Myanmar: The art of electoral perversion

Two decades have passed since the last elections took place in the Southeast Asian country of Myanmar (Burma). Since this time, opposition parties and political activists have had sufficient time to reflect on the miseries of the past.

Today, 20 years later, the military junta that has reigned over Myanmar has announced that they will hold another election. Pessimists worldwide agree that this will be an election the junta will not lose again.

The 1990 general elections revealed that representative democracy has no place in Myanmar. Leader of the National League for Democracy Party Aung San Suu Kyi had successfully won the election with a 59 per cent majority and 394 of 492 total seats. However, even before the announcement of her victory, military forces placed Suu Kyi under house arrest – where she has spent 14 of the last 20 years.

New election laws published this week systematically prohibit both parties and individuals that pose any threat to the acting powers. As such, Suu Kyi has been successfully obstructed from actively participating in a campaign due to a “political-parties registration law”. This same law has also restricted the participation of more than 2,000 additional political actors. Today, the National League for Democracy has no other choice but to expel Suu Kyi from the party.

For now, the political opposition to the military junta faces a daunting challenge. They must now decide whether to attempt adding permissibility to the impending farce of an election or risk abolition, should they protest the legality of it. Either way, the League now has less than 60 days to decide between participation and elimination.

Despite the electoral problems, the military junta is certainly facing great change in the near future. The military has been dominated by the same generation of high command since the late 1970s. The aging brass has been looking to pass the torch to a younger breed of leaders. Myanmar’s head of state and acting senior general Than Shwe is 77 years old. As such, the government hopes to secure a suitable replacement before health restrictions or mismanagement reveals weaknesses in leadership.

In light of this, western diplomats have tried to work this to their advantage. The impending election has been considered the first vital step in opening the country up to the West and slowly decreasing Myanmar’s reliance on China.

Having already suppressed a communist insurgency supported by China, many Western powers have harboured anxiety in regards to how the coming changes will ultimately shape the geopolitics of Southeast Asia.

*The election date is currently unnamed.

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