Burmese Days

The election is more important than COVID-19.

Not the words of Donald Trump but the words of the State Counsellor of Burma, Aung San Su Kyi. Yes, I know the name of the country was changed by the State Law and Order Restoration Council-SLORC but Burma is still Burma in the eyes of many.

The election will be held on November 8th with various challenges. There are of course security challenges. Conflict zones in the border areas where voting is suspended and COVID-19. This election will have suspensions in Rakhine state with no vote taking place in a number of townships due to the fighting between the Arakan Army (AA) and the Myanmar military. Of course, very few of the Rohinyas that remain in that area will be eligible to vote as they are without national identity cards. Many of the displaced people in other parts of Burma face a similar problem as they lack documentation.

COVID-19 is another major problem. Burma has seen increasing number of infections and fully implementing prevention measures at the polling stations is going to be difficult. The question of postponing the election was raised but the Union Election Commission (UEC) is proceeding as scheduled, a decision supported by the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

There are some in Burma who see little cause for optimism. Many of the fundamental problems remain and the previous elections did not result in rapid change. It will be interesting to see what gains are made by the ethnic parties in the border regions. These people have seen no great improvement in their lives unlike the majority Bamar people.

The election is being fought under the first past the post system which favours big parties. It is noticeable that most candidates in the major parties are elderly men with a much smaller number of women.

Nevertheless, most see democracy as the way forward. The path to ensuring constitutional reform that will see the end to the dominance of the military and a new settlement that creates a federal system which brings an end to the conflicts that have bedevilled that country since independence.

These sentiments are shared by others in SE Asian countries who want to see reforms that bring about a genuine democratic system. Opposition parties have been suppressed in Cambodia and protesters are hitting the streets in Bangkok and other parts of Thailand.

The efforts by Britain and other western countries to support the growth of democracy must continue. Britain must not be seen as a fair-weather friend who only seeks economic opportunities without concerns for the wellbeing of those in these countries. A very short-sighted Britain will be eclipsed by other countries. Efforts directed at economic and social development do not go unnoticed. I remember in Laos a man saying to me, “Oh the British, they only provide a few British Council scholarships.” If Britain wants to seek global relationships it is important that it becomes fully engaged within many regions of the world and continues to promote democracy.

* Ian Martin lives in Thailand. He is a lifelong Liberal and a member of the Liberal Democrat Overseas executive.

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This entry was posted in Europe / International.
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