Far from democracy in Myanmar

In the last few years we have seen many positive changes in Myanmar, such as improved conditions for media, the release of most political prisoners and the ongoing peace negotiations, to mention a few.

Long way towards democracy

But after a recent visit to Myanmar I must say that the enthusiasm has been replaced by an everyday life where most Burmese have not experienced major changes. It is still a long way towards democracy in Myanmar.

Some fear a recession in the reform process. The upcoming election in 2015 and the ongoing negotiations between the government and the ethnic armed groups will be crucial for the democratic development to continue. The situation for political prisoners is getting worse, in general because of the increased number of arrests related to the right to demonstrate. The conditions for Muslims, in particular Rohingya Muslims, have not improved either.

Norwegian support

When the Military Junta ruled in Myanmar, Norway was at the forefront of supporting the democratic opposition and the exile movement. Now Norway is one of the major supporters both financially and politically to the authorities in Myanmar whom most of them have a military background. This support is important to encourage the democratic development to continue. But we should not forget that the current government is not democratically elected. Tougher benchmarks can be demanded. Key stakeholders in the opposition are skeptical to what they see as an unbalanced support to the government.

Recession

It is unlikely that the most important paragraphs in the 2008 Constitution will be amended. This means that Aung San Suu Kyi will not be given the opportunity to be the next president, and that the military will keep 25 percent of the seats in the parliaments.

The negotiations between the government and the ethnic minorities have not led to a nationwide cease fire agreement. This agreement will in turn be followed by a national peace agreement where the principles of power sharing between central and regional and state level will be defined. A postponement of the national election could be a reality if lack of progress in these discussions continues.

International pressure

Therefore it is important that the international community increases the pressure to hold the election in 2015 as scheduled. Anything else will be a serious setback in the democracy process.

It is close to impossible to foresee the political development in Myanmar. But a vote for Aung San Suu Kyi will by many be considered as a protest vote against the current government. If her party will win the election, it will be a paradox if she cannot take over as the country’s new leader. A lot indicates that the military’s position in Myanmar will continue to be strong.

This text was published in Norwegian 22 October 2014 in Aftenposten.

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