Friday, February 20, 2009
Burma's 2010 election: New election, old promises
Naing Ko Ko
Feb 19, 2009 (DVB)–An election in Burma is supposedly going to be held in 2010 by the elite generals. Within the half century from 1960 to 2010, it will be the second election held by the military.
Elections in Burma are precisely identical to scarce goods, with neither availability nor choice for the public. Since Burma became an independent state, it has had only three “democratic general elections" that were held in 1952, 1956 and 1960 respectively, all under the administration of the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League which ruled Burma for 10 years.
Within the 28 years from 1960 to 1988, unsurprisingly, there were no democratic general elections held by the Revolutionary Council or the Burma Socialist Programme Party that was formed after the first military coup. However, the BSPP ran a "synthetic election" as a totalitarian and bureaucratic mechanism in 1974. As the BSPP was a military-based-party, the election was absolutely managed by the party bosses and generals. The voters did not have any choice and were ordered to vote for both the single party system and "pioneer dictators".
Although millions of people demanded democracy during the four-eights uprising, the military seized state power again on 18 September 1988 and branded itself the State Law and Order Restoration Council. The junta held its first ever multiparty democratic general election on 27 May 1990 and reappointed an election commission and promulgated a multiparty democracy election law that were both formulated by the BSPP regime during the “summer of democracy” in September 1988.
There were more than two thousand candidates from 93 political parties who stood in the 1990 election full of dreams and promise. Although the election campaigns of the 93 political parties were heavily controlled by the junta, the National League for Democracy won 392 out of 485 seats. The Shan Nationalities League for Democracy won 23 seats and the BSPP’s new incarnation, the National Unity Party, won just 10 seats. Here, most Burma watchers claimed that it was a free and fair election although there was no freedom of expression and no free international monitoring system.
According to Huntington's third wave democratisation thesis of 1993 and many other political theorists, elections are a major tool for the democratisation process. In 1990, the 38-million-strong population of Burma overwhelmingly honoured the legitimacy and authority of the election to bring about the rule of law and to manage the state mechanism. But the military generals have neither transferred state political power to the election winning parties nor convened a people's parliament.
Consequently, the elected MPs of all election winning parties have not convened a parliament themselves, though they have the moral and political responsibility to carry out the people's legitimate decision as reflected in the election result. While the winners of the 1990 election claim that they have political legitimacy, the military junta argues that it has de jure legitimacy. Consequently, the military has not honored the election result, while the 1990 MPs-elect have not formed a democratic government themselves in the sovereign mainland of Burma. Thus, Burma has become a paradox of bulletocracy and representative democracy.
In addition, the MPs of 1990 election have been applying elite-driven transition models, including policies of national reconciliation and UN-brokered dialogue with the generals, while the generals have repeatedly and officially rejected their demands. Yet again, the situation since the 1990 election has remained absolutely stagnant and the opportunity for a civilian-initiated transitional process has not yet been consolidated.
There is no comprehensive winning strategy or policy platform on how to apply a regime change model for Burma after the election, either from within the military junta or from the leaders of political parties or MPs who are regularly asking international agencies such as the United Nations, the European Union and ASEAN to intervene in the power games in Burma.
During the last 20 years, all stakeholders, the military junta and all political parties have released occasional statements calling for dialogue with the elite military generals or for parliament to be convened. But there has not been a paradigm shift regarding regime transition or a power reconfiguration resulting from the 1990 election. It has not brought about either a break-even point or a balance of power between the competing claims about democracy in Burma.
On the other hand, the generals have also applied their own non-democratic transition plans such as the National Convention, national reconciliation and the Seven-Point Road Map towards "disciplined democracy". The junta has given many promises that these plans are leading towards a democratic Burma, but there have been no tangible results yet. The people of Burma have suffered from the broken promises from the both the junta and the election winners of 1990.
Now, once more, the junta has repeatedly promised another election will be held in 2010. As the time draws nearer, there will be many political parties that aim to participate in the junta’s planned election. On the exile front, the political legitimacy of the 1990 MPs will shrink and there will be a dilemma of how to claim political legitimacy after the new 2010 election. Some demographic figures have estimated that there is a population of 56 million in Burma at the moment; there are millions of young voters who have never voted in any elections.
Will this 2010 election override the results of the 1990 election? Will the 2010 election be postponed, or will the junta transfer political power to the 1900 election winners or share power with them? Will the MPs elected in 1990 withdraw from being MPs or will they go back to Burma to join the armed resistance? Will they maintain the status quo and ask the UN to fight for them to get political power?
Essentially, the people of Burma have been waiting for the fulfillment of the promises from the 1990 election winners and still millions of members of the new generations are driven to neighboring counties to meet their basic needs.
Naing Ko Ko is a postgraduate scholarship student in the Department of Political Studies at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. He is a former political prisoner.