governance for the people of Myanmar.
Some of the questions that will need to be addressed will include reviewing the role of the military in active politics. Currently, 25 per cent of the parliamentary seats are reserved for the military; only military ‘men’ can lead powerful ministries including Defense, Home Affairs and Border Affairs; and of course there is currently no legislative scrutiny of military budgets and expenses. The post election period is filled with a mix of both optimism and pessimism.
What casts a dark cloud on the Burmese political hopes is the current constitutional provision that requires a 75 percent approval bar to amend the Constitution. There is fear that the military in Parliament could stand in the way of any meaningful legislative reforms. On the contrast however, there is an overwhelming confidence that ‘people power’ will triumph over any form of conspicuous or concealed military conspiracies – and Myanmar will move along the path to full democratic reform.
With such a troubled past, it is the hope of many that the old Myanmar will not in any way come back to haunt the new one.
If the vote can usher in a new democratic epoch in a decorated junta like Myanmar, then surely, there’s a billion reasons to believe in the power of the vote!