Burma: A glance at Ruling party vs. the opposition
By Zin Linn
November 11, 2013
If one looks back through near past of Burma/Myanmar, he can run into the previous junta’s famous political slogan - "Roadmap to Disciplined Democracy" – under which a Constitutional referendum was passed and enforced the 2008 Constitution which was systematically and unfairly drawn to prolong the military power.
After serving as the Prime Minister of Myanmar from 2007 to 2011, Thein Sein was officially sworn in as President of the quasi-civilian government on March 30, 2011. This looked as if the country made the first political change after 50 years of closed-door policy.
The making of a President apart from the commander-in-chief of the military was exceptionally noteworthy for Myanmar under military-dictatorship. Yet, President Thein Sein is a retired general of the army and his military background remains a primarily important feature in his Presidency. So, to several analysts, President Thein Sein has been distinguished as a military-minded soft-liner because of his awareness on good governance by launching free-market and open-society with making concessions to oppositions.
U Thein Sein government has started easing restrictions on fundamental freedoms, relaxing restrictions on the media, floating the Myanmar currency in line with the market, allowing the creation of trade unions, and releasing political prisoners. The purposeful political transformation in Myanmar is a response to the economic sanctions that have been enforced by the international community with the United States, the European Union.
The Obama Administration has diplomatically encouraged Myanmar's democratization as well as relaxing restrictions on financial assistance and the beginning of the process of ambassador exchanges between the United States and Myanmar. The United States Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, visited Myanmar in December 2011 to engage with President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. This showed a historical diplomatic improvement for relations between the United States and Myanmar in excess of 50 years.
On November 19, 2012, President Obama visited Myanmar and met President Thein Sein giving confidence in favor of the Myanmar’s political reforms. Obama also met with the Nobel laureat Aung San Suu Kyi at her residence where she had spent scores of years under junta’s house arrest.
These were the preliminary steps toward democratization of Myanmar. But, there are many more steps to do for transformation into a democratic government. In response, the NLD led by Aung San Suu Kyi and a range of ethnic oppositions are continuing to reveal their doubts about reversal. Many politicians and citizens remain skeptical of the nature of the sham democracy promised by the military-backed quasi-civilian government.
The most recent release of 56 political prisoners on October 8, 2013, was seemingly an improvement, but ultimately disappointing due to the fact that the restrictions placed upon them by Article 401, their freedom is not unconditional, as said by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma). Their release does not officially acknowledge their political status and ensures they are released with conditions restricting their freedom. It is unacceptable that the old prison sentence still hangs over them once they have been freed.
In its 9th October statement, AAPP(B) said that It is essential to continue to recognize the difficulties political prisoners face upon their release.
According to AAPP (B), there still remain 133 political prisoners incarcerated in prisons across the country. When they are released, AAPP (B) insists that the use of Article 401 must no longer be viewed as a necessary part of their freedom. The UN General Assembly Resolution stated the demand for political prisoners to be released unconditionally. By ignoring this, the government is continuing to maintain barriers to democratic freedom.
Such kinds of stances by the U Thein Sein government spotlight the current situation of Myanmar as less progress toward a democratic society. The underlying motives for the government’s moves in politics are less likely to be a genuine call for democratic state.
The government's encouragements are recognized via various factors including economic reforms and human rights endorsement within the international community. Having the chairmanship to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2014 was indication of regional recognition of the changes taking place in Myanmar.
But, Myanmar's development towards democracy still needs to be pressured by its regional partners and the Western democracies on condition that rule of law and anti-graft operations are made in support of poverty alleviation.
On the other hand, due to ruthless maltreatment of its citizens, Myanmar’s military-backed quasi-civilian government will be maintained under closely monitor by rights groups evaluating its course of action for democratization.
In contrast, Aung San Suu Kyi, chairperson of the key opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), pronounced in March this year publicly towards her fellow members to be united in the midst of fuss that could weaken the league in the upcoming historic elections in 2015. The NLD, Myanmar’s once outlawed opposition party, had launched its first ever historic party congress in front of the diplomats, journalists and leaders of other political parties, on 8-9-10 March 2013 in Rangoon.
The NLD congress elected 85 representatives for central working committee including many new well-educated members as well as female members. Moreover, the congress has voted 15-member central executive committee. The CEC has re-elected Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, 67, as chairperson of the party. She has been leading all for the democratization movement in the country for a quarter of a century since 1988.
According to the NLD’s political report to the first congress, the party has decided to help addressing the problems in unrest Kachin and Rakhine States. It has also made a decision to restore ‘Rule of Law’ as well as peace and stability in Myanmar. It also says that the party will endeavor amending the undemocratic 2008 Constitution as its first priority.
Although Suu Kyi’s party won 44 seats out of 660 lower house, it was not enough to challenge amending the undemocratic clauses of the 2008 constitution fortified by the government’s ruling party. Hence, Suu Kyi is determined to win national elections in 2015 by adding up the party with "new blood" and spread out the power for decision-making.
During the first ever conference, Suu Kyi made three extraordinary suggestions to her delegates that they must be honest to the people, they must be loyal to each other and they must not brush aside the value of the gratitude.
The first ever congress of the NLD is the most up-to-date indicator of the remarkable changes appeared in Myanmar since ex-general Thein Sein took power as president in March 2011, expecting international aid and recognition to the pariah state.
On 21 October, before meeting in Luxembourg with European Foreign ministers, Suu Kyi said that changes in the constitution are essential to make Burma truly democratic, according to EurActiv News.
'The crucial one is to amend the constitution and then, there is a question of inclusive development and internal peace. All of this are linked to amendments to the constitution. There are many many issues in Burma, but in order to resolve all of this, we have to have a basic foundation of democratic practises and this can not be established without an amendment of the constitution', said Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Apart from the sympathy of the international community, the question now is how the opposition parties, especially the National League for Democracy (NLD), will prepare ahead of 2015 elections which is under the management of the two-faced ruling party.
To some NLD youths, the party depends on the people’s support. Although the ruling regime gets in the way, the NLD may flex its muscles in defiance of the military monocracy. It’s time to show its opposition power by defying the heavy-handed political climate.