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Post-elections Analysis: Who Win and Who lose in Burma’s By-elections in April 1?
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Post-elections Analysis: Who Win and Who lose in Burma’s By-elections in April 1?

By: Siri Mon Chan

April 12, 2012

Burma has successfully held the by-lections on April 1, 2012. As expected, the National Leagues for democracy (NLD) Led by Aung San Suu Kyi (Daw Suu) won almost all of the 45 vacant parliamentary seats.  The NLD contested 44 out of the 45 vacant seats and won 43.  It seems as a great victory for the NLD and Daw Suu in winning a landslide victory in April by-lections. Daw Suu even stated in her speech that the by-elections victory is people’s victory. Certainly, if we look only at a smaller picture, it may appear as a great victory since Daw Suu and the NLD win almost all seats.

However, if we look at a bigger picture with a holistic view, taking into account issues and hidden facts behind the by-elections and beyond, we may see it quite differently. We may even see a clearer picture if we can look at and see who desperately want the NLD and Daw Suu to contest in this by-election. The issues of NLD’s re-registration and the subsequent contesting in the elections were most controversial ones since the beginning. But after a sequence of secret dialogues between Daw Suu and Thein Sein’s administration, the NLD decided to re-register and contest in the elections.

Therefore, we can see that Thein Sein’s administration is more desperate than others else to get Daw Suu and NLD to take part in the elections. The administration is so desperate as, strategically speaking, Daw Suu and NLD’s decision to contest in the lections was a great victory for Thein Sein’s quasi military-civilian administration even before the by-elections were actually held.  The allowing of NLD and Daw Suu to take part in the elections was hailed as a genuine democratic reform by some ASEAN and other countries close to the administration. Now, soon after the by-elections on 1 April, Thein Sein’s administration is rewarded with its most expected and wanted rewards. The US’s decisions to appoint an ambassador to Burma, establish an in-country aid presence and relax some restrictions on officials' travel, financial services and investment are regarded as great rewards for Thein Sein’s administration. It is highly likely that the EU, Australia and other western nations will follow suit. As a result, it is Thein Sein’s administration that really wins the victory, not Daw Suu. 

In fact, the participation of Daw Suu and NLD in the by-lections were deliberately manipulated and orchestrated by Thein Sein’s administration as a public relation (PR) stunt to achieve its most wanted goals, particularly, the easing of the US and western sanctions. Now, the regime has achieved its most wanted goals without having to give away and sacrifice anything else essential. The giving away of 43 seats to NLD is relatively nothing at all compared to the constitutionally already  allocated 166 seats (25%  out of 664 parliamentary seats) to the military personnel and other majority of seats secured by the military-backed Union Solidarity and development Party (USDP) by hook or by crook in the 2010 elections. Therefore, the military and its proxy party, the USDP, will still be firmly in control of the legislative body even if the NLD won all of 45 seats.

So, who lose in these by-elections? It is people in Burma in general that actually lose. People in Burma in general do not want the military- favoured constitution and the military-dominated government. People from all walks of life have shown their determination for a genuine democratic change in 1988 general uprising and in the 1990 elections in which they collectively voted for the NLD mainly to get rid of the military rule. In 1990 elections, people voted for the NLD as they believed that the NLD was the only opposition party strong enough to get rid of the military rule. However, people have lost their goals in getting rid of the military rule and in establishing a democratic society since the military regime refused to hand powers to the NLD,  and the NLD, too, failed to resort to potential political strategies in making a change.

Now, people once again lose hope of a genuine democratic change in the foreseeable future because of the infrastructures such as the military-favoured constitution, the military dominated parliament and the lack of an effective opposition party. Daw Suu has now been transformed from a national leader to an ordinary parliamentarian. And,   I doubt the capacity of Daw Suu to skilfully challenge the military-dominated administration in the parliament and beyond. It is because of Daw Suu’s  failure to show any strategic, tactical and even political skills during the last 22 years from 1990 and now. She relies only on her charisma.  If Daw  Suu has some strategic, tactical and political skills like her father, General Aung San (Bokyote), the political environment in Burma would have been quite differently.  But her strategic, tactical and political skills are no match to Bokyote.  Bokyote was able to see ahead the possible situations in the future and proactively managed the situation to the country’s advantage.  He was not reluctant to leave the comfort zones and did differently, if necessary, like joining with Japanese to fight against the British, and later on joining with the British in fighting against the Japanese. For example,  if Daw Suu has these abilities and foresees that her stay inside the country provides not much opportunity for democratic movements, she would have left for a neighbouring country such as Thailand or India and form an effective coalition with ethnic and other democratic forces like Dr Sein Win did. Daw Suu’s high profile and popularity would make a quite different coalition government than that of Dr Sein Win which has been ineffective and dysfunctional at all.  

The late former Prime Minister U Nu had done similarly in late 1960s after Ne Win’s military coup. U Nu formed the Parliamentary Democracy Party (PDP) and joined with other ethnic armed resistance groups on Thai-Burma border. U Nu enjoyed supports from Thai Royal Government and some other countries because of his profile as a Prime Minister. Burma’s political and armed resistance movement reached a peak during that time. However, the coalition between U Nu and ethnic armed resistance groups did not lead to ultimate victory because of the differences in political views and circumstances at that time. The forming of Daw Suu and other ethnic and democratic forces’ coalition, on the other hand,  would be vastly different from that of U Nu due to contemporary political situation and environment.

In fact, it is just an example of how an effective leader should thinks the unthinkable and achieve the unachievable. She does not need to do exactly like that. But she can still think about other possible ways with strategic and out-of-the box thinking and acts proactively. But so far Daw Suu shows nothing about the proactive and strategic approach to a change and unsurprisingly nothing is changed. That is why I doubt her ability to strategically and skilfully engage in the parliament dominated by the military. She can dress as a Burmese lady with Burmese dress. But she fails to think as Burmese people think. She does not appear to be able to read the mind of the military personnel and understand their mentality since she was brought up abroad. She regards the rehanging of her father’s (Bokyote) picture in Thein Sein’s office and friendly chats with Thein Sein as a dramatic process to change.

In reality, there is no systematic change so far. The controversial constitution that permit the military personnel  to be a dominant force in the country is still in place. And,   Thein Sein, the guy Daw Suu regards as a good guy, still refuses to recognize the existence of  political prisoners in Burma. Thein Sein officially stated in an interview with Burmese media at ASEAN Summit in Bali in November 2011 that there are no political prisoners in Burma. All are jailed due to some sorts of criminal offences. Even though some more were released in January, more than 900 others are still languished behind bars.

Similarly, for the sake of a PR stunt, Thein Sein announced suspension of the Myitsone Hydropower Dam project in September.  But it is revealed now that the construction company had never actually left the site and 10 residents were arrested for returning to their homes in the area.

Thein Sein’s administration also approaches some other ethnic nationalities forces such as Shan, Karen, Mon and the like to appear as serious solving the ethnic conflicts and finding ways to end an over-half century long civil war in the country. However, it is just a divide and rule military tactics and  the wars with Kachin and other ethnic nationalities are still waging.

Now, Thein Sein administration has performed a great PR stunt to allow Daw Suu and NLD contest in the by-elections and created situations for NLD to win 43 seats. There is no doubt that, if the administration does not allow the NLD and Daw Suu to  win, the NLD and Daw Suu would not win up to 43 seats. If the administration sees the lections strategically important like the ones in 2010, it would do whatever it can, by hook or by crook,  to prevent the NLD from winning seats as it did to other parties with vote-rigging and other methods in 2010. But, this time Thein Sein’s administration desperately wants Daw Suu and NLD to participate in the elections and consequently deliberately created situations for the NLD and Daw Suu to wins.

Therefore, in conclusion I would like to say that it is not Daw Suu or NLD that win the by-elections in April. It is not people’s victory, as claimed by Daw Suu, either. It is Thein Sein and his quasi military- civilian regime that actually win and achieves the great victory even prior to the elections were actually held. After the by-elections, it has now achieved more of its most expected and wanted rewards such as the easing of sanctions by the US and other western countries.  People in Burma in general are who actually lose in these hidden agendas process. Anyhow, we, the people of Burma should console ourselves with the saying of Alexis de Toqueville , a French philosopher that “people get the government they deserve”. If we get a democratic government, we deserve it because we are able to form and get one. If we get a military-led government like now, we again deserve it because we are not able to find ways to get rid of it, even after 24 years of people’s movement since 1988. So, if we think we really deserve a democratic government, let’s find other ways to finally  get one by all mean, no matter how long it takes.

Siri Mon Chan
6 April 2012
(This opinion piece reflects only my personal opinion. It does not reflect the opinion of the organizations and associations I am affiliated with.  It was written and sent to Kao Wao on 6 April 2012. However, It has not yet been published on Kao Wao,  and I now share with Monnet friends first while it is within one or two weeks after the elections and it is still  relevant).


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